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Inside The Beltway -- November '98
Ag policy update from the Midwest Sustainable
Agriculture Working Group.
Jump down menu:
Congress Its a Wrap!
National SARE Meeting
Small Farm Commission
Piloting Whole Farm Insurance
Crisis Response Program (a.k.a. CRP) ?
Organic Be Careful What You Ask For!
GIPSA Wants Comment on Price (non) Reporting
Rural Coop Grants Program
Previous editions of Inside the Beltway
the Beltway is Sustainable Farming Connection's online version of the Midwest
Sustainable Agriculture Working Group's Washington Report. We reproduce
it with MSAWG's permission. Do not reproduce or post to any electronic network
without specific permission. Contact Brad DeVries
firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Congress Closes Out
Back in February, it was hard to imagine how the Congressional leadership
could misplay the magnificent hand theyd been dealt -- a wounded &
bleeding White House, a budget in surplus, and opportunities to make political
hay as far as the eye could see. Somehow, they managed to mess it up, failing
to pass an annual budget resolution for the first time since Congress imposed
that discipline on itself in 1974, letting the clock run out on 8 of the 13
annual appropriations bills, and generally leaving all sorts of high-profile
legislation wrecked and burning by the side of the road. Still, youve
got to admire a group of folks whove managed in just four years to
achieve a level of simultaneous legislative tyranny and total, howling anarchy
that it took Democratic congressional leaders nearly four decades to perfect.
As we reported in the last edition, the
President vetoed the agriculture appropriations bill, primarily for containing
insufficient funds for emergency farm relief. The Appropriators then wrapped
agriculture spending into the huge omnibus appropriations bill that was the
last major item to pass before Congress left town for the elections. Youve
no doubt have read by now that this massive catchall bill covered 8 of the
13 annual appropriations bills, a tax bill, and numerous legislative
provisions. It weighed over 40 pounds and was so rushed the version voted on
actually contained handwritten cross-outs and insertions! What a way to
govern! Youve heard that its against the rules to pass non-budget
legislation on appropriations bills? You poor, simple child. The Approps
Committee webpage even has a special category for Major Legislation on
1999 Appropriations Bills. As we go to press a week later, there is
still no published version of the omnibus bill -- who knows what little hidden
gems remain to be uncovered!
In the end, the emergency farm aid piece was bumped up from $4.2
billion in the vetoed bill to $5.9 billion, but the Midwest Democrats were
unsuccessful in their attempt to raise the cap on loan rates and in their
subsequent attempt to direct the additional funds to a payment to commodity
program producers for current production. Instead, they settled for the extra
cash going out as more Freedom to Farm (AMTA) payments. All the extra F2F
money (a 50% bonus in total) is not subject to the payment limitation, so
expect really big 6-figure (and maybe a few 7-figure) checks to the largest
Rep. David Obey (D-WI) successfully waged a last minute campaign for
$200 million in income assistance payments for dairy producers. Also attached
to the omnibus bill were the farm-related portions of the Republican tax cut
package: removing the sunset on income averaging, accelerating the timeline for
estate tax cuts, and new loss carryback rules. The schedule for full
deductibility of self-employed health insurance costs was also accelerated.
In a major loss, the provision for mandatory price reporting on
livestock sales, which had previously lost in a close vote in the conference
preceding the veto, was knocked out of the final bill by the Republican farm
leadership. The press had widely reported that a short term price reporting
pilot initiative was included in the final bill, based on the verbal agreements
reached by the handful of key players negotiating the contours of the final
bill. In the intervening weekend, however, at the insistence of industry, the
reporting language disappeared in favor of a USDA study and report on cattle
For part of the final week of top level negotiations it appeared some
emergency conservation money might make it into the emergency package. In the
end, however, the proposed $100 million wound up on the cutting room floor. On
farm credit, the increased loan limit (to $700,000) for guaranteed loans
remained in the final package, despite our efforts to knock it out. The
related move by Sens. Coverdell & Cleland to radically scale back the
family farm requirements for loans came back into play, but did not make it to
the final cut of the bill. The change in the statute of limitations language
to help minority farmers settle their claims against USDA was modified in the
final bill to something much closer to the preferred version introduced by
Senator Robb (D-VA).
National SARE Meeting
The National Operations Committee for the Sustainable Agriculture Research
and Education (SARE) program met in Baltimore for its biannual meeting on
October 23. Ferd and Kathleen attended and passed on a few thoughts about
funding and program opportunities. Below are a few miscellaneous highlights
from the meeting, particularly with regard to SAN:
- Publications in progress include "Diversifying Agricultural
Landscapes," a 12 page bulletin due out next month addressing alternative
crops and natural diversity, "On-Farm Research," an 8 page bulletin
for publication next year which will include tips on applying for SARE producer
grants, and "Agricultural Marketing," a longer piece to deal with a
wide range of niche marketing strategies also due out next year.
- The Committee approved a SAN reorganization plan including formation of a
12 member Steering Committee (one each from each SARE region, plus Extension,
farmer, and NGO representatives) and a broader 25 member SAN Advisory Circle
who will meet by email and web technology only. Nominations are welcome --
pass them on to Ferd, or direct to SAN.
- In response to a Small Farm Commission recommendation, SARE, with the USDA
Office of Outreach and Office of Communications, set an ambitious goal of
getting information on 12 key topics in sustainable agriculture to 50% of
farmers and 75% of USDA field staff within 3 years.
- The Professional Development Program plans on developing "teacher
guides" for SAN publications to widen their use in classrooms and training
- Based on the success of the 10-year SARE celebration in Austin, every
other year a SARE region will hold a similar regional event to which others are
invited, starting with the Western region in the year 2000.
For more information on the meeting, call Ferd.
Small Farm Commission
(Report condensed from an account by Barbara Meister, who is helping to
coordinate the A Time To Act Campaign.)
The USDA Commission on Small Farms met in Washington, DC October 6th
through 8th for the first time since the release of the Time to Act report in
January of this year. The purpose of the meeting was to receive a report from
USDA officials on the progress of implementing the Commission's
Secretary Glickman took the opportunity to announce the formation of
a Small Farms Council, to be chaired by Deputy Secretary Rominger, and an
office of Small Farms and Sustainable Development, headed by Adela Backiel, who
is currently the Director of Sustainable Development. Two Deputy Director
positions will be created, one for Small Farms and one for Sustainable
for more info.
It was evident that USDA has made concerted efforts to analyze the
Commission recommendations, took steps to plan for implementation, and in some
cases, completed implementation of the recommendations.
However, much work remains to make the necessary changes that will
ultimately be measured by the viability of small and moderate-sized farms. To
keep the departments feet to the fire, the Commission made plans to
return to D.C. in the spring for a second progress report.
The members of the Commission who are active in the A Time to Act
Campaign met to develop plans for conducting media, outreach, and other
activities to increase the public awareness of the Time to Act report and hold
USDA accountable to implementation of the report. Stay tuned for more
information and details about how you can become involved in the A Time to Act
Details Emerging on Whole Farm Insurance Pilots
We expect to see final policy details shortly for the "Adjusted Gross
Revenue" revenue insurance pilot projects. We will bring copies to the
MSAWG meeting in Kansas City. We can relay a few tentative decisions:
- As noted in the previous issue, the 1999 pilots
are in selected counties in Michigan, Florida, and New England.
- As expected, all commodities and the whole farm unit will be covered.
Schedule F tax return information will be used to establish gross farm income.
Five years of income and expense data will be used.
- Coverage levels will reward diversification. Participating farms with 8
or more crops will be covered at 80%, while others will be at 65% or 75%.
Total revenue covered will be the adjusted gross income x coverage level x 75%
For example, a farm with a gross farm income of
$150,000 with 8 or more crops would be covered for $150,000 x 80% x 75% =
- To qualify, not more than 35% of annual gross farm income can be from
livestock. Hence, crop farms with some livestock might qualify, but primary
livestock operations would not. (Note: Livestock insurance coverage is not
authorized by law; however, since these are pilots, they agreed to experiment
with livestock but only on a limited basis.)
- Also to qualify, not more than 50% of gross farm income can be from
commodity crops (wheat, barley, corn, sorghum, oats, soybeans, cotton and rice)
or potatoes unless these crops are insured separately.
We have begun to discuss with the Risk Management Agency the possibility of
increasing the number of states and counties designated as AGR pilots for 2000.
This may be possible, but will require a good deal of spade work. We should
also do everything we can to publicize the Michigan pilot area for 1999.
Crisis Response Program (CRP) ?
In response to poor prices and regional crop disasters, Secretary Glickman
has been talking about maxing out the acreage in the Conservation Reserve
Program from among the bids submitted during the current sign-up period (10/26
to 12/11). In round numbers, there are about 6 million of the total 36.4
million authorized CRP acres not in use currently, plus another 3.5 million
acres with contracts expiring, leaving about 9.5 million acres available.
Glickman has been widely quoted as saying he would like to completely fill the
reserve and then come back to Congress next year and ask for more acres to be
This morphing of the CRP into a crisis response program is very
troubling. It is also a dramatic policy change for USDA. Until now, they
expected to maintain the reserve at about 28-30 million acres, a fact reflected
in the budget and cost/benefit estimates for CRP. The Clinton Administration
is on record in support of reserving at least 5.5 million CRP acres for partial
field enrollments, including buffers, under the continuous sign-up and CRP "state
enhancement" program. Glickmans recent statements clearly
jeopardize this commitment, which has been a major MSAWG priority.
We have long expected that as the number of acres with expiring
contracts declines each year to relatively small levels, the "environmental
benefits index" threshold for acceptable bids would go up. With limited
supply, those seeking CRP contracts would have to offer top environmental
benefit and/or bid low to get in. But if the Department really takes in over 9
million acres in one enrollment round, it seems very likely they will be
settling for less environmental benefit simply for the sake of getting money
out there as soon as possible to help ease the pain of the current farm crisis.
However, weve got to ask whether CRP is an appropriate tool for
farm crisis response. As a production adjustment tool, its 10-15 year time
frame is much too long for short term corrections. Also, a significant portion
of the money goes to landlords and CRP investors, rather than current farm
operators. Do we really want to say the solution to the crisis is retiring
land and farmers from production? Surely there is a better way. To the extent
that a large amount of the acreage accepted is concentrated in wheat country,
there will be significant impacts on rural communities that see large
percentages of local land taken from production. Last but not least, the idea
that Congress will find the money to enlarge the CRP next year is anything but
a sure bet.
Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Larry Craig (R-ID) have written the
Secretary urging him to fully enroll CRP immediately. We are currently working
with a number of other Senate offices to try to get a different message to the
Secretary before he make his choices in December and January.
Oregon, Washington CREP
With an audible sigh of relief to be talking about something other than the
hash theyve made of National Forest management in the Pacific Northwest
(with ample assistance from Congress, to spread the credit around a bit), the
USDA announced a pair of new Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program
agreements, these with the states of Oregon and Washington.
target protection of stream and river banks using the Conservation Reserve
Program, with the words salmon restoration becoming an anxious
mantra at both of press announcements. The Oregon agreement includes an
innovative bonus payment system for land owners who cooperate to enroll more
than 50% of land along a five-mile stretch of stream bank.
Oregon CREP also makes land under irrigation eligible at the higher rental rate
that reflect its value versus dry land. In return for higher irrigated land
payments, enrollees must execute agreements with the State of Oregon that agree
to divert less surface water, leaving it in the stream or river.
USDA news releases and background sheets on the Oregon and Washington
programs are available at
Organic: Be Careful What You Ask For!
Requests for current thinking papers made to AMS and the
Domestic Policy Council of the White House by members of the National Organic
Standards Board (NOSB) and others took an unexpected turn this month. Look for
a Federal Register Notice and request for comment on certain aspects of the
organic rule any time now!!!
In the midst of the debate on what USDA staff could and could not
discuss during the rulemaking process, organic advocates asked USDA for what is
known as current thinking papers so that National Organic Program (NOP) manager
Keith Jones could present them to the NOSB for feedback at the Oct. 27-29
meeting. The idea of current thinking papers was that USDA could informally
throw out a series of issues that the NOP is struggling with, get detailed
feedback, and signal to the organic community the potential direction of USDA
actions. The NOP drafted a list of 14-16 issues for current thinking papers.
USDA announced to the NOSB that they would write current thinking
papers. Then the other shoe dropped. The USDA Office of General Counsel said
that these current thinking papers must be published in the Federal Register
for public comment. The Wallace Institute protested that informal
conversations through the NOSB fully covered by open meeting laws could
adequately provide the kind of feedback USDA seeks. They did not prevail and
USDA is going forward. USDA did agree to bundle the issues to avoid 16
individual Federal Register Notices and separate comment periods.
On October 26, the USDA announced plans to release three papers in
the October 28 Federal Register. The topics of these papers are: (1)
paraciticide and antibiotic use in livestock; (2) livestock confinement; (3)
revocation of producer certification. We also expected a combined paper on
ecolableing and the labeling of synthetics in organic food, but it is not
mentioned in the 10/26 press release. The issue papers will also be available
on the NOP webpage at http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop.
Comments on these three papers are due by December 14.
GIPSA Seeks Comment on Price Reporting
As reported above, the mandatory price reporting provision has been knocked
out of the big omnibus spending bill that cleared Congress. In its place, the
GOP ag leadership at the urging of the meat industry substituted yet another
request for a report from USDA on the pricing situation.
meantime, the USDA continues to dance around this issue with lesser measures.
The latest gavotte is an advance notice of proposed rulemaking for A
Prohibition on the Non-Reporting of Price as a Condition of the Purchase or
Sale of Livestock (USDAs double negative language, not ours!),
published in the Federal Register, Vol. 63, pp. 48450-51 (September 10, 1998).
This proposal would not establish mandatory price reporting, but
would prohibit non-reporting as a condition of purchase or sale of livestock,
as a violation of the Packers and Stockyards Act. Comments on this potential
regulatory action must be received on or before December 9,1998 and should be
sent to the Deputy Administrator, Packers and Stockyards Program, GIPSA, USDA,
Stop 3641, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW Washington, D.C. 20250-3641.
Comments may also be sent by fax to (202) 205-3941 or by e-mail to
Rural Cooperative Grants Program
On September 22, USDA announced the 1998 recipients of Rural Coop
Development Grants, a priority program in National Campaigns annual
appropriations work. The total appropriation of $1.7 million was divided among
13 grantees to help finance feasibility studies, business plans, market
analysis and product development for new coops.
included Winrock International, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Coop Development
Services Fund (WI), Coop Development Institute (MA), Intertribal Agriculture
Council, Nebraska Community Foundation, and Kansas State, Ohio State, Central
Michigan, and University of California.
The pending FY 99
appropriations bill would again fund the program for $1.7 million next year.
For more information, contact USDA at 202-720-7558 or the National Coop
Business Association at 202-638-6222.
Previous editions of Inside the Beltway
©1998 Committee for
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