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Inside The Beltway -- January '99
Ag policy update from the Midwest Sustainable
Agriculture Working Group.
Jump down menu:
White House Responds to Pork Price Crisis
Farmland Preservation Budget Boost
Public Comment Closing on AFO Unified Strategy
Credit News, Credit Noose
Small Farms get NRI Look
IFS Partnerships Meeting Successful
FQPA For Fun & Profit
Congressional Committee Assignments
Congress to Ring Feb. Recess Bell
EWG All You Can Eat Website
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
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Pork Price Crisis Response
The USDA and White House have announced a series of steps to respond to
record low prices for pork, some of which are surprisingly well designed, while
others will likely exacerbate the problem over the long haul. Like a box of
chocolates, you cant always tell the truffle centers from the synthetic,
neon orange goo until youve bitten into one. The highest profile step was
Vice President Gores Jan. 8 announcement of $130 million in payments to
pork farmers $50 million of it in direct cash payments and another $80 million
in an emergency transfer to the pseudorabies eradication program to compensate
farmers who destroy infected herds.
The USDA made a step in the right direction by specifying that the
first $50 million package would be targeted to smaller farms, with a $5 per hog
bonus available for up to 500 slaughter weight animals sold at market prices
over the past six months. This would limit payments to $2500 per farmer, so
long as they a) marketed fewer than 1000 hogs in the last 6 months of 1998, and
b) are still in operation. The program explicitly excludes hogs marketed under
fixed-price or cost-plus contracts, or by any operation that had a gross income
of more than $2.5 million in 1998. We have not seen any special regulations
associated with the stepped-up pseudorabies eradication effort.
Prior to the Gore announcement (funny how the VP seems so interested these days
in having his name at the top of press releases announcing cash payments, isnt
it?), the USDA announced a number of other measures to deal with both low
prices and the glut of pigs on the market. Glickman started with the
mid-December formation of a Pork Crisis Task Force of USDA staff headed by Mike
Dunn, Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs.
In addition to the steps outlined above, the USDA has called for:
- Expanded purchase of pork by Government agencies, on top of a $70
million buy by USDA for 1998 food assistance programs and plans for $50 million
more in early 1999. After big beef buys last year, public school students
should look forward to a whole lot of BeefnBacon Medley
on the menu for some time to come.
- Extending Old Credit, Suspending New Credit. USDA urged lender
leniency for pork producers, and postponed FSA ownership & operating loan
payments normally due January 1, 1999 to the end of the individual loan period.
Shortly thereafter, the Department announced temporary suspension of FSA
financing for new specialized pork production facilities.
- More export promotions, by making pork eligible for virtually
every GSM-102 credit guarantee.
- Boosting slaughter. Glickman met with packing industry reps and
promised to buy more pork if they agreed to operate on weekends.
- Price Investigation. The Secretary said he is investigating
why producer prices have dropped so precipitously without a corresponding drop
in retail prices. Note to Gumshoe Dan: your most promising leads might be A)
Too Dang Many Pigs, B) no competition in the packing industry, and C) grocery
chains that dont mind making money. Just a thought.
Farmland Preservation Budget
Funny that the White House seems so anxious lately to announce big, new
spending initiatives on a host of sympathetic topics. Whatever the reason,
President Clinton and VP Gore couldnt hide their glee while announcing a
new Lands Legacy Initiative that will fund a whole range of
activities to protect land and open space, and hopefully help curb urban
Of particular note to readers of this report is the plan to
request an additional $50 million for farmland preservation in the upcoming
budget. The 1996 Farm Bill designated $35 million for this purpose, long since
spent, which the Council for Environmental Quality claimed had been leveraged
into a full $230 million worth of easements.
If enacted by Congress
as announced by the White House (No? My, my, arent we feeling like
cynical insiders today, hmmm?), the Lands Legacy Initiative would include a
number of other programs that could help preserve rural spaces, with a strong
preference shown to states that implement a state-wide smart growth
Comment on AFO Unified Strategy
The SAC will be filing comments on the USDA-EPA Unified Strategy
on regulation of Animal Feeding Operations by the deadline on Tuesday, January
19. SAC and the Campaign have pushed hard to generate grassroots comment on
this draft plan. Copies of SAC comments will be available at the MSAWG Annual
Gathering (See you in Madison!), or by request.
Credit News, Credit Noose
- Farm Crisis: With continued economic stress in the farm economy,
lenders are feeling the heat to restructure debts and adopt other creative
approaches to keeping customers in business and protecting loan funds. This is
putting very heavy demand on government farm credit funds, as guaranteed loan
funds are being used to restructure existing debt, with prospects of guaranteed
farm ownership loans being exhausted very early this calendar year. In turn,
calls are starting to come from members of Congress for early consideration of
a supplemental appropriation to further boost credit funds over and above the
big boost given in last year's omnibus budget bill. This effort may also be
combined with the efforts to appropriate money for pork producers (see
lead story in this issue). If a supplemental does gear up, we
will have to watch out for further attempts to make legislative changes to
farm credit rules to serve larger operations.
- Beginning Farmers: Final numbers are in from last fiscal year on
USDA farm loans. Once again, both the direct farm ownership and direct
operating loan programs exceeded their statutory beginning farmer targets,
while guaranteed loans continued to drag. Beginning farmers received 79% of
direct farm ownership loan funds (target is 70%) and 35% of direct operating
funds (target is 25%), but only 21% of guaranteed farm ownership loans (target
is 25%) and 14% of guaranteed operating loans (target is 40%). Despite missing
the mark, the guaranteed totals were nonetheless the highest on record.
Altogether, beginning farmer loans totaled over $140 million in FY 98.
- Down Payment Loans: With regard to beginning farmer down payment
loans in particular, nationwide in 1998 there were 287 loans made totaling $12
million. Following precedent, two-thirds of these loans were in just 5 states
(IL, IA, NE, KS, and MO) and adding in the rest of the north central states
the total reaches 85%. The best performing states outside the region continue
to be Montana, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Some states that are heavy users of FSA
ownership loans, especially in the south, continue to virtually ignore the
program, opting instead for 100% federally financed loans without private and
- Farm Credit System: In mid-December, the Farm Credit
Administration Board adopted a policy statement renewing its commitment to
providing credit to young, beginning and small farmers. Despite a 1980
congressional mandate to improve services to young and beginning farmers, the
System's track record is spotty at best. The new policy is welcome insofar as
it adopts the FSA beginning farmer definition (10 years or fewer in farming and
other criteria) and adopts the National Commission on Small Farms threshold of
$250,000 in gross sales to define small farms. These definitions will be
included in the reporting requirements for each FCS association and will help
groups like ours track their performance.
- Loan Limitations: Guidelines have been issued for implementing the
farm credit changes made in the omnibus budget bill last year, including the
controversial new $700,000 guaranteed loan limit that we strongly opposed. The
agency has interpreted the law to allow maximum principal balances of $700,000
for any combination of guaranteed ownership and operating loans and for any
combination of guaranteed and direct loans of the same type, but up to $900,000
if a guaranteed loan and direct loan of different types are combined.
Helpfully, the agency is requiring any loan with a balance above $700,000 to be
reviewed at headquarters before being approved. However, no additional
guidelines are presented for making sure the commercial lenders and state and
local offices do not misuse the new authority. This issue deserves our
continued attention and a new round of action.
- Reg Reform: Also to note on the longer term horizon, the agency is
beginning a complete review of its loan making rules over the course of this
year, with a proposed rule targeted for the Federal Register sometime next
winter. The purpose will be both to streamline and to clarify existing rules.
Revisions will likely include issues on our agenda such as the family-sized
farm requirement, contract farming rules, and beginning farmer programs. This
process represents an opportunity for us to push again for ensuring that
public subsidies promote policies consistent with public support for a
sustainable and widely dispersed family farming system.
NRCS headquarters is in the process of sending out winning CFO project
proposals from 1998 to the state offices for consideration as 1999 EQIP
projects. State conservationists should receive proposals sometime in January,
along with strong encouragement to share them with their State Technical
This is an opportunity to try to get some of the CFO
proposals funded via EQIP, though EQIP funds will be tight and CFO candidates
will need strong advocates on the STCs. Contact your state conservationist, or
call Dave Mason in D.C. at 202-720-1873 or
firstname.lastname@example.org for more
Small Farms Get NRI Look
A little history. Back in the 1990 farm bill, MSAWG and allies were able to
secure language directing research programs, including the National Research
Initiative (NRI) competitive grants program, to include research to expand
economic opportunities and improve quality of life in farming and rural
communities. Moreover, it directed the NRI and other competitive grants
programs in particular to emphasize the development of sustainable agriculture.
To make a long story short, many implementation strategies later the
most concrete outcome was the development of an "agricultural systems
research" category within NRI, funded by a 2% assessment on the other six
research areas (plants, animals, environment, food/nutrition, new uses, and
markets/trade/policy). Though yielding less than $2 million per year, many
worthwhile projects have received funding through this hard fought-for
And now an update. NRI was again asked to invest in research to
explicitly support small and moderate-sized farms as an outcome of the National
Commission on Small Farms and the increased attention given small farm issues
by the Secretary of Agriculture, coincidental with Congress awarding NRI about
$23 million new dollars it was not expecting when the original RFP was issued.
(The latter surprise windfall was part of the deal killing the much larger
Initiative for Future Ag and Food Systems.) The NRI program staff responded
through a supplemental request for proposals issued on January 4.
The supplemental calls for research on a range of topics (e.g.,
specialty crops, marketing, agroforestry, small-scale animal production
systems, etc.) on research gaps that diminish opportunities for small to
mid-sized farms. However, the agency made the small farm focus part of the ag
systems category, joining this new call to its limited response to sustainable
agriculture earlier in the decade, and thus limiting funding to the 2% figure.
Hence, while $23 million was added to the pot, only slightly over
$400,000 is directly available for the small farm emphasis. The exact amount
will not be determined until all the systems grants are received and compared,
but the final figure will be a percentage of the $2.4 million chunk given by
formula to ag systems. By way of comparison, the same supplemental RFP provides
nearly $5 million for animal genome mapping research and a similar amount for
epidemiological approaches to food safety.
Though the amount is small and the process neither transparent nor
satisfactory, the new RFP nonetheless represents an important new opportunity
for getting some good farming opportunity research proposals awarded. Those
interested in submitting proposals should consult the RFP and look closely at
the requirements for ag systems projects. The RFP can be found at
http://www.reeusda.gov/nri, the NRI
Despite the additional small farms request, the original
deadline for proposals -- February 15 -- did not change, so precious little
time remains. We hope to see some good proposals this time around despite the
short time frame, and in any event plan to try to build on this admittedly
small foundation in future iterations.
Also noteworthy, comments and
critiques of the original and supplemental RFP are being accepted by the agency
as part of the new stakeholder input requirements of the 1998 ag research law.
Comments can be submitted at any time, but, to have the most impact, should be
in by the end of February. The MSAWG Research Committee and Washington Office
will be circulating ideas for commenting in the near future.
IFS Partnerships Meeting Successful
On January 11, a dozen NGO representatives joined with a dozen ARS research
leaders from around the country (WA, OR, CA, AZ, TX, AR, GA, WV, NE, MN),
another dozen researchers from the Beltsville Research Station, and 5 national
program leaders for a day long dialog and planning meeting to develop the
sustainable agriculture portion of the Integrated Farming Systems program.
IFS is one of 23 national programs within the newly restructured ARS
system. The meeting emerged from an ongoing effort by the Sustainable
Agriculture Coalition and the Henry A. Wallace Institute for Alternative
Agriculture to get IFS partnerships between ARS, universities, NGOs and farmers
off the ground. As you will recall, Congress last year directed ARS to develop
at least 4 IFS partnerships in addition to the current Wisconsin Integrated
Cropping Systems Trial project.
MSAWG was well represented by Renee Hunt (ISA), Dan Specht (PFI), Tom
Larson (NSAS), Kim Leval (CRA/CSARE), and John Hall and Margaret Krome (MFAI).
Other regional representatives included JJ Haapala (Oregon Tilth), David
Granatstein (Washington State), Jim Worstell (Delta Land and Community), and
Laurie Drinkwater (Rodale Institute).
John and Laurie gave excellent
presentations on their respective long-term cropping trials as examples of the
kind of research and partnerships that are possible. Mark Davis from the
Beltsville lab also presented the outreach portion of their long-term trial as
another partnership case study.
The day included opportunities for NGOs to critique ARS' national
programs and sustainable agriculture work, ARS folks to discuss experimental
design requirements, the total group to brainstorm on the criteria for
effective working partnerships, and perhaps most importantly, for everyone to
lay on the table issues, areas and possible locations and collaborators for
potential new partnerships.
While time did not permit getting into
great detail on partnership ideas, an NGO contact and ARS contact was named (or
in a few cases will be named soon) for each proposal and given the task of
beginning regional discussions and taking other appropriate follow-up steps to
develop the proposal and the partnership.
Ideas on the table included a bio-integrated farming systems fruit
project (CA), tree fruit project (pacific northwest), alternative livestock
systems (Midwest and south), rice/catfish/kenaf (AR/OK/MO), soil health &
plant quality in alternative management systems (northwest), weed
relationships (various locations), corn-soybean-forage systems (upper Midwest),
nutrient management through alternative cropping systems (IA), bio-intensive
IPM potato systems (WI, ME, northwest), and alternative crops for small farms
(south and other locations). Additional ideas are welcome.
ARS national program staff will develop a report from the meeting and
is committed to aiding in partnership development. They will also be holding
regional IFS workshops to allow a broader range of stakeholders to provide
input into their national program plan for IFS. The first of these will be in
March for the mid-Atlantic states and will double as a way to gather input into
what the sustainable agriculture program at the Beltsville station should be
doing. We hope to help them plan a Midwest workshop later in this calendar
year. Stay tuned!
FQPA for Fun & Profit
Following the implementation of the Food Quality Protection Act brings to
mind the observation of great geological formations, such as the Rocky
Mountains; significant events which transform the landscape do occur, but the
time frame is, well, open-ended.
The EPA has actually done reasonably
well at publishing for comment the important science policy issues and the
preliminary risk assessments it needs for the eventual FQPA implementation.
There are currently three science policy issues open for comment, two of which
close on January 19 and the third on February 4. For more details, call Mark
Keating at the Wallace Institute DC office or visit their homepage.
EPA released a calendar of events for 1999 which calls for two more Tolerance
Reassessment Advisory Committee (TRAC) meetings (in February and May) and seven
more science policy notice and comment opportunities. No word on how well the
Agency is doing on the comprehensive review of tolerances mandated by FQPA
(mandated to be completed by August, 1999) but the rest of the implementation
work is moving at a fairly steady pace. Dr. Lynn Goldman left as Assistant
Administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances
effective December 31 and Susan Wayland was named to the position on an acting
One requirement of the FQPA has come to fruition - EPA has finalized
the consumer brochure discussing pesticide residues on food and will be sending
them out to grocers this month. Conventional food industry groups criticized
the first draft of the brochure because they believed that it exaggerated risks
from exposure and inappropriately promoted organic food as a safer alternative.
The final draft does reflect considerable scaling back - the name of the
brochure itself has been changed from Pesticides on Food to Pesticides
and Food. The statement that Some pesticides have been shown to
cause health problems such as birth defects, nerve damage, cancer and other
effects in laboratory animals was dropped from the brochure. Be sure to
ask your grocer for a copy - they probably wont appear too prominently on
The EPA revisited the issue of Bt resistance management in cotton and
corn during the second day of the Pesticide Policy Dialogue Committee meeting
on January 8. The Agency is still working out a strategy and has been caught
somewhat off guard by the rapid adoption of Bt seed. Bollgard cotton is now
approaching 50% of the domestic market, and corn, which was expected to have 5
to 6 percent of market share in 1998, actually exceeded 15%. There are
indications that Bt corn could capture one quarter of the domestic market next
Because resistance management plans are not a condition of the
pesticides (in this case, the seed containing the Bt gene) label, the
seed company, not EPA, is primarily responsible for enforcement. There was
considerable question raised at the meeting to the extent to which the seed
companies are enforcing the resistance management plans included in their
contracts with growers.
While Monsanto has been aggressive in monitoring compliance for its
Bollgard seed, resistance management plans for Bt corn, which several companies
produce, has been much looser. A preliminary agreement among manufacturers of
Bt corn seed to establish a 20% refuge requirement by the year 2000 growing
season was announced at the meeting, but few details were provided. The Union
of Concerned Scientists has pointed out that, even if enforced, 20% refuge is
still less than half the size necessary according to EPA studies.
Congressional Committee Assignments
House Republican appropriators announced their subcommittee lineup for the
106th Congress, adding Rep. Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri to the Ag approps panel.
Interestingly enough, the subcommittee did not shed any Republican members, so
it seems likely that there will be an additional Democratic seat on the panel
when the Ds announce their assignments sometime this month.
current Republican line-up on Ag approps is: Walsh (N.Y.), Dickey (Ariz.),
Kingston (Ga.), Netherhcutt (Wash.), Bonilla (Tex.), Latham (Iowa), and
Emerson (Mo.). We expect to see House & Senate Democrats announce their
approps subcommittee line-ups by January 19.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Richard Lugar announced the
Republican subcommittee line-up on his committee, including subcommittee
chairs. They are:
- Production & Price Competitiveness: Roberts (Chair), Helms, Cochran,
- Forestry, Conservation & Rural Revitalization: Craig (Chair),
Santorum, Coverdell, Fitzgerald
- Marketing, Inspection, & Product Promotion: Coverdell (Chair), Helms,
- Research, Nutrition, & General Legislation: Fitzgerald (Chair),
Feb. Recess - Make a Date!
One of the legacies of the Livingston interregnum (bet you dont get
to use the word interregnum much in everyday conversation) is a
House schedule announced back in December that includes a generous Presidents
Day Recess. The House plans to wrap up all votes by 2:00 p.m. on Friday,
February 12, and recess until a pro forma (read: no votes, and no members in
town) session on February 22. Use the time in between to schedule office visits
with your hometown member when he/she is actually in the hometown!
EWG All You Can Eat Website
The Environmental Working Group has again ruffled feathers at the American
Crop Protection Association (Theyve changed their name to ACPA, theyve
changed their name, dont you see? Theyve changed their name to
ACPA, but theyll always be NACA to me! hank you. hankyuverymuj.)
with the construction of a very clever All You Can Eat website.
Users can select breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack from a list of
more than 150 different foods and dishes. EWGs server then matches these
food choices against a database of more than 90,000 government lab tests for
pesticide residues and returns a result based on a random draw from these
tests. The visitor may get back a lab result with no detectable residues
present, or surly teen in a paper hat asking Would you like Aldicarb with
that? Actually, we made up the bit about the teen, but EWG posits this as
a real-world representation of the exposure risk to pesticide residues in
Not surprisingly, ACPA is not amused (hardly a Man Bites
Dog story by now, dont you think?). The ACPA spokesman called it typical
alarmist information that disparages EPAs ability to regulate
pesticides. Well, duh. Isnt blunting EPAs ability to regulate
pesticides the whole point of ACPA? Youd think a guy could take a
compliment, wouldnt you?
Anyway, you can check the site for
Previous editions of Inside the Beltway
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