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Inside The Beltway -- July '99
Ag policy update from the Midwest Sustainable
Agriculture Working Group.
Jump down menu:
Fly-In Presses Case for 2001 Research Funding
Mandatory Price Reporting Heats Up
Small Hog Operations Payment (SHOP) Talk
Research Stakeholder Comments
South Dakota Changes on Wetlands
National Organic Standards Board Meets
Resources: Sustainable Development on the Web
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.
recent fax from Kris Thorp touched off some decidedly mixed feelings here in
the SAC office. It seems Kris will be moving on to new challenges (and some
mighty pretty country) back in Utah sometime after October 1 of this year.
Mixed feelings because each of us is honored to count Kris a friend, and want
only the best for her, where ever that might lead her. But if this
organization can be said to have a backbone, Kris would have to be it. From
her incredibly insightful mind, her patience and good humor, to her
willingness to make sure the trains run on time (heck, to make sure that there
ARE trains in the first place), she will leave a hole that is hard to fill at
our table. We'll miss you, Kris, and look forward longingly to the fortunate
days when our paths cross again.
-- Brad DeVries
Funding Follies: Two down, One to Go?
Since our last Washington Report, the emergency
supplemental appropriations bill has become law. The final bill, approved in
mid- May, included the $28 million for NRCS technical assistance on CRP and WRP
that SAC played a major role in securing through an amendment by Senators
Harkin and Kohl, but also an additional $35 million for the same purpose for
the next year. The USDA request for $109 million to make an additional $1
billion in 1999 farm loans and loan guarantees was retained. The original
Senate provision for $150 million for additional emergency payments to pork
producers was trimmed to $145 million in the final bill (see story below on
Now attention turns to the likelihood of a third
(counting the big $6 billion one last October and the more modest $600 million
just passed) emergency supplemental appropriation later this year in response
to the continuing weakness in the farm economy. Senators Harkin and Dorgan
have already tried to attach a $5+ billion package to the second emergency
supplemental, but failed. They then tried again during subcommittee markup of
the regular FY 2000 appropriations, this time with an expanded $6.5 billion
package ($4 billion in AMTA payments, plus payments for dairy, hogs, peanuts,
cotton), but failed again on a party- line vote. The GOP ag leadership does not
want to move on additional funding until the Administration makes a formal
request, so as not to get sucker-punched as they did last year. Farm and
commodity groups met with White House staff last week and requested a White
House request of $8 billion, which reports say was warmly received. Look for
an Administration request later this summer, with congressional consideration
most likely in September.
The third supplemental will most definitely
include lots of extra commodity program payments, plus some disaster assistance
and probably some additional farm credit money. Despite our efforts, there is
so far little interest on the Hill or at USDA in adding to the mix
conservation incentive money or funding for alternative marketing strategies or
sustainable agriculture producer grants. While the spigot is turned on, we
need to redouble our efforts and make this the focus of a major campaign on our
part. Look for an alert on this in the near future -- and plan to take
Funding Follies: Regular Approps
Meanwhile, the regular, annual appropriations bill (with funding for 2000)
has been perking along. As you may recall, the 1997 balanced budget bill
kicks in big time on this year's spending bills, with agriculture scheduled for
about a billion dollar in cuts from what is only about a $13 billion bill to
To cut right to the chase, congressional appropriators
have (magically, creatively, cynically) found a way to erase the effect of
those balanced budget "caps" while still pretending to be working
within them. The manure will hit the fan later this summer when they get to
the big bills (health and human services, etc.), but agriculture, by virtue of
being one of the first bills disposed of, should be safely out of the firing
range by then. The ag bill has already been approved on the House floor with
total spending $150 million higher than 1999 and well over $1 billion higher
than the caps allow. Senate floor action will occur this week on a bill set
at the 1999 level.
The net result of all the wheeling and dealing over
budget caps are bills that are boringly status quo. "Level funded"
has by and large been the watchword, with substantial increases mostly -- as
has been true in the past couple of years -- in the food safety and nutrition
areas. There is nonetheless a bit of good news on a few of the programs that
we follow closely:
- ATTRA is up $200K in both bills, to $1.5 million.
- Rural coop development grants are up from $2 million to $2.5 million in
the House and almost $4 million in the Senate.
- State mediation program grants are up to $4 million in the House, though
level at $2 million in the Senate.
- As a result of a House floor amendment by Rep. Marcy Kaptur the outreach
program for minority farmers is up to $10 million, though level funded in the
Senate at $3 million.
- The Senate bill raises rural business enterprise grants to $40.2 million,
compared to $34 million in the House bill.
- And last but not least, the Senate bill would allow the Wetlands Reserve
Program to enroll 180,000 acres this year, compared to level enrollment of
120,000 acres in the House bill.
We will work for the higher numbers on each of the last five items in the
House-Senate conference to resolve differences.
The SARE program and
nearly all other research and extension programs other than special grants
(aka pork projects) were level funded. The farm bill conservation programs
(other than WRP) and mandatory research programs were left in the same sad
state as last year's bill: nothing for Conservation Farm Option, Fund for
Rural America, Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems; $26 million
cut in EQIP to $174 million; and no new funding for the Farmland Protection or
Wildlife Habitat Incentives programs.
So, for these kinds of
programs, our attention now turns to the probably forthcoming mega-billion
supplemental appropriations bill (see above story). Unlike
the regular appropriations bill, the supplemental will likely be considered "emergency"
spending and therefore not subject to budget caps.
Crop Insurance Saga Continues
Since our last report, a major new crop insurance bill has landed in the
hopper, with another waiting in the wings. Senators Cochran (R-MS) and Lincoln
(D-AR) introduced S. 1108 with 7 other southern Senators as the southern entry
into the crop insurance reform sweepstakes. The bill shares many things in
common with the Kerrey-Roberts bill (see the last issue
of the Washington Report), but also addresses regional concerns about
double cropping, rating methods, and the like. Several new features include:
- A pilot project program for "low-risk" producers that would
refund part of the premium if a loss was incurred.
- Authority for insuring based on cost of production rather than expected
- Premium discounts for producers with 5 or more years with no claims or
producers who implement "innovative farming management practices"
that reduce risk.
- Authority to improve assigned yields for new farmers with only one or two
years of production history, for farmers who buy or rent new land, and for
farmers trying a crop not previously grown.
In an announcement just as we go to press, Senator Lugar (Senate Ag
Committee chair) has released the outlines of a bill he intends to introduce
next week. It takes a very different approach than any of the other proposals
The Lugar bill would provide AMTA (Freedom to Farm) bonus
payments (roughly an additional 1/3 payment) in 2000-2002 if producers either
purchase catastrophic coverage, use futures, options, or forward contracts, or
attend a risk management seminar. This main feature of the Lugar bill would
spend most of the $6 billion set-aside for crop insurance reform without
actually reforming the crop insurance program.
The bill would also
provide premium discounts to farmers not enrolled in AMTA and would make higher
levels of insurance coverage available in areas - - such as Indiana with a
history of low losses. We will need to await further details, but it appears
this may be an effort to put most of the new money for set-aside for crop
insurance into a temporary program that phases out in 2002. This places Lugar
at odds with the conventional approach of revving up the insurance programs as
the commodity programs decline.
The timeline and direction of the crop insurance legislation was
blurry to begin with, and now further complicated by the surprise Lugar move.
The House Ag Committee originally planned to mark up in mid-June, but staff is
still working on a bill to proceed from. Rumor has it they are bogged down on
many of the details. At best, it looks like mark up would start sometime after
the July 4th recess week. The Senate Committee is unlikely to proceed much
further unless and until the House starts moving a bill through the process,
though they still say they plan to pass out a bill before the August recess.
The Administration for its part is sticking with its broad proposal outline and
is not putting forth a detailed legislative proposal.
With leadership from SAC, a letter to both Ag Committees on key
points of concern for sustainable and organic agriculture community is being
sent up to the Hill the week of June 21. The letter, signed onto by 20+ groups
(including 10 from MSAWG), addresses whole farm coverage, conservation
compliance, targeting, cost, and related issues. Copies available on request.
Fly-In Presses Case for 2001 Research Funding
MSAWG/SAC, in conjunction with the National Campaign for Sustainable
Agriculture, the Time to Act Campaign, and the Consortium for Sustainable
Agriculture Research and Education, organized a successful one day fly-in to
press the case for better funding requests in the President's budget to be
released next February for our priority programs.
held with the Under Secretaries for Rural Development, Marketing, and Research.
The delegation included farmers from NM, WI, VA, and MD, 2 Time to Act
commissioners, 2 SARE regional coordinators, plus Ferd and Margaret.
Follow-up activities are underway. One possibility would be a joint
marketing-rural development initiative for sustainable agriculture. A key
concern on the research side is whether proposals for new programs for small
farms and for organic farming are included as separate "new starts"
or are incorporated into SARE. Currently, USDA leans toward proposing new
programs, which in this era of tight budget caps are extremely difficult to
Mandatory Price Reporting
Action has been hot and heavy on mandatory price reporting in reaction to
the outcry around the country and newly adopted state laws. Negotiations
among Senate Ag Committee, USDA, livestock association, and industry staff are
reportedly fairly far along.
As we go to press, staff, farmers, and
state legislators are here in town to press their case for a stronger deal.
Representatives are in town from CRA, LSP, and key state legislators who've
pushed the issue back home are meeting right now with Senators, USDA, and
other key players to push for strong, meaningful reporting in livestock
markets. We will provide a fuller report of the emerging legislation in the
Near death experiences (but not nearly near enough
) for the
National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) and National Pork Producers
(NPPC) earlier this month led both groups to flip-flop on the issue of
mandatory price reporting. Though they're now "for" it, their
proposals on the issue leave quite a lot to be desired.
rolled out what they describe as a packer and producer plan for reporting of
prices meat packers pay for beef cattle. The proposed legislation would
require packers to report to the USDA twice a day on the sales volumes and
cash prices paid for cattle, boxed beef, and beef for export. Packers would
report once every week on prices paid under contract and for packer-owned
livestock. Price reports would break down by weight and grade and include
information on discounts. Reporting would cover both domestic and imported
USDA would then issue compilation reports three times a day, and
summarize the data weekly. They would also have to collect and disseminate
information on retail sales and prices.
The text of the proposal is
available on the web at hill.beef.org/catmak/llopr.htm
Glickman also backed the idea of mandatory reporting in testimony before the
Senate Ag Committee, touting an Administration proposal that would grant USDA
authority to set reporting requirements through the rulemaking process. A
witness list from that hearing is available at the Senate Ag Committee website
and links to witness testimony should become available there soon.
The NPPC also announced a preliminary agreement with 12 packers on
price reporting for hogs and pork, which would require daily price data on hog
purchases and prices, including contract and packer-owned/sold animals, and
slaughter volume. The Ag Marketing Service would then publish these data, in
aggregate form. According to the NPPC, the packers still have not agreed to
report premiums paid, some record keeping requirements, and producer
disqualification from purchase contract requirements.
Both NPPC and NCBA were violently opposed to mandatory reporting
until very recently, so their deathbed conversions bear extremely close
scrutiny. Both also seem to have over-sold the degree of packer support their
respective proposals command.
Small Hog Operations Payment (SHOP) Talk
As part of the recently-passed emergency supplemental bill, USDA was given
$145 million to provide relief to pork producers. The Department is about to
release the terms under which this aid will be made available. A small
portion will be used to purchase pork for nutrition programs. The rest will go
out as payments under the Small Hog Operations Payment (SHOP) program, the
first installment of which was released earlier this year using existing
The terms of this second installment will be the same but for
one exception. Like SHOP 1, contract producers are not eligible, nor are
those operations with more than $2.5 million in sales. Also like SHOP 1,
payments will be made on up to 500 hogs marketed between July and December of
1998. The new twist is that producers are eligible if they marketed no more
than 2500 hogs in the last 6 months of 1998, rather than just 1,000.
Combining SHOP 1 and 2, all producers who fit within the eligibility criteria
will receive $10/hog, or $5,000 if they sold as many as the maximum 500 hogs.
Research Stakeholder Comments
Approximately 85 individuals and organizations submitted comments in
response to the CSREES Proposed Rule requiring land grant institutions to
establish procedures for stakeholder input. A large number of family farmers
from the Midwest and sustainable agriculture organizations from across the
country wrote in to lambaste the Proposed Rule as inadequate due to the
absence of specific performance indicators. CSREES' original proposal simply
required institutions receiving formula funding to prepare an annual report on
their efforts to facilitate broad stakeholder participation.
Comments opposing the Proposed Rule consistently cited the need for
specific criteria to ensure fair, unbiased, and equal access to all
stakeholders. Thanks to all of you who responded to the action alert. The
USDA's Office of Inspector General echoed our concerns in a comment which
directed CSREES to incorporate specific performance indicators as required by
For their part, the Land Grants were relatively quiet; only three
schools (University of Illinois, Oregon State, and Iowa State) responded, and
each expressed concern that the Proposed Rule was excessively demanding. In
its comments, Iowa State stated "We endorse principles, but believe that
following these principles should be encouraged, not specifically spelled out
in the rules." Illinois felt that the definition of stakeholder was too
broad, and would enable interest groups to intervene in program planning by
demanding their "right" to participate. The Oregon State Extension
Service felt that the extensive review and justification it conducts for state
and local government should be sufficient to satisfy CSREES.
From what we have gathered so far from USDA/REE, they intend to
promulgate the final rule with no changes. We are therefore sending a letter
of protest to the USDA leadership, and will keep you posted on developments.
South Dakota Wetlands Delineation Changes
On June 16, 1999, NRCS Chief Pearlie Reed met with numerous representatives
of environmental and sustainable agricultural organizations for a roundtable
discussion dominated by the decision of South Dakota State Conservationist
Dean Fisher to adopt the mapping conventions and wetland delineation standards
used by the NRCS in Minnesota. These standards govern the application of the
Swampbuster program and, under a memorandum of understanding with the EPA and
the Army Corps of Engineers, are also used by those agencies in administering
the Clean Water Act Section 404 wetland program. The decision, if it stands,
will substantially weaken wetlands protection and could be extended to all
Northern Plains states.
Participants roundly criticized NRCS, both for the process used by
the S.D. State Conservationist in making the decision and for the substance of
the decision. The State Conservationist apparently made the move without
consulting the S.D. State Technical Committee, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
or environmental advocates, but did consult parties that would benefit from a
weakening of the wetland delineation standards and the opportunity to drain
Dean Fisher responded that the changes were made to
conform with the Swampbuster statute and regulations and that the delineations
would not result in additional wetland losses in South Dakota. He defended
the decision not to consult with environmental advocates based on his
pre-determination that they would not agree to the change.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a whistleblower
organization, has issued detailed memoranda which address this South Dakota
issue and other deficiencies of the NRCS and EPA program for wetland
delineations. Contact Martha Noble at the SAC offices, if you would like
copies of these memoranda or a more detailed briefing on this issue.
CAFO Doings: Nutrient Management Policy
The last few months have been active ones for the issue of Animal Feeding
Operations (AFOs) in D.C., as the USDA and the EPA start implementing the
Unified National Strategy for Animal Feeding Operations (UNSAFO) released
March 9, 1999. The SAC office has been involved with a coordinated effort of
the Clean Water Network Feedlot Work Group, which includes many SAC/MSAWG
members, in trying to ensure that the AFO Strategy is implemented in a manner
to adequately address the environmental and public health problems arising
from CAFO operations. This report briefly addresses a few of the major
activities of the last month.
In the AFO Strategy, the NRCS indicated
that it would finalize a nutrient management policy, particularly with regard
to developing a phosphorus standard for the application of animal waste,
prepare a guidance for the preparation of Comprehensive Nutrient Management
Plans (CMNPs) for AFOs operations, and revise its Conservation Practice
Standards relevant to AFOs.
In early May, the NRCS finalized its
nutrient management policy and prepared a guidance for the State
Conservationists in implementing the policy. A draft version of this guidance
was released for review to a few organizations within the D.C. beltway,
including the SAC office which was given less than 24 hours to read the draft
and try to solicit comment from SAC members.
The draft policy
guidance indicated that each NRCS State Conservationist would be responsible
for establishing a phosphorus standard for animal waste application for the
state. We have criticized both the lack of public review of the guidance and
the lack of concrete guidelines provided to State Conservationists for
establishing the phosphorus application standard.
We are also
concerned that the guidance pays too little attention to substances, such as
heavy metals and pathogenic microorganisms, that may be present in animal
wastes. MSAWG members at the state level should monitor actions by the State
Conservationists in implementing the nutrient management policy. The State
Technical Committees should be taking up these issues this summer.
CAFO Doings: Conservation Practice Standards
We are also concerned that NRCS is going forward with revision of its
Conservation Practice Standards relevant to AFOs without sufficient review of
the growing body of evidence of the problems arising from the use of open-air
waste lagoons, large-scale sprayfields and other components currently in use by
large-scale concentrated animal feeding operations.
On June 8,
1999, the SAC office submitted comments prepared primarily by Loni Kemp of the
Minnesota Project on three NRCS proposed Conservation Practice Standards
related to AFOs, including standards for waste treatment lagoons, waste storage
facilities, and pond liners. Our comments objected to the lax provisions in
the standards, and to the failure of the standards to explicitly consider the
size and amount of waste generate by an AFO-CAFO. Copies are available on
CAFO Doings: Nutrient Management Planning
Our concern about implementation of the AFO Strategy has been heightened by
briefings provided to Sierra Club and Clean Water Network activists, including
many SAC- MSAWG members, who gathered in D.C. for a national meeting from June
In his presentation, Obie Ashford, one of the NRCS team
leaders for the preparation of an NRCS Guidance on Comprehensive Nutrient
Management Plans, indicated that the guidance would cover waste treatment
lagoons and other waste handling and storage facilities, as well as land
application of animal waste, but would not include any mandatory measures for
dealing with odors and air emissions.
Moreover, the guidance would
leave setback requirements and other siting issues to the states. The USDA
CNMP development process becomes even more critically important, given EPA's
intention to incorporate the NRCS CNMPs into Clean Water Act NPDES permits for
CAFOs with little or no revisions.
The SAC office has arranged to meet with NRCS headquarters staff. We
will urge the NRCS to release the draft Guidance for the CNMP for general
public review, before the agency becomes wedded to inadequate measures for
dealing with CAFO pollution. We will also join in efforts to remind the EPA
that it has an independent duty under the Clean Water Act, and other
environmental protection statutes, to provide for adequate regulation of CAFOs.
National Organic Standards Board
The National Organic Standards Board met in Washington between June 8
through 10. Keith Jones of the National Organic Program indicated that the
next draft of the Proposed Rule is running behind schedule, but he hoped to
see it published by October. Keith has prioritized getting informal
pre-clearance within USDA and at OMB to keep the review time to a minimum.
The NOSB discussed many of the difficult issues related to standards
which the have proven difficult to resolve: the use of synthetic parasiticides
in certified livestock, whether to require certification of retailers, and how
to handle and pay for accreditation of certifiers. Officials from Alaska
attended the meeting and presented their case for the certification of wild
harvested seafood, but there appear to be few votes among the Board or the
organic community to go in this direction. The Board also began a review of
potential standards for organic aquaculture operations.
The Board made no final recommendations on standards, but did discuss
several important procedural issues. Representatives of the Organic Trade
Association presented their recently completed draft of the American Organic
Standards which are meant to reflect industry consensus and provide a
comprehensive benchmark when the next proposed rule is released. The OTA
welcomes public comment on its proposed standards, which can be downloaded at
The NOSB has also begun looking at candidates to fill four seats soon
to be vacant. Kathleen Merrigan resigned her seat at the end of the meeting
(she is taking over as Administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service),
and Fred Kirschenmann, Margaret Wittenberg, and Rod Crossley will leave at the
end of 1999. The Board sees replacing these individuals as extremely
important for building upon the momentum achieved following the crash and burn
of the first Proposed Rule. The seats opening up on the Board are designated
for farmer, retailer, processor, and environmental representatives. The
Department should soon be announcing the vacancies in the Federal Register,
and will solicit nominations for successors.
Sustainable Devo on the Web
Two notable bookmarks for you Cyberians:
- The Sustainable America website has moved to a new address at
includes information from the recent "National Town Meeting on Sustainable
- Also, the President's Commission on Sustainable Development has set up
shop at www.whitehouse.gov/PCSD
Previous editions of Inside the Beltway
©1999 Committee for
Sustainable Farm Publishing
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