Category Archives: Federal Policy

Farm Policy Roundup –July 18, 2014

House Passes Permanent Enhanced Conservation Deduction

iStock_000000142578MediumThe U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 4719, a tax package to encourage charitable giving. Included in the bill were provisions of H.R. 2807, the Conservation Easement Incentive Act. Originally sponsored by Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), H.R. 2807 would make permanent an enhanced conservation easement deduction for landowners donating conservation easements. The Conservation Easement Incentive Act had broad bi-partisan support in the House with 222 co-sponsors and the larger charitable tax package passed in the House by a vote of 277 to 130. Companion legislation to H.R. 2807, S. 526, is currently pending in the U.S. Senate where the next vote will occur in order for the enhanced deduction to become permanent.

American Farmland Trust continues to support the enhanced deduction as Congress considers “tax extenders” legislation. AFT is also pursuing broader tax reform, specifically changes to the estate tax that would benefit farmland conservation.
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Farm Policy Roundup–July 11, 2014

rcppblogRegional Conservation Partnership Program Pre-Proposal Deadline July 14

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is accepting pre-proposals for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) through Monday, July 14.

NRCS is advises partners to submit pre-proposals via email or postal mail. The Grants.gov website will be down for maintenance the weekend of July 12- 14, 2014. This means that applicants will NOT be able to submit proposals via Grants.gov after today, July 11. For any applicants submitted between July 12 -14, please submit through email at RCPP@wdc.usda.gov or postal mail.

For complete details, visit the RCPP homepage.
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Farm and Food News 1/6/12

Protect your teeth and save farmland

Tom Chappell of the environmentally conscious, natural body products company Tom’s of Maine has joined the farmland protection movement in a big way. Chappell recently worked with the Maine Farmland Trust to protect 154 acres of his own farmland from development, and he joined the organization’s campaign to protect 100,000 acres of agricultural land as an honorary chair.

South Carolina farmer shares his love for the land

The South Carolina community and the USDA honored the Williams Muscadine Farm in Nesmith, S.C. during a recent educational USDA Field Day. Farm owner David Williams and his family have transformed the grape vineyard into a destination and place for visitors to learn more about Southern agriculture.

Land transfer program now available nationwide

The Land Contract Guarantee Program, first authorized as a pilot program under the 2002 Farm Bill but expanded and made permanent in the last farm bill, is now available nationwide as of January 3, 2012. The program reduces the financial risk for retiring farmers who sell their farmland to a beginning or socially disadvantaged farmer or rancher, providing “a valuable alternative for intergenerational transfers of farm real estate to help ensure the future viability of family farms.”

Farmer to co-op

A new local foods co-op in Wooster, Ohio, helps to bring products from small local farmers onto its shelves. With area farmers often having difficulty marketing and selling their goods, they are benefiting from selling them to the Local Roots co-op, where they receive 90 percent of the purchase price and local consumers are happy to support them.

Farm incubator programs grow more then experience

Farm workers often hope to eventually own their own land, but even with years of experience, being able to acquire the necessary land isn’t always easy or affordable. Farm incubator programs are increasingly trying to give aspiring farmers the support they need to get off the ground and be viable.

Anaerobic digester aids farmland conservation

A partnership among farmers, an environmental group and an American Indian tribe outside of Seattle, Washington, has resulted in an anaerobic digester that produces electricity and compost while helping dairy farmers deal with waste from their cows in an environmentally sound way.

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Farm and Food News 11/11/11

A place where veterans and nature connect

A restored ranch in Washington state is providing a retreat for nature-loving veterans with disabilities. Thanks to many grants and funding opportunities, including the Wetlands Reserve Program, the protected land is safeguarding wildlife habitat while also providing a place for veterans to enjoy the outdoors.

Addressing farmland loss in the Pacific Northwest

Washington’s Puget Sound region, like many other parts of the country, continues to face farmland loss due to development pressures. The work of organizations, like PCC Farmland Trust, made possible through farm bill programs, is helping to protect farms and farmland in the region.

Trajectory of farm bill negotiations remains unknown

Federal farm policy helps shape what is grown; where, when and how the land is farmed; and who benefits from this production. The 2012 Farm Bill process is being greatly impacted by the federal budget deficit reduction negotiations, the results of which have yet to be revealed.

Peanuts and pecans go up in price

When you are reaching for pecans or peanut butter to make your favorite holiday dessert, you may notice a sharp increase in price. Peanut growers in Georgia and Texas, and pecan farmers across the Southeast, have experienced a severe drought this past summer. However, Virginia peanut farmers are experiencing a robust harvest this year.

Georgia schools to test farm-to-school program

Three counties in Georgia have enlisted their school systems to serve a minimum of 75 percent Georgia-grown food to their students for a full week. The program will run in the spring and will include guest chef and farmer presentations, while seeking to increase healthy eating habits for elementary school students.

Finding community in a farm and food hub

In Worcester, Pennsylvania, farm and food advocates are working to create a food hub through the Longview Center for Agriculture. The organization’s model—which is finding ways to connect members of the community to the land—offers farmers the opportunity to produce food on small plots of land.

Central New York meetings to address agriculture plans

Farmland protection plans are the topic of discussion at a series of upcoming meetings in central New York. The towns of Nelson, Cazenovia and Lincoln are working together to prepare Agriculture & Farmland Protection Plans, guided by steering committees of local farmers, officials and other landowners.

Study finds water quality in Chesapeake Bay is improving

A new study released from Johns Hopkins University study “efforts to reduce the flow of fertilizers, animal waste and other pollutants” is benefitting the health of the Bay.

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Farm and Food News 10/28/11

Farm And Food NewsCrafting a smarter farm policy

Three agricultural leaders—Jon Scholl, President of American Farmland Trust; Garry Neimeyer, President of the National Corn Growers Association; and Chandler Goule, Vice President of Government Relations for the National Farmers Union—propose that the current crop insurance program and general farm policy initiatives should be revamped “to craft a smarter farm policy for America that will be responsible to taxpayers and effective in helping farms and ranches remain viable and productive.”

Global food sovereignty

National Food Day was celebrated this past Monday, October 24th for the first time. It brought together people across the nation to recognize healthy, affordable, and sustainable food. Farmers around the world are making efforts to provide for their communities, and this special day marks another way to underscore the importance of farm and ranch land to our food systems.

Vermont seeks aid for storm damage

An estimated more than 20,000 acres were damaged in Vermont due to Tropical Storm Irene. Representative Welch (D-VT) has suggested three different bills to aid in the restoration and repair of the land damaged and money lost by farmers.

New York acquires additional funding for farmland damage

In New York, there has been another successful awarding of federal funds to farms impacted by the intense weather patterns earlier this year. The funding will go toward emergency conservation and watershed programs. In addition, farmers impacted by the floods have found unique ways to raise money for their relief efforts.

Farmland protection in West Virginia

West Virginians interested in preserving agricultural land can now apply for a farmland protection grant. The funding goes toward the purchasing of conservation easements that limit non-agricultural use of the land. The deadline to apply is November 15th.

Iowa hosts Agriculture for Life conference

Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, is hosting a day-long conference on November 3rd called “Agriculture for Life: Cultivating Diversity in Iowa Fields and Food Systems.” A panel of speakers will include a nutrition director, a previous Kraft Food brand manager and various other Iowans.

New geocodes provide easy farmers market access

The USDA just announced its Excel spreadsheet publication of street addresses and geocodes for over 6,200 farmers markets in the United States. Now you can access your favorite markets with the touch of a cell phone key.

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Farm and Food News 10/21/11

Direct subsidies in the farm bill

On Thursday night, the Senate passed an amendment proposed by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) to prohibit subsidy payments to farmers with an average annual income exceeding $1 million. Though only proposed for the short-term, this decision highlights the continued discussion on what form subsidies may take in the next farm bill. To help people understand the different proposals, we recently engaged noted Ohio State University agricultural economist Dr. Carl Zulauf to analyze the features of the leading safety net proposals.

Farmland transformed into thriving natural sanctuary

A Minnesota farm couple converted their old plowed land into a grass-fed cow “oasis” while preserving native trees, shrubs and species. Their revised landscape also helps reduce soil erosion and water pollution, which in turn brings additional species to their property

Inmate-farmer relationships form

The Idaho potato harvest got a little extra help this year from the state’s Department of Correction. Inmates helped farmers out across the country, providing the farmers with greatly needed support and the inmates with a task in hand.

Kentucky increases local food access

In conjunction with the University of Kentucky and the Governors Office of Agriculture, a new online resource was created for Kentuckians to have easier access to locally produced food. The page also includes nutritional, economical and environmental resources.

Vacation on the Farm

Farms opening their doors to overnight guests are a rising trend across the United States right now, and one that has been popular in Europe for decades. They offer a very realistic look at farm life and one that you can often participate in, while also enjoying the countryside.

New England gains protected farmland

Warren, Maine gained two additions to their “Forever Farms” preservation program this past week: Hatchet Cove Farm and Oyster River Farm. Across the state line in Concord, New Hampshire, city council approved an easement for a 72-acre farm that will prevent future subdivisions and development from the property.

Preserve North Carolina Farmland

Want a grant to protect farmland in North Carolina? You are in luck! The N.C. Agriculture Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund are currently accepting grant applications up until December 15.

Food Day, October 24

To celebrate Food Day, on Monday, October 24, join NYU for a panel discussion of beginning farmers who live and work in New York state. If you are in the Washington, D.C., area, stop by the National Archives for their Food Day Open House. We will be there along with the USDA and ThinkFood Group.

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How I Got Into Conservation: A Lifelong Journey

Note: John Stierna recently received the prestigious Norman A. Berg Conservation Legacy Award, given by the National Capital Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS) to individuals who have made outstanding contributions in advocating the conservation of soil, water and related natural resources, and whose service and accomplishments have made widely recognized contributions to the development of leading edge technologies that serve conservation at any geographic area, while working in the Washington, D.C., area.

Minnesota Farmstead 1995

Minnesota Farmstead 1995

As a boy, I always loved my family’s farm: the outdoors, the fields of hay and oats, the woods, and the gentle stream that flowed across the farm and emptied into Grave Lake in Minnesota’s Itasca County. The farm work, while strenuous, was still fun to a lad in his teens. We were fortunate. We never had the dust storms they had out in the west. Nor did we have very much visible sheet or rill erosion since many fields were planted to alfalfa or clover. Even the oats or wheat helped provide ground cover after sprouting—thus reducing the impact of rain. However, the manure from our dairy cattle clearly provided a risk of runoff that could have adverse effects on the stream and the lake. I started to get the feeling that we could do something more to protect the stream and lake, but I also felt that any effect from our one farm would be minimal since few other working farms were in our immediate area.

John with Oliver 1995

John Stierna (left) with Uncle Oilver Juntunen (right) 1995

After college and graduate school, I became engaged in private sector research and then water policy for the National Water Commission – work that me closer to policy aspects of both water quality and water quantity. When I joined the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly the Soil Conservation Service) I quickly realized that the collective impact of millions of farms on the environment would be substantial over the longer term, yet any adoption of conservation practices would be on a much more localized basis—farm by farm. A real need existed to have tools to influence private landusers to adopt measures that could protect the land and waters on site and those beyond the farm boundaries. The economic evaluations often showed the need for some incentives to offset costs to help producers install suitable conservation systems.

Over the years, I was able to become more and more engaged in policy analysis that has helped bring forward some of the conservation policies and programs to make that happen. From early work on the Resources Conservation Act activity when Norm Berg was Chief of the old SCS, to later work on the Conservation Reserve Program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and the Conservation Security Program and the conservation title of several Farm Bills— these efforts all added to the suite of programs that can assist farmers and ranchers in addressing resource concerns on their farms and better protect the landscape.

Wow. This was a far cry different than the ideas I had as a lad on the farm. But sometimes it takes many years to evolve thought and concerns into workable policies and programs. Persistence over time is something that both Norm Berg and I have shared during our careers. Norm, who played a critical role in the beginning of agricultural conservation in the United States, was a committed conservationist throughout his life. I feel honored to have worked with such a distinguished professional as Norm.


John StiernaAbout the Author: Stierna has more than 45 years of experience in natural resources and agriculture as an economist and policy analyst in both the public and private sectors. He has provided significant leadership for economic analysis, policy formation and legislative analysis during his career with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Washington, D.C., and he now serves as a natural resource policy consultant for American Farmland Trust

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Why Is Conservation Important?

The House has adopted a 2012 budget that disproportionately impacts conservation on our nation’s farms and ranches!

waterWe need a strong, consistent farm policy that includes funding for conservation. But the short-sighted 2012 spending bill approved by the House threatens to pull the rug out from under conservation funding, a key area needed to help farmers and ranchers safeguard our environment and protect their land.

Why do you feel conservation funding is important? Share your comments and help us build a strong message as we prepare to reach out to the Senate and ensure that they deal more fairly with funding that impacts America’s farms and ranches.

Updates:

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How Should Federal Budget Cuts Impact Farms, Food and Farmland?

As legislators and the president face our fiscal realities, federal budget decisions are being made right now that will affect agriculture programs this year and through 2012.

United States CapitalThe required cut to 2011 appropriations—$32 billion in total—sets the boundaries on government spending for the remainder of the fiscal year. It will be up to the House Appropriations Committees, including the Agriculture, Rural Development and Food & Drug Administration Subcommittee, to decide how and where to cut spending. These committees can take an across the board percentage cut to the agencies, or, they can recommend cuts to individual programs.

The overall challenge issued to the Agriculture Appropriations Committee is to cut $3.2 billion of discretionary spending from their budget of $23.3 billion. Finding where to make the cuts is complicated because many programs are interconnected. For instance if the discretionary program for conservation guidance to farmers loses funding, the support needed for everything from farmland preservation and conservation to food and nutrition programs (food assistance), food safety, and renewable energy is threatened—putting programs at risk of being unable to provide the solutions they are intended to provide.

As the fate of the 2011 budget is ironed out, a look to 2012 is even more daunting. Cuts projected to surface in the 2012 budget proposal are estimated at $75 billion in discretionary funds alone. Further cuts to meet deficit reduction goals could possibly dip into programs like the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program or the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, threatening initiatives that provide the very basis for conservation and land protection, help advance rural prosperity, and create greater access to local and healthy food for consumers.

The federal farm bill programs are a key source of support for farmers’ and ranchers’ environmental stewardship, but conservation program funding has already been targeted for budget cuts. Farmers and ranchers are under increasing pressure from both consumers and regulators to address environmental concerns while at the same time, facing record demand from world food markets. In order to grow and prosper, agriculture must meet this demand while also protecting the environment—a tall order. The 2012 Farm Bill must reaffirm the importance of environmental stewardship, while also doing more with fewer dollars—improving the cost-effectiveness of the conservation programs, promoting new income streams like ecosystem service markets, and making it easier for farmers to adopt environmentally sound practices.

Balancing the value of federal programs while also balancing the budget is a difficult proposition and begs the question: What is the best thing we can do with the money available? It requires a look at what goals we have for our nation’s farm and foods, and it’s a challenge we’d like you to consider!

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Farm Programs That Fit the Times

The 2008 Farm Bill featured the creation of the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program. American Farmland Trust guided its development in conjunction with agricultural economist Dr. Carl Zulauf, who was the chief economic designer and modeler of this innovative risk management tool for farmers. In this guest blog post, Dr. Zulauf reflects on the current ACRE program and sets the tone for the discussion of the government’s role in farm policy and safety net programs in the 2012 Farm Bill.

In the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown, the American public is once again debating what role government should play managing economic risk, but this time during severe budget deficits.  Throughout our history, Americans have preferred a free market economy and limited government involvement in individual business failures.

At the same time, there are some economic risks, which affect so many people at once, and are so far beyond the control of individuals, the government enacts policies to help manage them.

Farming, one of the basic sectors underpinning our economy is a highly risky business. Despite all the advances in production practices and the best planning in the world, farmers continue to face risk from factors largely beyond their control.

Moreover, some risks can affect large numbers of farmers all at once, something we economists call “systemic risk.” This includes things like widespread weather problems from drought, to significant market problems like the Asian fiscal crisis in the late 1990s.

Even individual insurance companies can get overwhelmed with these types of risks, for instance, when multiple hurricanes hit in one season.

Unfortunately, American agriculture could be better served by our current government farm programs that do not provide our farmers with adequate assistance against revenue risks.

The current farm programs also don’t serve taxpayers. The current half-dozen farm programs have a variety of overlapping objectives that can lead to duplication in payments. Both taxpayers and many farmers increasingly object to programs that send government checks even when farmers don’t experience a loss, yet don’t help in situations when farmers are in genuine need.

So how can we design a 21st century farm safety net program that provides an appropriate and equitable safety net for farmers, but costs taxpayers less?  By using the following principles:

  • The farm safety net addresses risk management, instead of providing income support.
  • Government programs address systemic risk, the type of risk beyond the control of the individual farmer and problematic for private insurance companies.
  • Payments are only made when a farmer experiences a loss, and only for the amount of the loss;
  • All government farm risk programs, including insurance, are integrated to avoid duplication and save money;

Recent progress was made in the 2008 Farm Bill with an experiment for a new type of risk management program. The Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program was designed as an option for producers to address systemic risk for both price and yields. A specific proposal to improve on this concept and to meet the above objectives is to modify ACRE so that it is fully integrated with crop insurance, which addresses risk unique to an individual farm.

What would farmers gain? Assistance, when it is needed, against the kind of systemic risk that can cause widespread bankruptcies and dislocation, even among well-managed operations and through no fault on the farmer’s part.

What would the public gain? A more transparent, streamlined and focused farm safety net that can be less expensive to taxpayers because it eliminates duplicate coverage and because payments would only be made when there is genuine need.

In short, we can reduce our budget deficit and still provide the risk management this critical sector of our economy needs.

This commentary piece was originally featured in Iowa Farmer Today.


About the Author: Dr. Carl Zulauf is an agricultural economist at The Ohio State University.

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