Early last week, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of Monsanto in a case that pitted Indiana farmer Vernon Hough Bowman against the agribusiness giant. The Court unanimously held that Bowman violated Monsanto’s patent on genetically modified soybeans when he procured seeds from a grain elevator and used them to plant and select out Roundup resistant seeds for future plantings.
In saving and selecting certain seeds for future production, Bowman was participating in a widely practiced tradition that farmers have maintained for years. Naturally, many sustainable food activists and farmers were disappointed, if not outraged, by the Court’s decision.
But should anyone be surprised by the ruling?
Probably not. At the heart of the case are two legal doctrines: the patent exhaustion doctrine, which holds that once you purchase a patented product, you can generally do whatever you want with it, and another patent doctrine that forbids you from replicating the product. The Court’s decision focused on the later doctrine, determining that Bowman’s intentional replication of Monsanto’s patented product was a clear violation of the patent law as it presently exists.
While many of us were rooting for Bowman, his actions do seem to constitute a violation of current patent law. However, it’s hard to blame the Court for the unfavorable outcome – - what many of us disagree with is the fairness of the laws which protect Monsanto and penalize Bowman, not the adjudicative body’s interpretation.
In light of the Court’s decision, where should we go from here?
Emily Broad Leib, Director of the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, argues that in order to win these legal battles, we need to move away from the courts and focus on changes to patent law at the congressional level. “If the law is drawn in a place this isn’t right,” argues Leib, “we are going to lose the legal battles every time.”
Rather than focusing our energies on court cases we won’t win, we should focus on building coalitions to change laws around corporate control over seeds. The Center for Food Safety’s “Save Our Seeds” (SOS) Campaign aims to “ensure that farmers and local communities maintain and re-gain the fundamental right to save, breed, and re-plant seeds.” While the campaign focuses on legal actions, it also concentrates on education and media outreach to highlight how corporate control of seeds affects farmers, communities, food security, economies, and ecosystems. This later tactic is a crucial step in gaining support for legislative change around seed patent rights for agrochemical corporations.
Though the Farm Bill has been front-and-center as of late, the farmers of NYFC are not forgetting to have a good time! April was full of young farmer mixers, from Fort Collins to Albuquerque, Texas to Rhode Island.
In Fort Collins, farmers from Colorado’s Front Range celebrated their second mixer potluck-style, packing the Empire Grange and dancing to the banjo-picking tunes of Blue Grama Bluegrass. Seasonal brews from New Belgium and Odell Brewing were enjoyed the night-long.
The Texas Young Farmers’ Coalition hosted a Texas BBQ fundraiser at Green Gate Farms complete with a pig roast, cornbread, and gallons of ales and cider—these farmers sure know how to eat! Not to mention raise money for a great cause: all proceeds went Cardo’s Farm Project, a community farm and education center serving the community of Denton, TX.
Young Farmer Night hosted the New Urban Farmers/Urban Food Lab event in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. YFN began as an informal gathering of farmers to share food and company. It continues the tradition of potlucks, farm tours and fun activities (music, cards, bonfire anyone?) and now includes educational workshops and farmer advocacy events as YFN continues to grow.
Later in the month, over 200 farmers and farm-supporters joined NYFC and the Rio Grande Farmers’ Coalition to kick-off the start of the new Albuquerque-based chapter. Local food was prepared by volunteer farmers and beer brought in from Marble Brewery. We were honored to have NM Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham share a few words in support of beginning farmers. The day couldn’t have been more beautiful beneath the old cottonwoods of Old Town Farm.
This is just a small taste of the many awesome farmer gatherings taking place this spring. Is there something going on in your neck of the woods? Let us know what you’re up to!
Things are really picking up with the new Farm Bill. After the painful slowness of last year, it’s surprising to see Congress actually building real momentum into writing the new five-year bill. Here is the latest news from Washington:
Last week, the House and Senate Agriculture Committees released draft farm bills. Now, members of the Committees will “mark up” each draft bill by introducing amendments that will change the content of those bills.
There’s a huge list of potential amendments, and a handful of them are there to support beginning farmer programs. From continuing funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program to changing loan programs to make them more accessible to younger farmers, we’ve got a lot to look forward to in this mark-up. It’s important to realize that these amendments didn’t come out of nowhere! Our champions in Congress are pushing them because over the past year they’ve repeatedly heard from you, and now they’re putting that commitment on paper. This week is the time when we see our work pay off.
Remember the Opportunity Act that we talked about a couple weeks ago? Well that bill got a landslide of support, and many of the amendments this week are drawn straight from that bill. So thanks to all those who sent messages and made phone calls in support of that bill!
What Can I Do?
Before we settle back, though, we need to remember that these amendments are only proposals – they haven’t made it through the entire process yet. So there’s still work to be done. Right now a lot of you are pretty busy with the farming season, but if you live in a Congressional district of a Ag Committee member, we need you to take two minutes today to make a call. You should have received an email from the Coalition today. It gives you the names of some of the great amendments to be introduced in committee tomorrow, a sample script, and your Representative’s phone number.
It’s an easy call to make (you’re just leaving a message with an intern whose job is to take messages down and pass on their gist to a Congressional staffer) and by doing so, you’re helping thousands of other young farmers who don’t live in an Ag Committee member’s district.
In farming, we know nothing is truly separate. The health of the land, our bodies, and the economic health of our operations are all intimately tied. To be profitable and sustainable farmers, we must care for the whole system: how we use our water is just as important as how we build our soil.
Across the U.S., and particularly in the West and Midwest, farmers are facing a looming Goliath: ongoing drought. With some places receiving as little as three inches of rainfall a year, and water demand well out-pacing supply, no farmer in the West needs to be told the situation is tenuous. Just ask any New Mexico farmer these days. With so many vying for a diminishing resource, what can farmers do to ensure a vibrant future for agriculture?
In the West there is an old saying: “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting.” But more and more people are realizing the benefits—and necessities—of working together. Federal cost-share programs for improving irrigation efficiency (depending on 2013 Farm Bill funding), water banking, and win-win water law that doesn’t hurt farmers are all new viable options on the table.
Farmers across the west are speaking up on behalf of water conservation (read NYFC members Brooke Webb and Allison Gannett here) . Farmers are working together with cities to keep land in production while doing our part to use less. In return, cities have more ways to work with farmers instead of merely resorting to buying out water rights that put farmers out of business. We are taking charge of our own future. Working together in support of smart resource use is how we will get there.
Earlier this month, the USDA announced the recipients of the 2013 Value-Added Producer Grants program. The total amount of grants dispersed, going to 110 agricultural producers, totals over $16 million.
This funding is designed to stimulate the creation or development of value-added producer-owned businesses in areas that would benefits from such an institution but require assistance to get started. Often VAPG grants are used to conduct market feasibility studies or marketing plans for future businesses.
The program was first introduced in 2000, and then expanded in the 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills to include more products and activities. Applicant match the grant funds in cash or with in-kind contributions, and invest this money first before receiving the grant money. Click here for more information on the program.
The 2013 awardees are spread over 43 states, as well as Puerto Rico and Guam. The areas of agricultural focus were diverse, with over a dozen grants going to on-farm cheese production, a dozen going to farm-produced alcohol market research, and ten going to bio-fuels research.
A few of the many 2013 grantees include:
The Mississippi Delta Southern Black Women in Agriculture Cooperative, which was funded to to develop, produce, and brand sweet potato products for local markets. The work will be in partnership with local farmers involved in the supply chain.
The Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, which will conduct market differentiation research (basically a study to see how well a speciality version of a crop can be marketed) for organic white corn products.
And Broadfork Farm of Virginia, which will expand the processing and marketing of pizzas and breads from producer-grown vegetables.
In the past, VAPG grants have been distributed to everything from individual farms to grower cooperatives and trade associations. See the complete 2013 grant list here.
The VAPG program is a part of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act that was introduced in Congress last week (S. 837 and H.R. 1727), and is another great example of why we need to build as much support for the Opportunity Act as we can. (Send an email to your representative today!) Right now the VAPG’s future is uncertain, and we need to push for support of this useful program.
In comparison to the numbers presented today, the funding amount proposed by Congress last year (that never made it into law) was a huge cut to only $10 million. Today, the Opportunity Act is proposing to fund the program at $20 million – half the original amount in the 2002 Farm Bill. This is a respectable cost-savings (given the current fiscal climate) that still supports American agriculture. Take a moment to tell your Representative to sign on RIGHT NOW!
Congressional voting records. Appropriation amounts. More acronyms than you can shake a scuffle hoe at.
Starting to feel overwhelmed already by the massive amount of data surrounding the Farm Bill? Sometimes when we’re feeling swamped, we turn to FarmBillPrimer.org, a great resource for data, maps, and analysis.
This week we scored an interview with Marjorie Roswell, the creator of FarmBillPrimer.org. Enjoy!
NYFC: Your site contains a wealth of data about the Farm Bill digested into easy-to-read maps and graphics. I find myself often checking in when I need to know who in Congress sits on which ag committee. And your charts – from keeping track of pro-farmer bills and who support them to following where federal money flows – are an amazing resource to pore over!
But first, who exactly is FarmBillPrimer.org, and what inspired you to create this resource?
MR: I created FarmBillPrimer.org in 2006, after one of the advocacy groups sent out an alphabet soup table. EQIP, CRP, WHIP. (WHIP?! CRP?!) I knew it mattered, and I knew I didn’t have a clue what it all meant. So I wrote to the Comfood listserve, and one kind soul, Hank Herrera, responded, helping me to sort out all the acronyms, and categorize them.
I had a picture in my head of how to visualize the alphabet soup spreadsheet so that more people could understand it… I talked to soooo many groups about my idea. Thankfully after a few years of sharing the idea, the Hopkins Center for Livable Future (CLF) took it on, working with USDA to create the underlying dataset.
The site really ramped up last year, after the December 2011 Farm Bill Hackathon. I showed up with my plan to update our maps of Congressional Agriculture Committees. (At the time, I didn’t even realize there were four Agriculture committees…. I thought there were just two, since I didn’t realize the Appropriations committee also had two Ag subcommittees.)
Lo and Behold, Daniel Bowman Simon showed up at the Hackathon with the exact same idea. We had both independently gotten started! We had even downloaded the same Census map, and begun to work with it in a GIS program.
So, a collaboration was born! Daniel was a great inspiration.
Several members of the food system community have also helped out along the way. Rebekah Wilce, and Jill Richardson, especially helped move various visualizations forward.
NYFC: We are starting to enter the “mark up” phase of the new farm bill, where the Congressional Ag committees write a draft of the Farm Bill. What is the best way to keep up-to-date on how the mark-up process is going?
You can check out last year’s amendment chart and amendment list to get a sense of what markup amendments looked like last Fall (before Congress completely shut down the process, until now). You can even click on “roll call” to see (wherever there was an actual roll call vote) to see who voted how.
NYFC: Great! And of course the Young Farmers Coalition will be sharing information by our blog and social media as well. Next – what would you say are the most useful resources you have for someone who is still trying to wrap their head around how the Farm Bill works?
MR: I’m still trying to wrap my head around how the Farm Bill works, too! I would say it’s challenging. But worthwhile.
A good place to start is with the Hopkins CLF Farm Bill Visualizer (It’s worth taking the time to download the Java program, and explore the visualization.) Also, for a different view of the same data, look at these two visualizations:
Sometimes, if I’m on a laptop, I just rotate the laptop to be able to read the categories.
Note that there’s a category for New and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers. (Hopkins CLF helpfully determined these categories)
Also, of course, look at the committee maps on FarmBillPrimer.org, and see if you, or anyone you know, is served by an Ag Committee member.
The MOST useful resources will be the staff of your congress members. Meet with them. Talk to them. Share what you know, and ask what they know. And share your priorities with them.
NYFC: As a farmer with a Congressman on the Ag Committee (Rep. Chris Gibson), I love being able to look up his voting record on farm program spending. Is this section going to be continued in the future?
MR: I’m doing this work as a volunteer, but I’m very committed to it. I cleared the week from taking on client work so that I could track the markup next week. Most of the amendments will be voice votes, where it’s almost impossible to suss out who voted which way. But wherever there is a roll-call vote, I’ll link to it.
NYFC: As you’ve pulled together this wealth of information, what does it tell you about the prospects for the upcoming Farm Bill and how things will change for beginning farmers?
MR: The most essential thing is that beginning farmers get involved. I think (I’m pretty sure) that the prospects for beginning farmers are very, very challenging. I think we all have a tendency to think that “they” (some undefined “they”) will be working on the issues on our behalf, but it’s really a very small community. It’s us.
NYFC: You’re absolutely right! Thank you so much for talking with us, and we’re excited for a hell of a fight this summer!
It’s been a long wait, but things are starting to move on the next five-year Farm Bill.
As a quick refresher, the Farm Bill, which normally is written every five years and dictates all federal spending on agricultural programs, expired last fall. Thanks to hyper-partisanship, Congress was unable to put together a successor bill all year (as you’ll recall, last year doesn’t exactly stand out as a highly productive year in Washington).
In the early hours of New Years Day, Congress eked out a temporary extension bill that cut funding to most of the programs dedicated to beginning farmers. It was a bad day for beginning farmers, but the silver lining was that it was only temporary, and the new five-year Farm Bill could reinvigorate those programs.
Well that day has arrived. We just got word that the Senate Ag Committee is going to start the mark-up process next Tuesday and the House Ag Committee will be starting on Wednesday (basically, this means that they’ll start to draft the language of the bill). This is the get-the-ball-rolling step. After this, the Ag committees will produce draft bills to go before the entire Senate and House and then the bills get reconciled with each other and get sent to the White House.
After so many months of waiting (well, waiting and pushing for progress!), it’s thrilling to know that this is starting. We realize that many of our members’ farm seasons are really picking up right now, so the timing isn’t ideal. Well that just means that we at NYFC will do everything we can to make sure you stay informed and engaged – even as the days lengthen and you have less and less time to check your emails.
We will have more information later this week on what our prospects are like and how you can get involved. Also, a huge “Thank You!” to all those who sent an email to Senators and members of Congress about the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act (and if you didn’t, it’s not too late! Read more here)
One of NYFC’s main goals is to be a go-to resource for you, the farmer (or aspiring farmer!). We do our best to connect you to the information that you need with clear explanations and an easy-to-use website.
Two information portals that the youngfarmers.org web site has to offer are our list of training opportunities (broken down state by state, as well as national programs), and land and jobs directories, whether you’re looking to work, buy or to hire. These two directories get a lot of traffic, and we’re thrilled to be able to connect you to the right resources. The goal behind them is to help you get the right information, tailored to your region. Whether you’re seeking farm business training in South Dakota (available from Dakota Rural Action!) or a land-link program in Colorado (find it here!), you’ll find it on youngfarmers.org.
In an effort to address the third leg of a successful career in farm ownership (training and jobs can only get you so far, after all!), we are pleased to introduce our new Capital and Credit Guide!
There are a ton of great resources out there to help educate you and guide you through the process of procuring different loans, credit lines and grants. What this directory aims to do is to give you the knowledge to know what to look for and the direction to start your search. The directory is broken down into different types of credit resources, including:
- government resources (with helpful breakdowns of Farm Service Agency loans and how to apply);
- an introduction to the Farm Credit System, a network of institutional lenders with government oversight;
- non-profit lenders (if you know any non-profits that should be added to this list, let us know!)
- an introduction to dealing with private lenders (aka, banks) and where to learn more to get yourself ready;
- and finally, some places to look for non-traditional funding.
Check out the page today! As with the other two directories, this Credit and Capital page will continually improve with your input! Is there a program, resource, or organization that we missed? Let us know your additions at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be sure to include them.
It’s not too late to speak up for beginning farmers!
Last month, we announced that Republicans and Democrats in both houses of Congress introduced a new bill to give young and beginning farmers the support they deserve. Despite all the partisan bickering in Washington these days, the bill, called the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act, is a ray of sunshine. But before we celebrate, we need to make sure the Opportunity Act actually passes – take a moment right now to do just that!
This bill does some very important things for new farmers:
- Gives young farmers a foothold in USDA grant and loan programs;
- Funds farmer training opportunities through universities and community based organizations (think MOFGA’s Journeyperson program and Farm Beginnings classes);
- Focuses land trusts on providing affordable land access to new farmers.
To win these needed changes, we must build immediate and broad support for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act in Congress. Time is critical because staffers for the House and Senate Committees on Agriculture are sitting at their computers writing the Farm Bill right now. We need a landslide of members of Congress to sign on as co-sponsors to make sure this bill moves forward.
Hi, I’m Sarah Lyons Chase, of Chaseholm Farm in upstate New York.
Today I can say that Chaseholm Farm is a third generation dairy. I was lucky to grow up in a Hudson Valley farming family that held onto its land through the peaks and troughs of living on a commodity milk check. My interest in farming is deeply connected to this land and the cows we have raised here, just as I am. It is exhilarating to be on the brink of beginning of another lifelong farming journey on our Chaseholm Farm.
My older brother moved home two years before I did. He started a cheese company on the farm; since I returned three years ago we have been working together and our collaboration can now extend to my dairy herd managed for his cheese production.
Chaseholm has been a conventional dairy but with “retro” management- my Dad didn’t like to use pesticides or buy GMO corn seed– we’ve had the same tractors since the 50’s and our dump station milking machines were only replaced by a direct pipeline system three years ago. I feel proud of coming from a humble and dedicated small dairy.
My farm dreams hold onto our history while improving systems and adapting to the problems dairy farmers face today. I am aiming to create an efficient grass based system that will raise healthier cows and high quality milk at a lower cost. I am not going to push my cows for maximum milk production; I want to live sustainably, to make a living wage while treating the land and animals with deep respect and care, continually improving.
Thanks for following along with me this season!