Convention recap: Is there a farming platform?

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By Eric Hansen, NYFC Policy Analyst 

Agriculture was conspicuously absent from the conversation at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. We already noted in The Hill the missed opportunity this presented for the RNC. Unfortunately the Democrats did an equally poor job speaking to farmers.

For Republicans, highlighting agriculture should be a no-brainer. Rural America overwhelmingly votes Republican and rural farmers are some of the most stalwart Republicans. By not addressing the challenges that farmers face, Republicans ignored a critical constituency, and at the same time a critical problem facing all Americans and their food supply.

Democrats also have an interest in good agriculture policy. Democrats are increasingly clustered in urban areas that, in spite of the growing interest in urban agriculture, are not known as farming centers. However, urban areas are full of consumers who are looking for safe, healthy, and affordable food. Good agriculture policy meets the needs of these constituents as well.

The Republican and Democratic platforms do not discuss agriculture policy extensively, but at least they each mention the topic. The Republican Platform primarily takes aim at on-farm regulations, including those governing Clean Water Act jurisdiction, the Endangered Species Act, and contract livestock production. On the Farm Bill, it reprimands Congress for the time it took to pass the 2014 Farm Bill and calls for swift passage of the next Farm Bill. Finally, the platform also takes a swipe at federally subsidized crop insurance, saying:

“No segment of agriculture can expect treatment so favorable that it seriously disadvantages workers in other trades. Federal programs to assist farmers in managing risk must be as cost-effective as they are functional, offering tools that can improve producers’ ability to operate when times are tough while remaining affordable to the taxpayers.”

The Democratic Platform, by contrast, strikes a more opportunity- and investment-focused tone. It calls for “funding to support the next generation of farmers and ranchers” and it specifically references the importance of sustainable agriculture, local markets, and regional food systems. Unfortunately, the platform is missing specifics on how to accomplish these goals.

While party platforms are important, agenda-setting documents, they are no guarantee of future action. Given the lack of attention paid to agriculture at the conventions, it is going to take a lot of work to bring the policy focus onto farming. However, there are steps you can take right now to get started. To learn more, click here.

A Young Farmers Guide to Election Season

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Election season is in full swing, and Congress is in recess, which means that instead of hanging out in D.C., most Senators and Representatives are in their home states, listening to voters. Agriculture hasn’t gotten much discussion at the national level, which makes it even more critical that candidates hear from farmers.

Young farmers are important constituents, and candidates need to understand that agricultural issues matter. Many candidates and elected officials don’t know very much about farming and even less about growing and marketing methods that many young farmers care about, like organic farming and CSAs. When you take the time to educate policymakers, you are doing them a favor. You’re also helping to inform policy that could impact farmers nationwide.

But before we talk about how to engage, you are registered to vote, right? If you aren’t sure, you can register here.

Now that that is taken care of, it’s time to make your voice heard. There are many ways to engage candidates, whether they are running for president or town council. Try one of these five actions:

  • Attend a town hall or candidate forum. While there is no universal format for town halls or forums, anyone who attends can ask questions or make a statement. Candidates use these events to share their beliefs and get feedback on the issues and positions that matter to constituents. Attending one of these events gives you the opportunity to talk about farming and publicly ask the candidate for support.
  • Ask a question at a local debate. Debates often provide the opportunity for the audience to ask questions. By attending and asking about agriculture, you can challenge both candidates to take on the issue.
  • Get a group of local farmers together to request an on-farm meeting with the candidate. What better way is there to show the importance of farming than to get the candidate out onto a local farm! If you get a couple local farmers together, you can show your impact on the local community and demonstrate your challenges and successes first-hand.
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Rep. Yolo at Swallowtail Farm in Florida.

Are you sensing a theme here? Meeting with a candidate, face-to-face, is a great way to share your experience and concerns. But there are other ways to speak up as well:

  • Engage the candidates on social media. If you only have a few minutes or cannot make it to an event, you can still reach out to a candidate online. Campaign staffers are carefully watching Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you share a position with the candidate online, the staff will take note.
  • Bring your friends into the conversation. Candidates will pay attention to the positions they hear the loudest and most often. So bring other constituents with you to amplify your impact, either online or in person.

One last reminder: We all have personal politics and preferred candidates. However, elected officials are charged with representing all their constituents, not just the ones who voted for them. You do not need to agree with your officials’ politics in order to invite them out to the farm, attend an event, or make the case for them to support good agriculture policy. Farmers need champions from both sides of the aisle, and lawmakers need your help understanding the issues!

FSMA Update: FDA Finalizes the Produce Rule

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By Eric Hansen, NYFC Policy Analyst 

This is what we have all been waiting for, at least those of us with a stake in farm policy. On November 13 , the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released the final version of Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption, commonly known as the Produce Rule. This is the last new regulation we have been tracking under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

The National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) and our partners have been working on these rules for the past few years, and together our coalition provided FDA with a lot of feedback about how the rules could be effective without creating an unreasonable burden for farmers. You can check out some of our past work here.

The Produce Rule pertains to farms and covers the use of manure and compost; water quality; farmworker hygiene; and other potential causes of food-borne illness. NYFC has been watching this rule very careful, since it will be the primary regulation for food safety on farms. We raised serious concerns with the FDA when this rule was proposed two years ago, and we saw significant improvement in the draft released last year. The final rule closely mirrors the draft.

Our friends at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition have the full rundown here, but we thought it would be helpful to summarize the high points of what this means for your farm:

Oranges_IMG_4415_cropWhen do theses regulations take effect?
The earliest deadlines for compliance begin in two years, starting January 2018. For farms that qualify as “small businesses,” which gross no more than $500,000 in produce sales annually (based on a rolling three-year average), compliance begins in January 2019. And for farms that qualify as “very small businesses,” which gross no more than $250,000 in produce sales annually (based on a rolling three-year average), compliance begins in January 2020.

How can I prepare?
Since the rules are so new, there is not a lot of guidance on how farms should ensure they meet the requirements. However, in the next year, the FDA and others will be helping farms sort out these requirements. Keep an eye out for more information on guidance and training next year. In addition, the FDA is asking for specific questions and recommendations for implementing the rule. You can submit those here.

There is one step you can take now.
If you think you will qualify as a small or very small business (grossing less than $500,000 or $250,000 respectively), make sure you are keeping records that reflect that. The FDA is going to want you to demonstrate that your farm meets these thresholds as far back as 2016 once compliance begins. The FDA will release specific guidance on what these records should look like, but until then, it’s a good idea to make sure you save any records you have.

5 things to love about USDA’s New Farmers website

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By Eric Hansen, NYFC Policy Analyst 

Yesterday, USDA announced that they are doubling down on their commitment to new farmers. The Department is aiming to boost beginning farmer participation in their programs and services by focusing $5.6 billion of existing funding on these farmers over the next two years. It is exciting to see this commitment to beginning farmers as well as the clear, measurable goals that the Department has set for beginning farmer participation. We are hopeful this commitment will support the success of thousands of new farmers across the country.

In addition, USDA launched a brand new version of the New Farmers website. This site brings together information from across USDA, aimed at people exploring a career in farming. Anyone who has spent time searching for information on USDA’s website (and I am certainly in that camp) can tell you that resources are difficult to find. The redesign of the New Farmers website was launched to help new farmers navigate this maze. The new site makes a lot of progress towards meeting this goal.

Here are the five things about the website we are most excited about:

  1. Four Steps to Start Farming
    USDA first conceived of the New Farmers website as a place to pull together information about all the programs and resources they offer for new farmers. Originally, they met this goal by offering a laundry list of everything USDA offers. On the new website, information is organized and much easier to find. They identify four steps to start farming, then they group information and resources in relation to each step.
  2. The Discovery Tool
    There’s a new tool on the website to help users find resources specific to their farm. With the Discovery Tool, you can select the type of farm you want to run, how you intend to market your goods, and other specifics. The tool then matches this description against programs that might be relevant to you. USDA offers a lot of different programs to assist farmers, and we’re excited that this tool will help new farmers wade through them all.
  3. A Focus on Farms in Transition
    Land access is a critical challenge for young farmers. We are excited to see a section of the website that focuses specifically on resources for transitioning farms. Some of these resources, like the Conservation Reserve Program’s Transition Incentives Program (CRP TIP), reward landowners who transition their farms directly to beginning farmers.
  4. Women in Ag
    Comprising nearly a third of all farmers, women are critical to agriculture. Unfortunately, their role and leadership has not always been recognized. USDA is trying to change this with the new Women in Agriculture Mentoring Network. You can find more resources and join the network on the New Farmers website.
  5. OUTER SPACE
    Did you know that USDA has a partnership with NASA? It’s true! USDA is helping NASA grow food in space, and NASA is conducting research relevant to back-on-Earth agricultural production. The new website dedicates a page to this partnership, and—paired with other pages dedicated to innovation in agriculture—it is clear that USDA is making the case that ag is a relevant and fascinating career choice. I’m sold.

Farmer testifies to Congress about student loan debt

Emily Best testamony 10-26-15On Monday, farmer Emily Best was invited to testify at a Congressional hearing about the impact her student loan debt has on her ability to farm. As almost one million student borrowers prepare to receive their first student loan bills in November, United States Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), chair of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) held a forum with college graduates and experts to discuss college affordability and the student debt crisis. They were joined at the forum by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI).

You can watch the full hearing here. Emily’s begins speaking at minute 33.

 

Here is an excerpt from Emily’s testimony:
I am an apprentice farmer at New Morning Farm, an organic vegetable farm located in south-central Pennsylvania. My student loans are one of the biggest barriers standing between me and starting my own farm. My student loan debt, combined with my low income typical of beginning farmers, prevent me from accessing the lines of credit I would need to start my own farm.

Starting a new farm is an expensive and risky endeavor. A farmer needs secure land tenure, equipment, seeds, and other capital intensive investments. I’d likely need an operating loan to cover these expenses until my crop grows. Only Farm Credit and USDA’s Farm Service Agency will loan to new farmers. But my negative net wealth essentially forecloses the option of Farm Credit, and the FSA will only loan as much as a farmer can afford to pay back each month. Student loan payments are income that cannot be leveraged for the necessary farm loan.

I’ve considered switching jobs just to pay off my loans, but I believe strongly in the value of my work, and so do my customers. Thousands of other young people are facing the same choice I am. They also must decide whether student loans are an unbearable burden on a career in farming. I’m worried that too many of them will leave farming as a result.

 

Emily did an amazing job explaining why our nation needs to go to bat for young farmers. Now she needs your help. Tell Congress you stand behind farmers like Emily and ask your Representative to support the Young Farmer Success Act:

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FDA Begins Finalizing Food Safety Rules

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Noe of City Grown Seattle, harvesting chard.

Last month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began finalizing the new food safety rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). NYFC and our partners have been working on these rules for the past few years, and together or coalition provided FDA with a lot of feedback about how the rules could be effective without creating an unreasonable burden for farmers. You can check out some of our past work here. It is exciting to see this process finally come to a close. It is also a bit nerve-wracking since the rules will impact farms and food handlers for years to come.

The first rules were released last month and cover Preventative Controls for Human and Animal Food. These rules, in general, cover businesses that process food rather than farms that grow produce. However, NFYC has been watching these rules carefully because many of our members store, aggregate, and process foods, particularly at food hubs and other multi-farm distribution sites. The FDA has greatly improved the rule since their original proposal, and fewer farmers will be impacted. (more…)

Young farmers visit Capitol Hill and USDA

Farmers and NYFC staff in front of USDA. Back row: David Rodriguez, Calvin Andersen, Peter Stocks, Erick Hansen (NYFC Staff). Front row: Emily Eckhardt, Brittany Arrington, Sophie Ackoff (NYFC staff), and Lizz Wysocki.

Farmers and NYFC staff in front of USDA. Back row: David Rodriguez, Calvin Andersen, Peter Stocks, Erick Hansen (NYFC Staff). Front row: Emily Eckhardt, Brittany Arrington, Sophie Ackoff (NYFC staff), and Lizz Wysocki.

Last Wednesday farmers from six states converged on Washington, D.C. for a whirl-wind round of meetings on Capitol Hill and at USDA. The event, known as a “fly-in,” was organized by the National Young Farmers Coalition to give young farmers a chance to advocate in person for the #FarmingIsPublicService campaign, which asks Congress to add farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. The fly-in was made possible with support from Applegate, a natural and organic meat company dedicated to supporting farmers.

Farmers who participated in the fly-in include:

  • Emily Eckhardt, livestock manager at Swallowtail Farm in Alachua, Florida.
  • Lizz Wysocki, farm manager at Zilke Vegetable Farm in Milan, Michigan.
  • Dustin Stein, owner of Stubborn Farm in Mancos, Colorado.
  • Calvin Andersen, co-owner of Grow Local farm in Neenah, Wisconsin.
  • Peter Stocks, who farms with his family on their eighth-generation farm in Dalton City, Illinois.
  • Brittany Arrington and David Rodriguez, who operate Zajac Farm in Columbus, Pennsylvania, which has been in David’s family for more than 100 years.

Each of the farmers who participated have student loan debt that is impacting their ability to build successful farming careers. And they aren’t alone. A survey conducted by NYFC points to student loan debt as one of the key barriers contributing to a shortage of young farmers. Among NYFC survey respondents, 30% said their student loans were preventing or delaying them from making farming their career and 28% said student loan pressure has prevented them from growing their farm business.

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A new generation and permanent protection for Wingate Farm

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Friends and supporters of local farming gathered earlier this month in Hinsdale, New Hampshire to celebrate the permanent protection of Wingate Farm.

Wingate Farm’s new owners are Olivia Pettengill and her brother James. In their second season growing, Olivia and her business partner, Susan Parke-Sutherland, raised 700 pastured laying hens, hundreds of broiler chickens, eight forest-raised pigs, and a variety of vegetables and flowers.

Until recently the 60-acre farm was jointly owned by sisters Carroll Pettengill and Alma Niemiller.  In addition to transferring the land to the younger generation, the family conveyed an agricultural conservation easement to Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust. Language in the easement prevents the land from ever being split apart from the house and barns—protecting the whole farm.

An option to purchase at agricultural value (OPAV) has also been placed on the land. These options are increasingly used to guarantee that protected farms stay in agricultural production and in the hands of working farmers. The option allows Mount Grace to ensure that a sale of the farm would be to a farmer at agricultural value. This is the first time an OPAV has been used to protect farmland in New Hampshire. Without this tool, farmers will continue—as is happening across the country—to get outbid by non-farmers, taking irreplaceable land out of farm production. (more…)

Big USDA Wins for Young Farmers

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This past week, USDA announced two big changes coming to your local county office. First, USDA will be hiring five new staff members at the state level to coordinate new farmer programs for the Farm Service Agency (FSA). The National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) has pushed USDA to provide specialized expertise for new farmers, and this job description is exactly what we have been asking for. Second, USDA announced that it is expanding it’s Farm Storage Facility Loan program to cover a host of new products including dairy, eggs, meat, poultry, hops, and flowers. NYFC helped USDA expand this program to fruit and vegetable growers, laying the groundwork for this new expansion.

Here’s a little more information about both of these news items: (more…)

2016 Agriculture Appropriations: An Update

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By Eric Hansen, NYFC Policy Analyst 

Earlier this month, Congress reached a major milestone in its annual appropriations process, which funds the federal government. Both the relevant committees in the House and the Senate passed funding bills for the Department of Agriculture. These bills set spending levels for conservation programs and farm loans and include “policy riders” that alter Farm Bill programs.

The Appropriations Process
Each year, Congress must pass spending bills that fund the federal government. The government works on a fiscal calendar that begins on Oct 1st. This means Congress needs to pass new legislation before Sept 30th or face a government shutdown.

Congress divides government operations in 12 substantive areas—such as agriculture; interior and the environment; and defense—and writes one bill for each area. In both the House and the Senate, the agriculture bill is written by a small group of legislators who sit on the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. These are often different legislators than those who wrote the Farm Bill.

Once the subcommittee writes the bill, it is considered by the full Appropriations Committee. So far this year, both the full Committees in the House and the Senate have approved their respective bills. Next, the bills should be up for a vote before the full House and Senate. Once amended and approved, the bills will be “conferenced” between the two chambers, and once a joint bill is approved it will go to the President for his signature.

What’s in and what’s out
While this year’s spending bills are by no means final, the Committee drafts provide a pretty clear picture of where things are headed. Overall, funding is down compared to last year. This was expected in a Republican-controlled Congress; however, it has made it harder to secure funding for new programs and initiatives.

There are a few bright spots in the bills: (more…)