As we all know, Congress is working to put together a new Farm Bill to replace the last five-year bill that expired earlier this fall. A lot of farmers have been up in arms to make sure that the new bill is as good as (or better than!) the old, but a lot of folks too have expressed a lack of concern – after all, how important is the Farm Bill?
Well, the USDA just published a call-out for input on the bill (see details at the end of the post) with a good overview of how far-reaching the bill’s effects are. Most people first think about the economic programs that the bill covers. But think about this: the Farm Bill isn’t just for farmers. It covers things like environmental conservation and wildlife rehabilitation programs (that affect everyone who enjoys the great outdoors, not just farmers!). It covers responses to natural disasters (which we’ve seen a lot of this year). It covers food safety, research, business assistance, not to mention nutritional assistance. It is huge!
In the USDA’s own words, “from the rural youth looking to take over the family farm to the urban gardener looking to grow fresh produce on the rooftop of their apartment building; from aspiring beginning farmers to outdoorsmen; from farmers market lovers to grocery store regulars, the Farm Bill is everywhere.”
Got your own opinions on why the Farm Bill is important? Tweet at @USDA with the hashtag #MyFarmBill and let them know what’s at stake for you without the 2012 Food, Farm and Jobs bill.
Sheep farmers: have you seen problems with lamb prices recently?
The USDA’s Grain Inspection Packers & Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) has opened an investigation of the U.S. sheep market in response to a recent dramatic price decreases. The investigation aims to reveal whether there is market manipulation by processors that is affecting prices.
At the heart of the issue is the fact that the processing sector for lamb is highly concentrated – in the West, for example, only two companies dominate the industry. The industry is regulated by the Packers and Stockyards Act, which prohibits prohibits price manipulation and other unfair and deceptive practices.
The GIPSA investigation came about through the petitioning of a bipartisan group of US Senators (Senators John Thune, Max Baucus, Tim Johnson, Jon Tester, John Hoeven, Kent Conrad, Mike Enzi and John Barrasso), along with Rep. Noem (SD).
According to Bill Bullard of the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA), sheep producers need to immediately call GIPSA to inform them about any conduct or actions by lamb buyers and meatpackers that have contributed to the sharp price decline. Without direct information from affected sheep producers, GIPSA will not know where to direct its investigation.
Here are a few examples of the type of information GIPSA will need to conduct an investigation:
- Did your lamb buyer tell you the packers don’t need your lambs?
- Did your lamb buyer tell you the packers are killing their own lambs and so you will have to wait to sell yours?
- Did your lamb buyer tell you the packers are cutting back production in order to drive up lamb and mutton prices?
- Did lamb buyers/packers refuse to bid on your lambs?
- Did you have difficulty in entering a forward contract to sell your lambs?
- Did you have difficulty selling your lambs?
- Did anyone in the sheep industry tell you the packers have the power to keep lamb prices low and they intend to use their power to do just that?
- Did your lamb buyer impose any new restrictions on your ability to sell your lambs?
These are just a few examples, but any information you may have that you believe has contributed to the decline in lamb prices would be extremely helpful.
Who to Call: If you are a sheep producer and have any information that you believe would be helpful to the investigation, please call or write:
Business Practices Unit Supervisor
Denver Regional Office
3950 N. Lewiston, Suite 200
Aurora, CO 80011-1556
The USDA just expanded their “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” Compass, an online database of resources for farmers, now including resources from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Labor, EPA and many other federal agencies.
The Compass is a searchable map of projects that have received some form of support for food work from the federal government. The goal is to show the resources that the USDA – and now other federal agencies – provide and to see how they affect specific communities. The map is viewable at the USDA website here.
The “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” project began in 2009 as a way of raising awareness of and supporting businesses and communities that are focused on local food systems. Earlier this year, we reported on this blog about the introduction of the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” Compass, a searchable map of USDA programs and the communities they support. Has a group or business you work with got federal support? You may be on the map already! Check it out here: “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” Compass.
The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) has compiled a one-stop database for information on applying for EQIP Organic Initiative grants, available here.
EQIP – the Environmental Quality Incentives Program – supports voluntary conservation programs for farmers and ranchers. It offers financial and technical assistance to eligible participants to install or implement structural or management practices on agricultural land.
The Organic Initiative is for applicants who are certified organic producers, transitioning to organic, or sell less than $5,000 in organic produce annually. It is intended for implementing conservation practices that help fulfill requirements in an Organic System Plan, such as:
- Developing a conservation plan or a transition to organic production plan
- Establishing boundaries and buffer zones
- Improving soil quality and organic matter while minimizing erosion
- Improving pest management
- Developing a grazing plan and improving grazing resources
- Improving waste utilization, composting, and irrigation efficiency
The OFRF database includes application deadlines for year 2012 – many deadlines have already passed, so check today for your state.
In Wisconsin, as in most of the country, the path to becoming a teacher or a lawyer is well defined. But suppose you want to become a dairy farmer without a farm to inherit: That career path is less certain. And, with an aging population of farmers, it’s more important than ever to educate the next generation of ranchers. Many farms without successors are being sold to become large animal confinement operations. Wisconsin’s Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards and GrassWorks Inc, a non-profit that provides leadership, education and resources for grass-based farmers, are offering an alternative. Their apprenticeship program is graduating a group of beginning ranchers trained in “managed grazing” and ready to own their own dairy farms.
The Grassworks Apprenticeship Program, thanks to funding from the USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP,) hires beginning ranchers to work for a “Master Dairy Grazier” for a two-year, 4000 paid-hours program that includes 288 hours of off-farm instruction, from classes in technical schools to training on herd nutrition and holistic management. During these two years, the apprentices are working towards their goal of farm ownership, whether it is moving into an equity earning system or initiating a farm transfer. Program manager Joe Tomandl reports these individual farm businesses based on managed grazing “…have real success, and they make money. They keep local communities going. They make upper middle class business people and a lot of quality jobs. There’s a real potential for rural economic development here too. And that isn’t saying anything about the environmental benefits.”
Nate Weisenfeld, one of the 11 apprentices in the 2010-12 cohort, fell in love with agriculture on his grandparent’s dairy farm. He worked on a dairy while earning a degree in dairy science and, after graduation, began buying a half-calf each paycheck instead of being paid in cash. After four years he was able to leave the dairy and start milking his own cows. In 2010, he bought a house and 80 acres. Nate serves as a model beginning rancher for the Grassworks Apprenticeship Program. Although he was on track to starting his own business before participating in the program, he has benefited greatly from its resources, especially the network. This summer, when he had some issues he was able to call upon the group for help. “I have a whole Rolodex of experienced farmers… They come out in the field, walk through the pastures and say ‘Here is what I think.’”
Without the BFRDP and the Grassworks Apprenticeship Program, Nate believes he would be working at a factory punching a button. Nate struggled with obtaining loans from regular commercial banks before receiving training from the program. Starting a farm is just too difficult to do alone, he says “It’s absolutely crucial that we have this program.”
Have you signed the petition to support a better Farm Bill? It’s not too late: sign up now.
Yes, the presidential election is over. But that doesn’t mean we’re done in DC for the fight for beginning farmers. Now that your vote was counted in the political races, it’s time to cast another vote, this one for a better Farm Bill that supports beginning farmers.
Sign on to the Young Farmers/National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition petition to let Congress know that you want a fair, sustainable Farm Bill today – one that:
- Invests in healthy farms, food, and people
- Protects the livelihoods of small-scale family farmers
- Rewards farmers for their environmental stewardship
Congress returns to the Hill in just one week, and when they return, we want a stack of signatures sitting on their desks, all calling for a fair Farm Bill to support today’s farmers and the generation to come.
Last week, Senator Debbie Stabenow, head of the US Senate Agriculture Committee, and House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor both firmly expressed that a Farm Bill would be passed in the lame-duck session after the election.
During a campaign stop on Boise, ID, Cantor said that he had delayed action before the recess, which began earlier this fall, because they didn’t have enough votes to pass either the Senate’s version of the Farm Bill (the Senate had passed its version in June) or the version that came out of the House Agriculture Committee. 218 votes would be needed in order to pass either bill. However, Cantor stated while campaigning for fellow Rep. Raul Labrador, “I’m committed to bring the issue to the floor and then to see a way forward so we can get the votes to pass.”
Senator Stabenow responded soon afterward that she is pleased with Cantor’s statement, saying that “America’s farmers, ranchers, small businesses and 16 million Americans employed in agriculture desperately need the certainty and disaster relief the Farm Bill provides.”
This means that there are only a few weeks to gather the landslide of grassroots momentum needed to make sure the bill that’s passed is the best Farm Bill for the next generation of farmers and ranchers. Please take a moment to sign on to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition petition calling for a fair farm bill now. We need investment in farms, food, and people; we need to protect the air, soil and water; and we need to level the subsidies playing field.
Let’s have 50,000 signatures waiting on their desks when they get back: Sign the NSAC petition today.
It seems like lately it’s been all trick and no treat when it comes to Congress’ advocacy for farmers!
The Farm Bill expired nearly a month ago and Congress is now on recess until after the election. What can we do? NYFC has teamed up with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to generate a massive amount of input from farmers and foodies across the country.
Please sign on to the petition below and give your reasons why the nation needs to support the next generation of farmers and ranchers. Tell them we need a better Farm Bill now. We need investment in farms, food, and people; we need to protect the air, soil and water; and we need to level the subsidies playing field.
Make your voice heard: Sign the NSAC petition today.
Ken Olson is the extension beef specialist at South Dakota State’s West River Agricultural Center. He came to South Dakota from Montana, where he grew up on a farm that ultimately wasn’t large enough to support both him and his brother. Though he teaches agricultural science for a living at SDSU, the highlight of his career has been his work developing an exciting rancher training program funded by the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers’ Development Program (BFRDP.) The program has allowed him to expand his reach to beginning ranchers with fledgling businesses who need more technical assistance and connections. The program, called BEEFSD, is a partnership between the SDSU extension and the South Dakota Farm Bureau. When the project received funding in 2010, 46 individuals representing 30 operations began a three year training program which includes classroom time, field trips to established ranches, guest speaker lectures, and networking opportunities.
The most satisfying aspect of the program for Ken is the creation of a close community among the cohort. “It’s a bright young bunch of people,” Ken says. “We have helped them establish a network among themselves and we are really promoting networking and learning from each other.” The education they receive is exponentially increased, as each rancher is quick to share new knowledge with the others. Ken explains, “…the time on the bus is almost as valuable as the trip because of all that networking.” The program also introduces participants to mid to late-life successful ranchers who have a lot of wisdom and experience to draw from. Through visits to their ranches and guest lectures, participants are given an opportunity to create a support network of experienced mentors.
Ken and his colleagues would love to continue the program with a new cohort of beginning ranchers, but without BFRDP funding the future of the program is bleak. BEEFSD even has some money left over from their 2010 grant, but because BFRDP funding doesn’t roll over after three years, the team needs to start from scratch. For Ken, it’s essential the program and funding for farmer training programs continue. “It doesn’t seem like a lot of people. But it’s 46 people whose futures have been positively impacted. If we can keep this thing going we can build on what we’ve started here. These 46 people are young, excited and motivated. They are active learners, they really energize me. They are going to be the future leaders of South Dakota.”
If you would like to help programs like BEEFSD succeed in the future, please help advocate for the BFRDP in the next Farm Bill. If you haven’t yet signed the petition, click here to join the call!
My name is Sophie Ackoff, I have been an apprentice at Glynwood Farm. Like so many other beginning farmers today, I don’t come from a farming family and I have no land or agricultural skills to inherit from my parents.
I believe that the government needs to support beginning farmers and shouldn’t short-change farmer training programs. Please act now to send that message to Congress.
I grew up in suburban Southern California, a region historically filled with citrus groves that ultimately succumbed to pressure from developers. Our family vacations always involved driving past the confined beef and dairy operations of the Central Valley, and at a young age I became active in the fight against industrial farming.
Still, I did not witness how broccoli and Brussels sprouts grew until I went to college. At Wesleyan University, I discovered my love of farming at the student-run organic farm, Long Lane. Despite having few academic opportunities in sustainable agriculture, an incredible number of Wesleyan students are starting to farm thanks to alternative training programs such as farm apprenticeships and incubators. Seeing several friends graduate and begin farming, I realized a career in the field was a feasible possibility for young, idealistic kids like me who are eager to transform our broken food system.
I believe the BFRDP is a major reason why my friends and I are optimistic about having a future in farming.
In 2008, the federal government finally recognized the need to support beginning farmer training programs – that build future farmers like me – and provided $75 million in direct farm bill funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). In just a few years, this program has helped launch pioneering farmer training programs across the country, such as Holistic Management International’s Beginning Women Farmers program, Land Stewardship Project’s Farm Beginnings, and the Latino Farmers Cooperative of Louisiana’s Farmer Incubator. The programs funded by the BFRDP are creating unique opportunities for young people who might not otherwise have had access to affordable farm training.
For my first full-season apprenticeship, I chose the Glynwood Center because of the organization’s dedication to helping to train the next generation of farmers. Glynwood is a non-profit organization located in New York’s Hudson Valley, whose mission is to “save farming by strengthening farming communities and regional food systems.” We have a working farm in Cold Spring, NY that has a hundred-member CSA and a pasture-based livestock operation. After receiving a grant for a feasibility study from the BFRDP, the organization has now leased additional land to launch a farmer training program that expands our current apprenticeship program.
In the Northeast, there are many first-year apprenticeship opportunities. Glynwood hopes to grow farmers by nurturing the business and management skills that complement on-farm, hands-on apprenticeships, from budgeting to navigating loans and leases. There is a real need for programs that cultivate those apprentices in subsequent seasons and help young farmers transition to management roles, so they can ultimately operate their own farm enterprise. Glynwood’s BFRDP-funded program will expand the number of apprentices they train each year, and include ample classroom time devoted to strengthening skills needed for the business side of farming. After a season or two, beginning farmers have a solid skill set but lack access to affordable farmland and capital, and could benefit from mentorship and equipment sharing. These are critical next steps.
As of October 1st, the BFRDP has no renewed farm bill funding and the future of emerging, established, and new beginning farmer training programs is now in jeopardy. I am a young farmer, and an organizer for NYFC because I believe the entire country has a vital stake in the future of America’s young farmers.
If the BFRDP’s future is uncertain, so is ours, and so is our nation’s food security. Tell Congress not to slash America’s agricultural future today.
(This post also appeared on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s blog earlier this month as a part of their “Stories from the Field” series documenting the real impact of the Farm Bill.)