This is What Democracy Looks Like: OEFFA Hits Capitol Hill to Talk About the Farm Bill
From January 29-February 1, OEFFA members and staff were on Capitol Hill as part of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s winter meeting and lobby day. It’s the first of four times OEFFA will be meeting with federal legislators to discuss the farm bill in the first three months of 2023!
Policy Director Amalie Lipstreu, Organic Policy Specialist Julia Barton, organic grain farmer Eli Dean, and Celeste Treece with Ag Noire and the Jackson Street Produce Market met with five of Ohio’s Congressional offices to discuss OEFFA’s priorities in the 2023 Farm Bill:
- Promoting soil health and climate resilience through conservation policy
- Increasing investments in local and regional food systems
- Addressing consolidation in the food and agriculture system
- Investing in organic and sustainable research
- Providing more support for beginning and BIPOC farmers
OEFFA Meets with Members of U.S. House of Representatives
With new legislators and their staff still getting settled in, it was visibly a time of transition in Washington D.C., particularly in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Senate and House offices are surprisingly small, so when OEFFA met with Julia Rossman, staff for Representative Shontel Brown, Eli and Julia sat on a pallet in the makeshift meeting space in a library. Celeste talked to Brown’s office about the importance of investing in urban agriculture and Eli spoke about the need to ensure better access to crop insurance.
Brown was elected to Ohio’s 11th Congressional district in 2021 after Marcia Fudge resigned to become Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. She is a member of the House Agriculture Committee, an important position for influencing federal agricultural policy. Brown is the first woman and first African American to serve as Cuyahoga County Democratic party chair, a position she held until 2022.
Nathaniel Dullea, a staffer for Representative Marcy Kaptur (D, OH-9), met with OEFFA and we asked for the Representative’s support for one of our priorities: state assistance for soil health. With a district stretching along Ohio’s north coast from Toledo to Erie County, Kaptur is the longest-serving woman in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives and ranks among the most senior Members of Congress. She currently serves on the House Appropriations Committee, which has authority over federal discretionary spending.
Next, OEFFA met with Mitch Caine, an aide to Representative Max Miller. Eli talked to Mitch about the economic development benefits of organic agriculture and about flame weeding systems, a tool used by organic farmers to control weeds without chemicals or cultivation. Miller represents Congressional district 7 in northeast Ohio, and is a former aide to Donald Trump.
OEFFA Meets with Both Ohio Senators
Additionally, OEFFA met with Wes King, legislative assistant to Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Celeste talked about support for urban agriculture in the farm bill and Eli talked about the importance of crop insurance reform, including setting payment limits. Wes said that the Senator is committed to introducing five farm bill marker bills related to crop insurance payment limits, increased support for local meat processing, cover crops, local and regional food systems, and an agroforestry bill focused on the Conservation Reserve Program.
Brown has represented Ohio in the U.S. Senate since 2006, and has consistently supported investments in local and regional food systems. He serves on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, where he has been instrumental in strengthening the farm safety net and addressing childhood hunger.
Finally, OEFFA met with a legislative director and agricultural staffer for the newly elected Senator J.D. Vance (R-OH). Eli was able to make a connection by sharing his story about his organic family farm and OEFFA staff helped introduce him to the organization and our work.
OEFFA Returns to Capitol Hill in March: Will You Join Us?
Both Eli and Celeste were amazing ambassadors for Ohio’s organic and sustainable farming community. We appreciate them taking time away from their farms, families, and businesses to advocate for their farm bill priorities!
With the current farm bill set to expire this year, OEFFA will be returning to Washington D.C. in March for a Rally for Resilience and days of action with the Organic Farmers Association and National Organic Coalition.
We will continue to advocate for a farm bill that helps achieve our vision of a future where sustainable farmers thrive, local food nourishes our communities, and agricultural practices protect and enhance the environment.
If you share these values and would like to attend future days of action or meetings with legislators, please contact us. We’d love to help raise your voice for a stronger farm bill!
A Transformational Approach to the 2023 Farm Bill
Written by Ricardo Salvador, 2023 OEFFA Conference Keynote
The upcoming reauthorization of the farm bill will be the 23rd iteration of this legislation. According to Jonathan Coppess and Chris Adamo—Vermont Law School teachers of a course on the “modern farm bill”—this version could be revolutionary. They see the main driver of this potential departure being the role agriculture could play in mitigating climate change.
A Push for Business As Usual—But a Need for Something New
A problem with this otherwise sensible prediction is that it would require genuine change in farm practices and the policies that incentivize and support the structure of farming.
Already, the incoming chair of the House Agriculture Committee is on record stating that he “will not have us suddenly incorporate buzzwords like regenerative agriculture into the farm bill or overemphasize climate.” The president of the Iowa Farm Bureau—the most influential state chapter of the powerful national federation—wants the bill to stay the same, and continue to distribute public largesse without any expectation that it will return verifiable environmental benefits.
Of greatest concern is that in its recent announcements of nearly $3 billion in “climate smart commodity” awards, the USDA has amply demonstrated that the politics of farm country and agribusiness will dilute the Department’s ability to promote and support effective climate change action through agriculture.
There is a scientific component to this, but the most important factor is political. A patchwork of “climate friendly” voluntary practices used during any given production year will have limited ability to reverse greenhouse gas contributions—regardless of farmers’ positive intent. For this sector to meaningfully reverse its emissions, the massive changes in land use and row-crop and livestock production that are needed can only be brought about by the wide-reaching legislative power of the farm bill.
Revolutionary Farm Bills Throughout History
This brings us to the Coppess and Adamo analysis. On their telling, there have only been three truly revolutionary farm bills. They define these as legislation that completely shifted the direction of farm policy.
The most recent was the disastrous “Freedom to Farm” bill of 1996. It attempted to eliminate farm subsidies through a transitional program, but instead led to the consolidation of farmland into larger operations, and the failure and displacement of thousands of family farms. The system of government support was rapidly restored in the subsequent 2002 Farm Bill.
The first farm bill in 1933 was revolutionary precisely because it recognized the government’s essential role in agriculture: to manage the market for agricultural products in a way that farmers could not accomplish on their own. Farmers, and all of U.S. society, have lived since then with the reality of the determinative role of government programs in farming. All farm bill debates have largely been about whom and what to support with this massive public intervention (the current bill is a $428 billion package of tax dollars).
This brings up the remaining revolutionary farm bill, and a lesson for how to break the impasse created by powerful organizations and corporate interests dependent on government support—and which therefore have a stake in shaping and controlling “status quo” farm bills. The 1985 Food Security Act expanded the traditional interest groups vying for public tax dollars by bringing in the anti-hunger community.
This is what Coppess and Adamo identify as the beginning of the “modern” farm bill era, since the “Farm Bill Coalition” created to pass that bill has not only persisted, but the new “nutrition programs” they sponsored have become the lion’s share of the bill, capturing 76.1 percent of the most recent farm bill spending. The “farm side” and “nutrition side” need one another to be politically viable. And this is the ultimate lesson that Coppess and Adamo drew: it is all about the coalitions you bring to the debate.
Shaking Up the Status Quo
At the Union of Concerned Scientists, we have been working with a large number of partners, including OEFFA, to shape a new, broader coalition for the farm bill debate. By definition, a status quo approach to the farm bill begins with the existing legislation as a template, and is about making minimal adjustments.
A transformational approach calls for us to ask what we need from a 21st century food system, and to then craft that legislation without the constraints of programs designed to answer different questions from a different era.
The new coalition is led by the notion that many have a stake, in particular groups representing large communities historically excluded from shaping farm and food policy. We see the bill as a vehicle to center the racial justice issues accounting for farming being a dominantly white occupation, with the labor side of the farm and food system being a conspicuously Brown and Black work force.
This is why the coalition marks the return of the labor sector, which was an essential partner with farmers—as a grassroots, working-class coalition—in shaping the original agricultural policies embedded in the 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act.
No matter your perspective, we can agree this is indisputably a transformational approach to the traditional “farm bill debate.” Accordingly, the coalition’s priority demands are seen as a package, a set of issues so interrelated they cannot be effectively addressed by breaking them apart. They are:
- Center racial justice
- End hunger
- Meet the climate crisis head on
- Increase access to nutritious food
- Ensure safety and dignity for food and farm workers
- Protect farmers and consumers
- Ensure the safety of our food supply
All of us who are involved are pragmatic, and understand this approach is a long shot. This is because of powerful entrenched interests (the agribusiness lobby is larger than the defense lobby), and not because this suite of issues is not well-framed, urgent, and relevant to the times in which we live.
The status quo interests have vulnerabilities, key among which is the difficulty they will have in making the straight-faced argument that they need more of the lavish public support that has led to historical farm profits and farmland values. Coppess, who has authored what I consider to be the landmark book on the farm bill’s history, has been warning Midwest farm groups that the sailing might not be smooth for the “bipartisan approach” (code word for status quo) that such groups would like to see in the bill.
At the upcoming OEFFA conference, we will discuss the prospects, strategy, and progress of this transformational campaign, and the key role that OEFFA can play in advancing this work. After all, the farm bill is legislation in which every person in the nation has a stake, and no effort to take part in the farm bill process can be credible without the genuine and active participation of farmer groups.
Ricardo Salvador is an agronomist and the director and senior scientist of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. His keynote address, A Transformational Idea for the 2023 Farm Bill, will take place on Saturday, February 18 at the 2023 OEFFA Conference. Learn more about OEFFA’s 2023 Farm Bill Platform.
Get Paid to Conserve! Conservation Stewardship Program Applications Due in April
Organic and sustainable farmers work hard every day to practice good conservation on their land. They plant cover crops to feed the soil and protect it from erosion. They draw carbon from the atmosphere, protect our waterways, and improve wildlife and pollinator habitat. Many farmers would like to expand their practices to include no- and reduced-tillage systems, rotational grazing, and agroforestry.
But, these important practices, which benefit us all, require time and financial resources to implement. Hard-working farmers should not have to bear those costs alone. Luckily, there are programs available to help.
Right now, farmers across the country can apply for this year’s Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). This program provides payments to farmers who use new and existing conservation practices. Applications are due in April.
What is the Conservation Stewardship Program?
CSP is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) largest conservation program. It offers whole farm conservation assistance to farmers across the country. Sign-up opportunities are available each year.
The program provides financial assistance for advanced conservation through five-year renewable contracts to implement all kinds of conservation practices, including crop rotations, cover crops, and rotational grazing.
Many organic producers already use practices that are detailed in this Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) program or can benefit from using CSP to provide wildlife habitat, conservation buffers, protect water quality, and much more.
Changes to the program as a result of the 2018 Farm Bill include a higher payment rate for some conservation activities and specific support for organic and transitioning producers. Historically underserved farmers (including BIPOC, veteran, and beginning farmers) receive special consideration.
Yet, few Ohio farmers have taken advantage of this opportunity.
How Do I Sign Up for the Conservation Stewardship Program?
Applying to CSP is simple. By April (exact deadline to be announced), farmers must complete and submit an application by contacting their local local NRCS office.
Importantly, you need to have a farm record number established through the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA).
If you don’t have an FSA number, go to your FSA office to establish a farm record number before submitting your CSP application.
Applicants must also have control of the land for the five-year term of the CSP contract.
After submitting your application, you will work with NRCS to complete the tools to evaluate management systems and natural resources on the operation’s land.
If you plan to apply for CSP, drop us a line and let us know, or if you need assistance implementing conservation practices on your farm, contact one of OEFFA’s sustainable agriculture educators at (614) 947-1647.
The Conservation Stewardship Program and the 2023 Farm Bill
Every 5 years, Congress outlines the scope and funding of CSP and other programs in the Farm Bill. The next 2023 Farm Bill gives us the opportunity to expand and improve CSP so it better meets farmers’ needs.
But, to do that, we need to make sure that our legislators understand how important these conservation programs are.
Members of Congress need to hear how farmers in their communities are using these programs to create healthy soil, protect our waterways, and increase resilience. The best way to get that message across is for farmers to use these programs and share their stories. If your farm has used CSP, please contact us to share your story.
If you aren’t a farmer, your voice also matters. By creating healthy soil and clean water, these programs benefit us all. Please contact us to learn more about how you can help advocate for CSP and other conservation programs in the 2023 Farm Bill.
Don’t Harm Crop Insurance, Improve It!
This post originally appeared on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) blog.
“Do no harm” to crop insurance has become a common refrain in Washington DC as we gear up for a new farm bill this year. NSAC agrees that a top priority should be to not harm crop insurance as the 2023 Farm Bill debate heats up. In fact, we aim to improve it. Barriers in program design and implementation leave small to mid-sized, beginning, specialty crop, and organic farmers without access to this pivotal safety net program, and Congress has the opportunity to address these shortfalls.
A federally subsidized farm safety net is a necessary tool to help protect farmers from the many risks of farming. Yet NSAC members have long supported and worked with farmers for whom crop insurance is inaccessible. Limited resource, small, beginning, diverse, and organic farmers find themselves choosing between either purchasing crop insurance each year, if a relevant policy is even available and advertised to them, or adopting on-farm conservation practices and diversifying production and markets to mitigate risk and improve long-term resilience against disasters. Almost invariably, they choose the latter.
If a farmer chooses to adopt conservation measures and diversification but then does not have enough remaining resources to be able to enroll in support of the farm safety net, it suggests that the program as it currently stands is not an effective tool that meets the needs of all farmers. No farmer should be forced to choose, and in fact, both strategies should be incentivized to help farmers manage risk.
While more than 85 percent of planted acres for commodity crops (e.g., corn, soybeans, cotton, and wheat) are insured under the federal crop insurance program (FCIP), the chart below illustrates most farms are not served at all by the program. Most farms above 500 acres hold insurance policies, yet very few farms under 260 acres are enrolled in the FCIP relative to the total number of operations.
All Farms and Farms Purchasing FCIP Policies, by Acres Operated
The reason for this disparity in access is not because these farmers do not want a safety net to protect against the once-in-a-generation weather event or market pitfall that have become regular features of the farm economy. Rather, the FCIP was not designed to meet the needs of small, beginning, specialty crop, and organic farmers.
Why Is Crop Insurance Not Working for Everyone?
First, because it is not accessible to farmers looking to diversify their income streams or differentiate themselves in the marketplace.
The federal crop insurance program is a public-private partnership. Farmers purchase insurance policies from private sector insurers, known as Approved Insurance Providers (AIPs). USDA, specifically the Risk Management Agency (RMA), regulates the policies sold by AIPs, uses taxpayer dollars to subsidize farmer premiums (the cost of purchasing a policy), and subsidizes AIPs for the cost of selling and servicing crop insurance policies.
Farmers may file a claim to receive an indemnity payment when they experience an insurable event, either a natural peril or revenue losses (depending on the type of insurance policy purchased: yield, revenue, or area-based policies, and more). Insurable commodities vary by location and depend on whether data exists to verify the projected value of a farmer’s product confidently and appropriately.
This variability in whether a crop is insurable already places small, beginning, and specialty crop growers at a structural disadvantage. For example, a beginning farmer who wishes to grow strawberries in a Montana county where no other producer grows that crop will almost certainly not have the option to purchase an insurance policy that insures strawberries. If they desire the security of a safety net, the farmer will be incentivized to instead grow a commodity that is already widely grown in the county – such as wheat – which is unlikely to unlock market opportunity and allow the beginning farmer to differentiate themselves, but for which an insurance product is readily available.
Second, because it promotes monoculture commodity production over specialty crops and on-farm conservation.
Several rules and guidelines that determine how the FCIP is administered challenge the ability of nonconventional farmers to remain eligible for full crop insurance protections. For example, farmers must adhere to “Good Farming Practices” as defined by RMA to qualify for indemnity payments in the aftermath of an insurable event. RMA currently maintains that a practice which reduces yields may not be considered a Good Farming Practice. This is a serious deterrent against adoption of many conservation practices because temporary yield drags are common on farms transitioning to climate-friendly, regenerative, and organic systems before yields can stabilize and even rise.
Additional guidance on when and how cover crops may be terminated creates a similar disincentive. What should be a farm-specific decision is applied to a broad region wherein conditions may vary wildly from farm to farm.
Likewise, RMA determines regionally appropriate final planting dates, wherein acres planted on or before this date receive the full yield or revenue guarantee that a farmer selected when purchasing their insurance policy. Organic and conventional operations are currently held to the same final planting date, even though certified organic farmers sometimes plant crops such as corn later than their conventional counterparts to avoid cross-contamination with neighboring genetically engineered seed. The value of a yield or revenue guarantee is reduced each day for farmers who plant after the final planting date.
This structure to incentivize monoculture commodity production over specialty crops and diverse rotations is mirrored in eligibility considerations to receive agriculture loans as well as other public and commercial resources. The Whole-Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) program is an exception to this paradigm and the dominant insurance model where the availability of policies is determined by crop and county. WFRP is the only insurance product designed to protect a farmer’s entire operation, not just one crop, and it is available nationwide. It also includes a built-in insurance premium discount for crop and enterprise diversification that considers the inherent risk reduction impacts of diversification. However, significant red tape has made it difficult for farmers to purchase WFRP. Recent changes announced by RMA are expected to improve farmers’ ability to access the product, and additional changes can and should be made.
How Can Insurance Be Improved to Expand Access?
There are many reasons why small, beginning, organic, diversified, and specialty crop farmers rarely purchase crop insurance. Historical barriers include limited policy availability, bureaucratic red tape (including burdensome paperwork), and insufficient outreach and education. While Congress and USDA in recent years have taken steps to address these challenges and expand insurance coverage for nonconventional producers, additional reforms are needed.
NSAC’s 2023 Farm Bill Platform proposes recommendations that will be key to improving crop insurance access for small and diversified farmers. In summary, these needed reforms include:
- Expanding insurance options and further streamlining the WFRP program;
- Directing RMA to provide continued education to insurance agents about agronomic practices and coverage options for nonconventional producers;
- Reforming barriers to conservation practice adoption perpetuated by insurance rules, including the RMA definition of Good Farming Practices and cover crop termination guidelines; and
- Establishing a secure data service to collect, link, and analyze data on conservation practices so this information can be integrated into crop insurance actuarial tables, as proposed in the Agriculture Innovation Act of 2021.
Remember: low enrollment in federal crop insurance policies among small and diversified farms does not reflect disinterest in participation. Overwhelmingly, these farmers desire a safety net to protect themselves from the worst impacts of unpredictable weather events and market variability, just as any other farmer does. It is the responsibility of Congress to ensure these historically underserved farmers can purchase an insurance policy as easily as their conventional counterparts.
Corn Imperialism: What U.S. Mexico Trade Policy Tells Us About the Need to Transform American Agriculture
Seeds are Storytellers
A single kernel of corn contains the genetic story of how its ancestor plants adapted and survived. It tells the story of the humans who tended those plants over millennia, selecting varieties that could thrive in poor soils and in the face of drought.
In Mexico, the birthplace of corn, indigenous communities have created hundreds of varieties of seed, each with its own surprising storyline. For example, one variety of corn which has long been stewarded by the Mixe people of Oaxaca was recently found to fix its own nitrogen. This unexpected discovery, which could potentially contribute to the fight against climate change, reinforces the importance of the link between biodiversity and indigenous and local seed stewardship.
U.S. Trade Policy and Genetic Engineering Threaten Local Seed Sovereignty
Unfortunately, developments in U.S. trade policy since the 1990’s have weakened, rather than supported, indigenous peoples in Mexico and local communities in the United States.
Prior to the free trade agreements of the early 1990’s, Mexico was self-sufficient in corn production for human consumption, and relied primarily on sorghum for animal feed.
But a flood of cheap, subsidized corn from the United States made it impossible for local producers to compete, resulting in an increased dependency on imports for livestock feed, and a decrease in production of local varieties.
This situation was further complicated in the late 1990’s by the introduction of genetically modified (GM) seed, which was soon found to have contaminated native corn varieties.
To protect both human health and genetic diversity, the Mexican government put a moratorium on the use of GM seed in 1998. In 2020, they issued a decree banning imports of GM corn and in 2024 they banned the herbicide glyphosate.
In response, the United States has threatened action against Mexico, stating that the ban would cause economic loss and affect bilateral trade.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack emphasized “in no uncertain terms that — absent acceptable resolution of the issue — the U.S. government would be forced to consider all options, including taking formal steps to enforce our legal rights” under the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement.
In response to this pressure, Mexico announced that it would extend the start date for the ban to 2025 and that it was working on a proposal to overhaul its plan.
Ending Corn Imperialism and Transforming American Agriculture
The threats made by the U.S. government undermine Mexico’s right to protect its indigenous communities and their seed heritage.
U.S. policy harms American agriculture as well, by locking us into an industrial system that undermines local communities, pollutes our waterways, and fuels climate change.
Instead of forcing GM crops on Mexico, the U.S. Department of Agriculture should focus on transforming American agriculture for the better.
- Support for farmers to move away from chemical intensive agriculture and transition to organic
- Support for grass-based grazing rather than feedlots that rely heavily on corn
- Publicly funded research on non-GM seed varieties collaborating with and compensating indigenous communities
- Development of local staple foods processing systems (watch this recent interview with OEFFA member Michelle Ajamian on why this is important)
- Creation of soil health programs to reverse carbon loss and help store carbon in the soil
To learn more about how you can support these solutions in the 2023 Farm Bill and in the Ohio legislature, please contact the OEFFA policy team.
Representatives Kaptur, Bustos Bring Farm Bill Listening Session to Ohio
The week of August 22, U.S. Representatives Cheri Bustos (D-IL) and Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) joined the House Agriculture Committee and held a listening session in Fremont, Ohio. More than 200 members of the public participated in the session in person or online.
Crop Insurance Reform
One of the prominent topics was crop insurance. While some major commodity groups repeat a refrain often heard during the 2018 Farm Bill discussions, “Don’t touch crop insurance,” sentiments may have shifted a bit since then. President of the Ohio Farmers Union and organic farmer Joe Logan reiterated the importance of the crop insurance program and talked about the need to “…reconfigure it in a way that rewards farmers for building soil health.”
OEFFA organic farmer Eli Dean also spoke to the committee on the subject, noting that policies are put in place for all other USDA subsidy programs that do “means testing,” or making sure that benefits are not just going to the wealthy few, but that is not the case for crop insurance. For farmers who receive crop insurance coverage, taxpayers cover an average of 62 percent of the cost of each policy, and that holds regardless of how much money a farmer makes.
Eli said that crop insurance is his favorite program, it works really well and there are adjustments that need to be made. Eli suggested there should be limits put in place so the largest farmers don’t continue expanding and the small- to mid-scale farms are not able to compete. According to Eli, “…as a taxpayer, it makes sense that our tax dollars don’t go to the richest one percent of farms”
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) recently published an Economic Analysis of Payment Caps on Crop Insurance Subsidies. This report’s introduction noted a recent study found the largest 10 percent of farms received over 60 percent of all subsidy benefit. NSAC analyzed five different options for placing “caps,” or limits on the amount of subsidies farmers can receive, and one of those options presented (limiting all discounts of crop insurance cost to $50,000) would affect about 3 percent of farms and result in a 26 percent ($16.6 billion) savings. This is a clear illustration we can make this important risk management tool more equitable and cost effective while protecting about 97 percent of farmers using the program.
Climate Change Solutions
Tony Logan, former USDA Ohio State Director for Rural Development, spoke to the need for clear standards when it comes to measuring the amount of carbon farmers are able to store in the soil. As the USDA looks to incentivize practices that encourage minimization of greenhouse gases and/or sequestration of carbon, there needs to be a clear and accurate initial baseline and an effective, science-based measurement for progress over time.
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations
Vicki Askins, a member of the Ohio Farmers Union and Lake Erie Advocates, asked that a temporary moratorium on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) be instituted to protect water quality in Lake Erie. While manure digesters are sometimes sought as a solution to CAFO waste generation, Vicki stated that they are expensive, and the government should not be subsidizing the cost for large operations.
Local and Regional Food Systems
Kristy Buskirk, a farmer from Clay Hill Organic Farm, talked about selling into local and regional markets. In their ninth season as first generation farmers, they have experienced extreme weather events. With OEFFA’s 2023 Farm Bill platform in hand, Kristy talked about the need for increased investment in local and regional food systems, specifically in flash freezing infrastructure. The Ohio produce calendar and the school calendar don’t line up. Because most school kitchens are heat and serve, regional facilities that do minimal processing and freeze produce for later use would help farmers get into institutional markets such as farm to school.
Angela Huffman with Farm Action received a standing ovation as she spoke about the presence of endless rows of corn and soybeans, but not food for people to eat. She also conveyed the issues of food security as national security, synthetics and contamination of our soil and our bodies, and the crisis of corporate consolidation in food and agricultural markets. Angela closed by saying we need to focus more on food and less on feed, and to expand crop insurance for diversification and organics.
Fixing a Broken Food System
Commenters had two to three minutes to share their thoughts, which is a challenge, but others hit home in that very tight time frame.
Bob Jones of Chef’s Garden said, “…we have the largest spending of any nation on health care, the smallest spending on food, and there is a direct connection.” According to him, food and agriculture are broken; people are begging for more money for insurance and subsidies while people are obese, sick, and dying. He talked about those who grow fruits and vegetables, known as specialty crops in USDA parlance, as the tick on the end of the tail on the end of the dog when it comes to spending.
It is clear from this snapshot of two hours of farm bill testimony that some people want things to stay the same. There is, however, a growing chorus of people advocating for change. Between a climate threatening the viability of farming in many areas of the country, the increasing consolidation of farming and food processing benefiting very few at the expense of thousands of small farmers and rural communities, increasing public health concerns directly relating to the food system or environmental crises, we can’t wait another five to ten years to get started.
Now is the time. Join us today as we build the campaign for change.
Why Farm Bill Conservation Programs Matter (and What You Can Do About It)
OEFFA’s member-farmers work hard every day to practice good conservation on their land.
They plant cover crops to feed the soil and protect it from erosion. They create buffers of grass, trees, and shrubs, that draw carbon from the atmosphere and protect our waterways and find creative ways to improve habitat for pollinators, birds, and other wildlife.
Farmers are increasingly looking to expand their practices to include no- and reduced-tillage systems, rotational grazing, alley crops, and agroforestry.
All of these practices can help farmers produce food while also improving soil conditions to make their farms more resilient to shifting weather patterns.
These important practices, which benefit all of society, require time and financial resources. Hard-working farmers should not have to bear those costs alone.
Natural Resource Conservation Service Programs
At the height of the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s, Congress recognized that farmers needed support and resources to do the work of protecting and improving our soil. Toward this end, Congress created the Soil Conservation Service, which later was renamed to the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). For decades, NRCS has played a critical role in supporting farmers to implement best practices.
These days, farmers are most familiar with two NCRS programs: the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). EQIP provides cost-share and technical assistance payments to farmers and ranchers to address natural resource concerns; including the Organic Initiative to support organic practice adoption and the High Tunnel Initiative for vegetable production. CSP rewards advanced and conservation systems with 5-year renewable payment contracts to implement conservation practices like rotations, cover cropping, and rotational grazing.
In addition to these better-known programs, a variety of other NRCS and USDA programs are targeted toward conservation, organic farming, access to healthy food, support for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, and local and regional food systems. For a full summary of those programs, please see this chart from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
Conservation Programs and the 2023 Farm Bill
Every 5 years, Congress outlines the scope of these programs in the Farm Bill. The next Farm Bill will be in 2023, which gives us the opportunity to expand and improve what is already being offered. To do that, we need to make sure that our legislators understand how important these conservation programs are.
Members of Congress need to hear how farmers in their communities are using these programs to create healthy soil, protect our waterways, increase resilience to drought and flooding, and remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil. The best way to get that message across is for farmers to use these programs and to share their stories.
- If you aren’t currently making use of these programs, check out the deadlines and application process for 2022. Note that there is special consideration for organic farmers and historically underserved farmers (which include BIPOC farmers, veterans, and beginning farmers)
- If you are already using these programs, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story. Sharing your experience helps inspire others and allows Congress to better shape future programs to meet your needs.
- Even if you aren’t a farmer, your voice matters. By creating healthy soil and clean water, these programs benefit us all. Please contact one of our policy organizers at email@example.com to learn more about how advocate for these programs in the upcoming farm bill, through letter writing or calls or visits to your Member of Congress.
Rethinking Crop Insurance
This year, farmers across the Midwest have seen tornadoes, torrential rain, and flooding that made planting difficult, if not impossible.
In Ohio, where 40 of 88 counties received disaster designation, many growers were unable to plant at all and those that did face increased disease, pest, and weed pressure and late harvests. Needless to say, the loss of marketable crops and reduced farm income has been devastating for many farmers.
In the past, as OEFFA staff talk with growers about crop insurance, the phrase “my diversification is my insurance” has been a frequent refrain. Yet, this spring has many farmers rethinking the decision not to use crop insurance. While organic, diversified, and sustainable farmers have had few options historically, Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) is a relatively new option available everywhere, for all types of growers.
Most federal crop insurance policies sold in the U.S. today are designed for farmers who grow a single crop, leaving diversified grain, livestock, and produce operations with few options to manage risks on their farms. However, WFRP is a crop-and-enterprise-neutral revenue insurance policy designed to protect revenue on a farmer’s whole farm, not just a single crop. The program, initially authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill, changed the game by providing insurance to growers of all types in any county, but the first few years of implementation revealed needed changes.
The 2018 Farm Bill authorized the U.S. Department of Agriculture Risk Management Agency (USDA RMA) to solicit feedback on what changes would be necessary to improve this new tool. Based on that feedback, including recommendations by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) (of which OEFFA is a member), the following positive changes will take effect for the 2020 crop insurance year:
- Disaster payments and other state and federal program payments (including Market Facilitation Program payments) will now be excluded from revenue-to-count and allowable revenue. This change will decrease the volatility of a farmer’s historic farm revenue and the resulting under-insuring and higher premium costs.
- The impact of disaster years on historic farm revenue will now be moderated through the following three-step process:
- The lowest of the average adjusted revenue years from the five-year average will be dropped.
- Years that are below 60 percent of average revenue will be replaced by a 60 percent revenue plug (60 percent of the producer’s simple average or indexed average for calculating approved revenue).
- A 90 percent cap on approved revenue will be instituted, meaning that the approved revenue for the current year will be at least 90 percent of the previous year.
- Previously, WFRP users did not have access to the disaster year “smoothing” provisions enjoyed by other revenue policyholders.
- Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance Payments (NAP) will now be treated like other non-RMA insurance payments. NAP payments will be included as revenue-to-count when it exceeds the WFRP deductible. Previously, farms could participate in both programs but could only receive payments from one.
- The livestock and nursery cap will be raised to $2 million, which is $0.5 million above the NSAC recommended amount and $1 million above the current cap. The cap applies to the amount insured, not to the producer’s total volume of production.
Additionally, hemp is now added as an insurable crop with the following restrictions:
- The hemp must be produced in compliance with a state, tribal, or federal applicable plan.
- The hemp must be grown under a marketing contract.
- No replant payments will be offered.
- “Hot” hemp (when THC concentrations spike above 0.3 percent due to crop stress or cross-pollination) will not be considered an insurable loss.
The 2018 Farm Bill also increases the period of time that beginning farmers have to use WFRP’s beginning farmer premium discount (ten percent) from five years to ten years. That change has already been implemented; effective immediately, beginning farmers with ten or fewer years in operation are now able to receive a ten percent discount on their annual WFRP insurance premiums.
NSAC continues to advocate for ongoing improvements to this important new tool for growers. If you have not used crop insurance before and are thinking about ways to protect your farm in the face of weather extremes, WFRP is worth considering. Contact OEFFA to learn more.
Local Food Funding Opportunities Abound
Light Up Your Community with LAMP
OEFFA worked with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), to provide long-term and permanent funding for local food programs and we won! The final farm bill included the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) which provides funding for the Farmers’ Market and Local Food Promotion Programs (FMLFPP), as well as the Value-Added Producer Grant program and more.
In April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced the availability of $23 million in funding for the FMLFPP which includes two programs, the Farmers’ Market Promotion Program and the Local Food Promotion Program.
The deadline for both programs this year is June 18, 2019 and applications must be submitted electronically through grants.gov.
You can find more information about these two programs and the types of projects that have been funded here.
Farmers’ Market Promotion Program
FMPP supports projects that have a direct farmer-to-consumer focus, such as: farmers markets, community supported agriculture programs, roadside farm stands, pick-your own operations, and agritourism.
FMPP will continue to offer two distinct types of grants: 1) Capacity Building (CB) and 2) Community Development, Training and Technical Assistance (CTA) projects. There are no changes to the maximum and minimum awards size from last year. For CB projects, the minimum award is $50,000 and the maximum award is $250,000. For CTA projects, the minimum grant award is $250,000 and maximum award level is $500,000. The program now requires a 25 percent cash or in-kind match.
The maximum duration for both FMPP CB projects and CTA projects is 36 months; projects are expected to begin on September 30, 2019 and be completed by September 29, 2022. The FY 2019 Request for Applications for FMPP can be found here, general information about FMPP can be found here.
Local Food Promotion Program
LFPP seeks to develop and expand local and regional food business enterprises to increase access to locally produced foods and develop new market opportunities for local producers. LFPP supports projects including, but not limited to: processing, distribution, aggregation, and storage and marketing of locally or regionally produced food products sold through intermediated marketing channels.
LFPP will continue to offer two types of grants: 1) planning grants and 2) implementation grants. There are no changes to the maximum and minimum awards size from last year. Planning Grants provides a minimum award of $25,000 and a maximum of $100,000. Implementation Grants have a minimum award of $100,000 and a maximum of $500,000. The program also requires a 25 percent cash or in-kind match.
Planning projects grants have an award period of up to 18 months and are expected to begin on September 30, 2019 and be completed by March 31, 2021. Implementation project grants can be awarded for up to 36 months and are expected to begin on September 30, 2019 and be completed by September 29, 2022. The FY 2019 Request for Applications for LFPP can be found here, and additional information about the program can be found here.
Community Food Projects Funding
The National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is now accepting applications for two specific types of food system grants under this program: Community Food Projects and Planning Projects.
The goal of this program is to:
- Meet the food needs of low-income individuals through food distribution, community outreach to assist in participation in federally assisted nutrition programs, or improving access to food as part of a comprehensive service;
- Increase the self-reliance of communities in providing for their food needs;
- Promote comprehensive responses to local food access, farm, and nutrition issues; and
- Meet specific state, local, or neighborhood food and agricultural needs including needs relating to: (1) equipment necessary for the efficient operation of a project, (2) planning for long-term solutions, or (3) the creation of innovative marketing activities that mutually benefit agricultural producers and low-income consumers.
Applications must be received by 5 p.m. Eastern Time on June 3, 2019. Find more information and application details here.
Conservation Stewardship Program Applications are Due by May 10!
Farmers across the country have little more than a week to apply for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), with applications due May 10. OEFFA urges farmers to sign up for this program which provides payments for conservation activity that many producers already employ. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has provided an information alert with details to answer many questions you may have.
What is CSP?
CSP is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) largest conservation program that offers whole farm conservation assistance to farmers across the U.S.
Sign-up opportunities are available each year. The program provides financial assistance for advanced conservation through five-year contracts on all kinds of farmland. Many organic producers already use practices that are detailed in this Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) program or can benefit from using CSP to provide for wildlife habitat, conservation buffers, to protect water quality, and much more.
Changes to the program as a result of the 2018 Farm Bill include a higher payment rate for some conservation activities, such as cover crops and resource conserving crop rotations, and specific support for organic and transitioning to organic activities.
How Do I Sign Up?
Applying to CSP is simple. Before May 10, applicants must complete and submit a short form, NRCS Form CPA 1200. This is the same, generic three-page form used for all NRCS conservation programs that offer financial assistance and is available online through the link above or at your local NRCS office.
Importantly, you need to have a farm record number established through the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), to include all agricultural or private forest land in the operation. If you don’t have an FSA number, go to your FSA office to establish a farm record number before submitting your CSP application. Applicants must also have control of the land for the five-year term of the CSP contract.
After submitting your application, you will work with NRCS to complete the tools to evaluate management systems and natural resources on the operation’s land.
If you plan to apply for CSP, drop us a line and let us know!