Posts Tagged ‘Farm Bill’

Nov29

White House Report Highlights Importance of Reauthorizing Farm Bill

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By Sophie Wenzlau

Earlier this week, the White House Rural Council released a report highlighting the economic importance of reauthorizing the Farm Bill, the United States’ primary food and agriculture policy tool.

The Farm Bill can impact food prices, environmental conservation programs, and international trade. (Photo Credit: wlfarm.org)

The bill—which impacts food prices, environmental conservation programs, international trade, agricultural research, food and nutrition programs, and the well being of rural communities—has been stalled in congress for over a year, in part due to disagreement over reductions to the food stamp program. House Republicans aim to cut $40 billion in food stamp funds over the next 10 years, while Senate Democrats aim to cut only $4 billion.

According to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, failure to pass the bill before the end of the year could double milk prices for Americans, spark retaliatory tariffs from Brazil, and leave livestock producers who have been hit by storms and drought without standard federal assistance.

The Obama Administration’s report, which urges Congress to reauthorize as soon as possible, highlights the potential benefits of a new Farm Bill. According to the Administration, the new bill could:

  1. Build on recent momentum of the U.S. agriculture economy, a key engine of economic growth;
  2. Continue federal conservation efforts, working alongside a record number of farmers and ranchers to conserve soil and water resources; (more…)
Jan07

An Update on the 2012 U.S. Farm Bill

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The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), an organization that advocates for federal agricultural policy reform, published an article on January 3 explaining the implications of the Farm Bill extension for agriculture, food, and rural development programs in the United States over the next nine months. The Farm Bill is passed every five years and determines national policy and funding for all agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and forestry programs.

The U.S. Congress recently passed a temporary “Farm Bill” to determine funding for agricultural programs throughout the country. (Photo credit: Dickinson Organic Farm)

The temporary bill, passed as part of the year-end “fiscal cliff” negotiations, cut many programs established to promote sustainable agriculture, including programs for minority and beginning farmers, farmers markets, organic agricultural research, rural development, and renewable energy. The bill also retained direct subsidies for producers of commodities like corn and soybeans—regardless of producer income or commodity price—which currently cost the U.S. Department of Agriculture $5 billion each year.

To read NSAC’s full analysis of the Farm Bill extension and its predictions for the permanent version of the bill, click here. And to hear NSAC Policy Director Ferd Hoefner speak more about the Farm Bill negotiations on National Public Radio, click here.

Dec31

Year in Review: 10 Things You Should Know about Food and Agriculture in 2012

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By Sophie Wenzlau and Laura Reynolds

Although Aunt Mabel’s Christmas trifle might top your list of current food concerns, there are a few other things about U.S. food and agriculture worth considering as you look back on 2012, and forward to 2013:

Photo Credit: wlfarm.org

1. Farm Bill Deadlock. The 2008 Farm Bill, which established the most recent round of policies and support programs for the U.S. food system, expired in September. Although the Senate has passed a new version of the bill, the House has not; congressional leaders are deadlocked on the issues of cutbacks in crop subsidies and reductions in food stamps. If the House does not reach an agreement, U.S. farm policy will revert to the last “permanent” Farm Bill, passed in 1949. With 1949 policy, many innovative programs that invest in sustainable agriculture (like low-interest loans for newfemale, or minority farmers) could be forced to shut down; the price for dairy products could double in January; and antiquated farm subsidies could increase by billions of dollars, likely leading to greater overproduction of commodity crops like corn and soybeans (to the benefit of agribusiness and the detriment of small and medium-sized farms).

2. Enduring Drought. Although media attention has faded, nearly 80 percent of U.S. agricultural land continues to experience drought conditions, according to recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), making this year’s drought more extensive than any experienced since the 1950s. The drought is expected to make food more expensive in 2013 (the USDA predicts a 3 to 4 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index), particularly meat and dairy products. To boost agriculture’s resilience to drought and other forms of climate variability, farmers can increase crop diversity, irrigate more efficiently, adopt agroecological practices, and plant trees in and around farms. Consumers can support small-scale farmers, eat less meat, and pressure the government to enact food policies that support sustainable agriculture.

3. Acceleration of Both the Food Sovereignty Movement and Agribusiness Lobbying. Achieving food sovereignty, or a food system in which producers and consumers are locally connected and food is produced sustainably by small farms, is increasingly a priority for communities in the United States and worldwide. According to the USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory, the total number of farmers markets in the United States increased by 9.6 percent between 2011 and 2012, while winter markets increased by 52 percent. But also accelerating is agribusiness lobbying: campaign contributions from large food production and processing groups—including American Crystal Sugar Company, the Altria GroupAmerican Farm Bureau, the National Cattlemen’s Beef AssociationCalifornia DairiesMonsantoSafeway Inc., and Cargill—increased from $68.3 million in the 2008 election cycle to $78.4 million in 2012, a 12.8 percent change.

4. Failed GM Labeling Bill in California. Although 47 percent of Californians voted in favor of Prop 37, a measure that would have required food companies and retailers to label food containing genetically modified (GM) ingredients, the initiative failed to pass in November. According to California Watch, food and agribusiness companies including The Hershey Co., Nestlé USA, Mars Inc., and Monsanto contributed $44 million in opposition of the initiative, while those in favor of GM labeling contributed $7.3 million. Also notable: the first independent, peer-reviewed study of GM food safety, published in the August issue of the Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology, found that rats fed low-levels of Monsanto’s maize NK603for a period of two years (a rat’s average lifespan) suffered from mammary tumors and severe kidney and liver damage. Although the science is not yet conclusive, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should urge consumers to familiarize themselves with the potential health risks of GM food consumption, and should conduct additional studies.

5. Corn Ethanol Found to Be Environmentally Unfriendly. study released by the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology in September found that the increased production of corn for ethanol creates environmental problems like soil acidification and the pollution of lakes and rivers. Although corn has long ruled the biofuels industry (ethanol accounted for 98 percent of domestic biofuel production in 2011), its relative energy-conversion inefficiency and sensitivity to high temperatures—in addition to its environmental footprint—make it an unsustainable long-term energy option. Perennial bioenergy crops like willow, sycamore, sweetgum, jatropha, and cottonwood, however, grow quickly; require considerably less fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicide application than annual crops; can thrive on marginal land (i.e., steep slopes); and are often hardier than annual alternatives like corn and soy.

6. Red Meat Production Increases. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, while domestic beef production isprojected to decline in 2012, overall monthly red meat production is up from 2011 levels (due to an increase in pork, lamb, and mutton production). Americans eat a lot of meat: per capita, more than almost anyone else in the world. In 2009, the most recent year for which U.S. Census consumption data is available, the United States consumed nearly 5 million tons more beef than China, although the Chinese population was four times larger. U.S. consumers could significantly reduce per capita greenhouse gas emissions by eating less red meat (the production of which is input intensive). A study published in theJournal of Environmental Science and Technology suggests that switching from a diet based on red meat and dairy to one based on chicken, fish, and eggs could reduce the average household’s yearly emissions by an amount equivalent to driving a 25 mile per gallon automobile 5,340 miles (approximately the distance from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. and back).

7. Stanford Study on Organics Leads to Emotional Debate. A Stanford study titled “Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier than Conventional Alternatives?” provoked emotional debate in September. The study found that the published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods, although it also found that consumption of organic foods can reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The study’s results were misinterpreted by many, including members of the media, to imply that organic food is not “healthier” than conventional food. In reality, the study calls into question whether organic food is more nutritious than conventional food, and affirms that organics are indeed less pesticide-ridden than conventional alternatives (the primary reason many consumers buy organic).

8. World Food Prize Recognizes Water-Saving Potential of Drip Irrigation. In October, the World Food Prize was awarded to Israeli scientist Daniel Hillel in honor of his contributions to modern drip irrigation technology. Drip irrigation is the precise application of water to plant roots via tiny holes in pipes, allowing a controlled amount of water to drip into the ground. This precision avoids water loss due to evaporation, enables plants to absorb water at their roots (where they need it most), and allows farmers to water only those rows or crops they want to, in lieu of an entire field. Drip irrigation can enhance plant growth, boost crop yields, and improve plant nutritional quality, while minimizing water waste, according to multiple sources (Cornell University ecologists, and a study conducted by the government of Zimbabwe, among others). Agriculture account for 70 percent of water use worldwide; numerous organizations, including the Pacific Institute, have argued that the efficient and conservative use of water in agriculture is a top priority, especially as overuse and climate change threaten to exacerbate situations of water scarcity.

9. Rio+20 Affirms Commitment to Sustainable Development in AgricultureThe Future We Wantthe non-binding agreement produced at the United Nations’ Rio+20 conference in June, acknowledges that food security and nutrition have become pressing global challenges, and affirms international commitment to enhancing food security and access to adequate, safe, and nutritious food for present and future generations. In the document, the international community urges the development of multilateral strategies to promote the participation of farmers, especially smallholder farmers (including women) in agricultural markets; stresses the need to enhance sustainable livestock production; and recognizes the need to manage the risks associated with high and volatile food prices and their consequences for smallholder farmers and poor urban dwellers around the world. But overall, the agreement was heralded as a failure by many groups, including Greenpeace, Oxfam, and the World Wildlife Fund. According to Kumi Naidoo, the head of Greenpeace, “We were promised the ‘future we want’ but are now being presented with a ‘common vision’ of a polluter’s charter that will cook the planet, empty the oceans, and wreck the rain forests…This is not a foundation on which to grow economies or pull people out of poverty, it’s the last will and testament of a destructive twentieth century development model.”

10. White House Calls for More Investment in Agricultural Research and Innovation. A new report, released by an independent, presidentially appointed advisory group earlier this month, argues that the federal government should launch a coordinated effort to boost American agricultural science by increasing public investment and rebalancing the USDA’s research portfolio. The report cautions that U.S. agriculture faces a number of challenges that are poised to become much more serious in years to come: the need to manage new pests, pathogens, and invasive plants; increase the efficiency of water use; reduce the environmental footprint of agriculture; adapt to a changing climate; and accommodate demands for bioenergy—all while continuing to produce safe and nutritious food at home and for those in need abroad. Overall, the report calls for an increase in U.S. investment in agricultural research by a total of $700 million per year, to nurture a new “innovation ecosystem” capable of leveraging the best of America’s diverse science and technology enterprise for advancements in agriculture.

Although they might not be sexy, agricultural issues are worth caring about. The way we choose to grow, process, distribute, consume, and legislate on behalf of food can affect everything from public health, to greenhouse gas emissions, to global food availability, to water quality, to the ability of our food system to withstand shocks like floods and droughts. By familiarizing ourselves with these and other food issues, we as consumers can make informed decisions in both the grocery store and the voting booth, and can generate the action needed to move our food system in a healthy, equitable, and sustainable direction in 2013.

Sophie Wenzlau and Laura Reynolds are Food and Agriculture Staff Researchers at the Worldwatch Institute.

Aug30

Innovation of the Week: Policy Analysis at Your Fingertips

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By Ronica Lu

The Farm Bill Budget Visualizer, recently released by the Center for a Livable Future (CLF) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is an innovative, web-based application that provides a visually pleasing, interactive breakdown of Farm Bill legislation spending.

A screenshot of the Farm Bill Budget Visualizer’s homepage (Photo Credit: Food and Tech Connect)

The Farm Bill is a comprehensive omnibus bill, first passed in 1973 and updated every four or five years, that deals with food and agricultural affairs under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Farm Bill is the primary food and agricultural policy tool of the U.S. federal government and addresses issues from numerous perspectives—including everything from food assistance and nutrition education, to efforts to improve access to fruits and vegetables.

With the upcoming release of the updated 2012 Farm Bill from Congress later this year, the Budget Visualizer helps the general public, advocacy groups, and policymakers make connections between the provisions of the bill and the amount of federal spending allotted to each program.

The visualizer displays Farm Bill programs in collapsible and expandable boxes. The sizes of the boxes are proportional to the amount of funding the programs receive. The use of the app does not require a software download, but does use the latest versions of Java and Adobe Flash.

(more…)

Jul26

Widespread Effects on Food Prices Due to Severe U.S. Drought

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By Katie Spoden

On Tuesday, the New York Times published an article describing the far-reaching consequences of the severe drought on food prices in the United States. The article summarizes the economic consequences of the drought due to the largely damaged corn and soybean crop in the Midwest.

A desperately dry corn field completely damaged in Nebraska. (Photo credit: Nati Hamik, Associated Press)

The U.S. Drought Monitor recently declared that 88 percent of this year’s corn crop and 77 percent of the soybean crop is affected by the severe drought. Classified as the worst U.S. drought in fifty years, damaged corn and soybean crops will affect the prices of many more foods at your local grocery store. Corn, used in an enormous amount of products – as syrups, starches, and sweeteners – also constitutes the majority of feed for livestock. Nearly half of all corn production is used as livestock feed. Soybeans are also used in some animal feed and as dairy alternatives.

Because of lowered supply, corn is selling at $8 a bushel, a 50 percent increase from June prices. Soybeans are now selling at a record high of $17 a bushel, up four dollars from May. The increased prices may benefit farmers in the short run, but consumers will experience the aftermath of price increases in the form of more money spent on poultry, beef, pork and dairy products – the recipients of corn and soybean feed. Most immediate, poultry prices are expected to rise 3.5 to 4.5 percent due to their faster growth and therefore more sudden response to higher feed prices. It is estimated that by November, dairy products will increase 3.5. to 4.5 percent, with eggs increasing 3 to 4 percent. Cost of beef is expected to increase 4 to 5 percent and pork 2.5 to 3.5 percent.

(more…)

Jul21

Saturday Series: An Interview with Kari Hamerschlag

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By Emilie Schnarr and Carly Chaapel

In our new Saturday Series, we interview inspiring people that our readers have nominated. These people are working on the frontlines to improve the global food and agricultural systems. Want to nominate someone?  E-mail your suggestions to Danielle Nierenberg!

Kari Hamerschlag, Senior Food and Agriculture Analyst of the Environmental Working Group. (Photo credit: Kari Hamerschlag)

Name: Kari Hamerschlag

Location/Affiliation: Environmental Working Group (EWG)

Bio: Kari is the Senior Food and Agriculture Analyst at the Environmental Working Group. Her work focuses on food and agriculture policy for local, healthy, organic, and sustainable options. The agriculture branch of the EWG is best known for its extensive farm subsidy database and its voice for strong environmental health standards within agricultural policy.

In your opinion, what is the best way for the public to become involved in Farm Bill decision-making processes?

First the bad news: It’s unfortunately not easy to get involved since so much goes on behind closed doors in Congress. The good news is that you should get involved anyway, because if people don’t, we’ll get more of the status quo, and I think we can agree that the status quo is failing us. Here are four easy ways to jump in:

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Jun05

Wasted Food Aid: Why U.S. Aid Dollars Aren’t Going as Far as They Could

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By Eleanor Fausold

An article recently published in The Atlantic suggests that U.S. food aid money is not always being spent in the most efficient way possible. U.S. food aid programs can be extremely beneficial to struggling families in Africa, but aid dollars could go even further if they were better dedicated to supporting local supply chains in the regions they serve.  

U.S. food aid programs help small farmers in times of drought. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

The article tells the story of 60-year-old Abdoulai Mohamed, a small businessman in Turkana, Kenya who, instead of working on a farm, chose to take out a loan and opened a store selling food staples such as corn and flour.  When drought struck the region in 2011, Mohamed allowed customers to purchase food on credit so they would have enough to eat.  But Mohamed’s business suffered when the drought worsened and many customers were unable to repay their debts, forcing Abdoulai to find a way to keep his shop running without bringing in revenue from customers.

But a program funded, in part, by USAID  helped save Mohamed’s business. The program, which focuses on assisting local businesses and keeping food supply chains intact, helped repay many of the customers’ outstanding balances, allowing families to buy the food they needed. So far, this program has helped 5,500 drought-stricken families and has helped the local economy by preserving supply chains that source food from local farmers, through local businesses, and into needy households.

(more…)

Apr03

What’s at Stake in the 2012 Farm Bill?

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Check out these new fact sheets on the 2012 United States Farm Bill from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).

Image credit: IATP

IATP has been fighting for a fair, healthy, and sustainable Farm Bill for more than 25 years. In their new series, What’s at Stake?, they will analyze how the Farm Bill affects issues such as climate change, food aid, and locally grown food.

Click here to read the entire series.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.


Feb23

New York Times Discusses Farm Bill

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The 2012 Farm Bill, which is currently being discussed in the U.S. Congress, is also being debated by many experts in the field.

Photo credit: TIME Magazine

Among the topics being talked about by lawmakers, farmers, and consumers are the continuation of government subsidies for commodity crops like soy and corn, and the role the government should play to tackle unhealthy diets, global hunger, and ineffective nutritional assistance programs,

Click here to follow the New York Times online debate on the Farm Bill.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

Aug30

New report urges the government to invest in farmers markets

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By Graham Salinger 

Every economist knows that there is no such thing as a free lunch, but if you buy the ingredients for your lunch–or breakfast or dinner–at a farmers market you could help provide a much needed boost to the economy.

Investing in farmers' markets could help boost the economy, according to this new report. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

A  report by the Union  for Concerned Scientists  stresses the importance of farmers markets in generating local revenue and creating jobs and identifies a number of steps the federal government should take to encourage the growth of farmers markets.  While the number of farmers markets nationwide more than doubled between 2000 and 2010 from 2,863 to 6,132, the report’s author, Jeffrey O’Hara, argues that more government resources could be used to support farmers markets. “On the whole, farmers markets have seen exceptional growth, providing local communities with fresh food direct from the farm,” O’Hara points out. “The fact that farmers are selling directly to the people who live nearby means that sales revenue stays local. That helps stabilize local economies,” explains O’Hara.

But If the government is going to make good on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s request  to help provide entrepreneurial training and support for farmers markets in efforts to get 100,000 Americans to become farmers by next year, the government is going to need to use the 2012 Farm Bill to prioritize funding for farmers markets.  Last year the USDA spent nearly $14 billion in commodity, crop insurance, and supplemental disaster assistance payments to support industrial agriculture, while less than $100 million was spent on supporting local food producers.

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