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Updated: 14 weeks 3 days ago

COMMENT: Mandatory Farm Bill Funds Traded Away in Budget Negotiations

Thu, 08/01/2019 - 12:14pm


Contact: Reana Kovalcik
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

Mandatory Farm Bill Funds Traded Away in Budget Negotiations

Washington, DC, August 1, 2019 – After months of handwringing and tense negotiations, today Congress passed – and the President is expected to sign – a two-year budget deal that sets overall funding levels for public programs through 2021. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) welcomed news of the long-awaited budget deal, but lamented that Congress has handicapped critical farm bill programs in the process.

“While we are relieved and thankful that the budget deal will allow the appropriations process to finally move forward, we are disappointed that congressional leaders chose to extend mandatory sequestration yet again as part of the deal,” said Juli Obudzinski, NSAC Interim Policy Director. “With a new farm bill signed into law just seven months ago, this deal will slash billions from investments made under the 2018 Farm Bill. By extending sequestration of mandatory funding through 2029, this budget deal unfairly comes at the expense of critical support programs, including: conservation, dairy, trade promotion, organic research, local food, and programs for beginning farmers and farmers of color. With farmers continuing to struggle under the continued downturn and financial stress across the entire farm economy, farm programs should be the last place to turn to find budgetary savings. Extending this pain for another decade is not just unthoughtful, it’s unconscionable.”

“At least now, with the budget roadblock now removed, the FY 2020 appropriations process can finally move forward,” said Obudzinski. “As farmers continue to struggle to stay afloat amidst climate crises, ongoing trade wars, mounting farm debt coupled with market uncertainties, we urge Congress to prioritize funding increases across farm and food programs – including beginning farmers, sustainable agriculture research, food safety, and value-added agriculture. And while any boosts to discretionary programs will pale in comparison to the mandatory farm bill cuts, it’s the very least Congress can do to support our nation’s farmers and rural communities in this tremendous time of need.”


About the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities. Learn more and get involved at:

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Categories: Organizations

Two-Year Budget Deal Includes Major Offsets, Impacts Farm + Food Programs

Tue, 07/30/2019 - 11:29am
White House. Photo credit: Reana Kovalcik

After months of uncertainty and start-and-stop negotiations between Congress and the White House, last week congressional leaders finally announced a two-year budget agreement. In addition to setting top-line funding levels so that the government can keep running, the budget deal sets annual discretionary spending caps for defense and non-defense programs for fiscal years (FY) 2020 and 2021, and raises the debt limit. The House approved the deal last week, and the Senate is expected to do so later this week. The final deal will then be sent to the President’s desk.

Under the agreement, defense spending will increase to the tune of $5 billion (as compared to the budget projections included in the House’s FY 2020 appropriations bill), while non-defense discretionary funding will be $15 billion less than House projections. Combined with $77 billion in offsets that will be taken out of farm and food programs and other mandatory programs, this budget deal will force Congress to make hard choices when it comes to allocating scarce funding to federal agricultural programs.

The budget deal sets the discretionary spending cap for defense programs at $738 billion for FY 2020, and in FY 2021, the defense-spending cap will increase to $740.5 billion. The non-defense discretionary spending cap is set at $632 billion for FY 2020 and will increase to $634 billion in FY 2021. In addition to funding for myriad federal programs (including farm and food programs) the non-defense discretionary allowance also includes a temporary $2.5 billion increase in funding for the 2020 U.S. Census.

Funding allocations by specific program have yet to be made, but given the difference in billions of dollars between the House Agriculture Appropriations bill and the two-year budget deal, it is certain that funding for at least some of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s (NSAC) priorities will be on the cutting table.

Spending Caps and the Budget Control Act

Spending caps were introduced into the budget process by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 in an effort to reduce the federal deficit and control spending. BCA set overall discretionary caps for both defense and non-defense spending for ten years, and created a mechanism to implement broad automatic reductions to both discretionary and mandatory spending if these caps were ever exceeded. The Act has widely been viewed as a crude austerity measure, and has resulted in severe reductions to both discretionary and mandatory funding (often referred to as “sequestration”).

In passing the BCA in 2011, few legislators intended for sequestration to ever actually go into effect. Rather, the intention was that a deficit reduction special committee referred to as “the super committee” (created by the BCA) would develop a long-term $1.2 trillion deficit reduction package, and in so doing, prevent sequestration. Because the super committee failed to develop such a deficit reduction package, however, the unthinkable happened and sequestration went into effect.

The severity of sequestration has led Congress to raise the caps above the levels mandated in BCA a number of times. The last time the caps were raised was two years ago, which increased overall spending levels for FY 2018 and FY 2019.  

If a new budget deal were not to be put into place for FY 2020 and FY 2021 (the final two years under the BCA), sequestration would kick back in and Congress would have tens of billions of dollars below previous year’s funding levels with which to work. Non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending, which includes agriculture, would be cut by nearly $55 billion (before adjusting for inflation) below FY 2019 levels. This would amount to a $70 billion, or 11 percent (after adjusting for inflation), cut to NDD spending. For more information about the broader contours of the budget debate and how it impacts sustainable agriculture funding, visit our earlier post.

What the Budget Deal Means for Agriculture Appropriations

The House Appropriations Committee has already passed their agriculture appropriations bill for FY 2020, which includes hard-won boosts to sustainable agriculture research, outreach and technical assistance for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, local food systems, food safety, and value-added agriculture spending. The Senate, however, chose to wait for the budget deal to be finalized before marking up any of their funding bills. With the budget deal all but set, the Senate is expected to begin their appropriations work in earnest after the August recess.

At this time, it is unclear whether or not the House Appropriations Committee will make any adjustments to their bill to reflect the lower 302a allocation, or whether they will work with the Senate through the conference process to make those adjustments. Most likely, the House will choose to work with their colleagues in the Senate to make the necessary adjustments.

Once the budget deal is signed into law, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-VT) are expected to meet and then set 302b allocations for the 12 appropriations bills, including agriculture. The Senate Appropriations Committee, including the Agriculture Subcommittee, is expected to spend the August congressional recess putting together their 12 funding bills with plans to mark-up and pass these bills at the beginning of September before funding for the government runs out on September 30. With that timeline,  conferencing with the House and having a final bill signed by the President before the end of FY 2019 will be difficult at best.

The current fiscal year ends on September 30; typically the full appropriations process takes several months. Congress, therefore, will almost certainly have to pass a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) before September 30 in order to give themselves more time to fully negotiate all 12 bills. In order to speed the process along, it is very possible that after marking up spending bills at the subcommittee level, the Senate will skip full committee markup and floor proceedings and move straight to conferencing with the House.

It is critically important to the health of our food and farm system that the agriculture appropriations bill receives its fair share of funding. Historically, agriculture has received around 3.5 percent of the overall funding for appropriations. If we use this as a guide, then the final agriculture bill should receive at least $2 billion in additional funding for FY 2020.

Like all appropriations bills, the agriculture bill has suffered under the weight of the unsustainable domestic discretionary budget caps. Higher budget caps will allow Congress to re-invest in groundbreaking research, farm credit programs, rural development, and training and outreach for farmers and ranchers. Additional funding is also desperately needed to fill long-standing gaps in capacity and service, but for this to happen, sequestration on mandatory spending needs to be brought to an end.

The End of Sequestration?

While some have hailed the latest budget agreement as “the end of sequestration,” the reality is more complex. The most severe impacts to agriculture programs through sequestration have been avoided; however, the budget deal does include approximately $77 billion in offsets. Those offsets are a result of the extension of customs fees that were set to expire and extending the date by which sequestration on mandatory spending would end. The BCA’s sequestration of discretionary spending ends after fiscal year 2021. So while the budget deal ends sequestration for discretionary funds, it also extends the sequestration for mandatory spending from 2027 to 2029. Previous budget deals also included similar offsets, extending the end of sequestration for mandatory spending.

The result of extended sequestration on mandatory spending will be billions of dollars in cuts to critical farm bill programs. These include cuts to voluntary conservation programs, beginning farmers, local food systems, and organic research – as well as cuts to critical support for commodity payments and dairy support. And while we recognize the budgetary challenges that Congress is up against, as farmers struggle against the continued downturn and financial stress across the entire farm economy, farm programs should be the last place to turn to find budgetary savings.

For more information about specific sustainable agriculture programs impacted by this budget deal, check out the chart in our earlier post.

NSAC voiced strong opposition to the extension of these cuts, and will continue to represent the interest of sustainable agriculture and family farmers on the Hill as difficult appropriations decisions are made in the months ahead.

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Categories: Organizations

Farmer Outreach Needed to Increase Adoption of Research Innovations

Mon, 07/29/2019 - 3:32pm
Farmer and Extension Agent on farm. Photo credit: KY State University.

U.S. agriculture relies on innovations and new technology to support not continued productivity and to increase resilience within our farm and food systems. Investment in publicly funded agriculture research, however, has stagnated over the several decades, even though the need to equip farmers with new tools to address new challenges is increasingly dire.

Support for outreach and dissemination of research findings is as critical as the research itself – after all, innovations are much less useful if nobody knows about them. Cooperative extension and non-profit organizations often fill this outreach role by leveraging federal funds. Just like investments in public research, however, support for outreach and extension has also waned over the last few decades. A new report released last week by the Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Foundation (RMF) highlights the critical function that outreach plays in the adoption of new practices within farming communities.

Report Overview

In 2014, RMF first began their effort to create a unified public message on the need to increase support for food, agriculture, and natural resources research. After the release of their first report, Pursuing a Unifying Message: Elevating Food, Agriculture and National Resources Research as a National Priority, it became clear that concrete examples were needed to showcase the impacts of public investments in underpinning a food system most of us take for granted.

RMF’s new report, Cooperative Extension and Public Outreach: Advancing Agriculture and Improving Lives, features 22 success stories illustrating the important role Cooperative Extension, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and other institutions serve in providing critical outreach to farmers. Several National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) member organizations who work on the ground conducting both research and outreach to farmers, are featured in this report.

These organizations, with the help of grants from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), create innovative training and education programs for farmers and processors that assist beginning farmers, small and medium-sized farms, as well as underserved and socially disadvantaged communities. The report highlights the remarkable work these NGOs are doing for farmers and farming communities across the U.S.

Practical Farmers of Iowa – Cover Cropping Systems for Corn and Soybeans

Using a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant, Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) worked with two transitioning organic corn and soybean farmers in north-central Iowa on an on-farm research trial that sought to optimize no-till cover cropping via crimping. Their results, which showed adequate weed suppression and identified the best times to terminate cover crops, led to the local adoption of the technique, and farmer education on the results through field days, webinars and published newsletters. This farmer-led project is just one example of how useful on-farm research can be when farmers are involved and can educate other farmers on what they have learned and the impact on their bottom line.                              

Carolina Farm Stewardship Association – Small Farms and Food Safety

With their Local Produce Safety Initiative (LPSI) program, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) is at the forefront of delivering research-based food safety training, education and outreach to small and financially constrained, beginning growers throughout North and South Carolina. With a grant from NIFA’s Food Safety Outreach Program (FSOP) program, CFSA was able to train more than 600 farmers in water management and soil conservation, assist more than 140 farms in writing food safety plans, and mentor more than 100 farms to pass good agricultural practices (GAP) audits.

There is a strong demand from farmers for food safety training and technical assistance given new GAP requirements and new federal food safety regulations. LPSI gives producers and buyers confidence in a small or beginning farm’s ability to manage food safety risk, thus expanding farmer access to local, regional and national markets. These trainings also go hand-in-hand with workshops on food safety principles and the creation of the Good Agricultural Practices for Small Diversified Farms: Tips and Strategies to Reduce Risk and Pass an Audit manual. 

Land Stewardship Project – Training Beginning Farmers

Farm Beginnings, a farmer-led, community-based model for training the next generation of farmers was created by the Land Stewardship Project (LSP) over two decades ago. Supported by NIFA’s  Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Farm Beginnings has trained more than 1,000 farmers in how to overcome barriers to entry and be successful in agriculture. Targeted to those with less than two years of farming experience, the program helps build on basic skills and foster greater community connection. 70 percent of farmers who have taken the structured course continue to farm five years later, with 98 percent of graduates following sustainable practices, 75 percent owning or managing their own farms, and 69 percent exceeding their farm income goals.

The program’s popularity and success can be attributed to many factors. These include the way it addresses different stages of farmer development with a farmer-to-farmer focus where the instructors are other farmers, guiding the development of curriculum and provide mentoring. Overall, the goal of Farm Beginnings is to strengthen farmer networks and establish sustainable practices to allow communities to grow their local food economies, giving small farms a better chance of success. This program was recently also featured in NSAC’s evaluation of BFRDP as a successful model to train new farmers.

Organic Farming Research Foundation – Educating Farmers about Soil Health

As a champion of organic farmers, fostering the widespread adoption of organic farming, the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), developed a series of educational guidebooks and webinars that teach organic farmers how to enhance both soil health and the overall resilience of their operations. Seven guidebooks were published in 2017, covering topics from weed management and cover cropping to plant breeding and water management. Thousands of guidebooks have been downloaded and hundreds of people registered for the webinars. Webinars covered conservation tillage, ecological approaches to weed management and organic practices for climate mitigation, to name a few. With university partners, OFRF has also created free, online courses on organic production in California specialty crops. The courses include on-farm demonstration videos illustrating the implementation of a variety of organic practices, like growing cover crops for weed management and soil fertility, and methods for composting using a variety of feedstocks.

Translating Research Through Outreach

NGO outreach plays an important role in advancing agricultural research and education to farmers across the country. But, according to the report released last week, there are opportunities for better supporting these essential functions moving forward. This includes the need for more outcome-based reporting to better understand how funded research projects are reaching farmers, how research is being communicated, and whether this helps to create more sustainable farming opportunities. Focusing on research that prioritizes partnerships between NGOs and other community-based organizations with expertise in training and outreach especially benefits farming communities and can help deliver more targeted results and on the ground impacts.

The report also highlights the role of Cooperative Extension and the evolution of its relationship with research and public outreach. Extension’s education programs rely on science and evidence-based research. This is also practiced in the field, with many states having university relationships and co-funded faculty at research stations, where connections between the campus-based faculty with county/regional Extension remains a key component of the Extension network.      

Towards a Unifying Message                            

Reflecting on the importance of extension and outreach in developing a unifying message to increase support for agricultural research, the report suggests some themes and next steps for advancing this agenda. These include:

  • Securing the economic, environmental and social sustainability of agriculture, with regard to helping farmers make production decisions in evolving environmental and social contexts
  • Respecting the differing needs and capacity of U.S. agriculture by tailoring programs to benefit large-scale operations, small-scale operations, urban and rural, and socioeconomically disadvantaged and underserved farmers, ranchers and communities
  • Motivating the next generation of the food and agriculture workforce relative to agriculture and food literacy, urban agriculture, and health and nutrition, along with the many 4-H programs that educate consumers about how food, fiber and fuel are produced
  • Initiating a comprehensive urban agriculture effortthat educates Americans about where, how and by whom their food was produced in conjunction with support of new local and regional food production systems in rural and urban communities in an effort to expand the workforce beyond the traditional farms in rural communities                 

With partnerships around research, education, and extension, there is opportunity to address critical societal issues and engage more stakeholders in the process to move agriculture forward.

NSAC was a contributor to this latest RMF report along with Purdue University, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, Cooperative Extension, University of Tennessee at Martin, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Iowa State University, among others.

Read the full report at 

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Categories: Organizations

$9 Million in Farm to School Awards Brings Local Food to Schools, Bolsters Farm Sales

Thu, 07/25/2019 - 2:06pm
Kids enjoying a healthy school lunch. Photo credit: National Farm to School Network

School is out for the summer, but that doesn’t mean efforts to connect schools with their local growers have stopped. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) announced a record level of funding – over $9 million – for projects funded through the Farm to School Grant Program. This round, 126 diverse projects were funded that will support farm to school efforts in 5,400 schools and impact approximately 3.2 million students in 42 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

To date, the Farm to School Grant Program has helped nearly 40,000 schools improve their meal options, connecting over 15.3 million students with healthier food, while also supporting expanded market opportunities for producers across the country. According to the USDA’s 2015 Farm to School Census, schools purchased nearly $790 million of local foods in school year (SY) 2013-2014. Additionally, the report showed that every dollar spent on local food generated up to an additional $2.16 in economic activity based on annual purchasing patterns. This means that school purchasing power could generate over $1 billion in local economic activity. 

Farm to school activities empower children and their families to make informed food choices, strengthen the local economy, and contribute to healthier communities. Implementation of farm to school grant projects differs by location, but projects always include one or more of the following elements:

  • Procurement: Local foods are purchased, promoted and served in the cafeteria or classroom as a snack or taste-test.
  • Education: Students participate in educational activities related to agriculture, food, health or nutrition.
  • School Gardens: Students engage in hands-on learning through gardening.

The Farm to School grant program supports the implementation and development of planning, support services, and training projects that increase local-food sourcing in schools, improve child nutrition, foster agricultural literacy, and create marketing opportunities for local food producers. Schools, state agencies, tribal organizations, non-profits, farmers, and farm organizations are all eligible for these grants.

Spotlight on NSAC Member Projects

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is proud to have played a central role in the development of the Farm to School grant program, and in helping to secure $5 million per year in mandatory funding for the program in the 2010 Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR). This fiscal year’s (FY) record breaking level of projects was made possible largely thanks to the additional funding secured by NSAC, the National Farm to School Network (NFSN), and our allies in the child nutrition and family farm communities in the FY 2018 and FY 2019 appropriations bills.

NSAC congratulates all the FY 2019 awardees, in particular, the following six NSAC member groups that received funding directly or in partnership with others this cycle. A complete list of awardees and project descriptions are available at this link.

Angelic Organics Learning Center (IL)

Angelic Organics Learning Center is partnering with Seven Generations Ahead (SGA), the National Farm to School Network’s Illinois partner, on a $92,998 implementation grant. Their joint project will support education and outreach efforts to expand participation in SGA’s Illinois Harvest of the month and Great Illinois Apple Crunch programs. Funds will also be used to increase school and early childhood education centers’ participation and engagement in the programs through consulting, resources and technical assistance, and implement learning opportunities – including a podcast service and a school food service personnel Institute.

The Center for Rural Affairs (NE)

The Center for Rural Affairs was awarded $98,450 in collaboration with the Nebraska State Future Farmers of America (FFA) association and University of Nebraska-Extension to expand its existing Greenhouse to Cafeteria program. The group will select ten schools to receive start up funds and support, distribute a Greenhouse to Cafeteria toolkit to all Nebraska high schools, establish a peer network for technical support and training, and create an awards and recognition program.

LiveWell Colorado (CO)

LiveWell Colorado was awarded $26,693 to support their Local Procurement Colorado (LoProCO) program. LoProCO is a collaboration between school food service directors, farmers, state agencies, extension agents, regional health departments, and nonprofits.

LiveWell Colorado’s Chef Consultant, Jessica Wright commented on the impact of the Farm to School Grant program in an interview with NSAC:

“Creating a robust and sustainable Farm to School program is possible, however, we cannot expect our Food Service Directors or farmers to do it alone. Our model brings targeted technical assistance, capacity-building and connections to the table, allowing those decision makers the opportunity to identify their best path forward while feeling confident and supported along the way.”

Through regional workshops, LoProCO will address local food procurement, and how farmers and schools can best work together to offer healthy, local meals to students.

National Center for Appropriate Technology (MT)

The Montana Office of Public Instruction was awarded $100,000 to partner with NSAC members, the National Center for Appropriate Technology and FoodCorps, along with the Montana Team Nutrition Program at Montana State University. This partnership project will expand farm to school support into more rural and remote communities, including Native American communities. The project will help increase schools’ capacity to participate by providing technical assistance and training using a regional farm to school coaching model. The project will also support the hosting of four regional Montana farm to school showcase events, and putting on a statewide Montana farm to school summit.

National Center for Frontier Communities (NM)

The National Center for Frontier Communities (NCFC) will use their $100,000 award to bolster their Southwest New Mexico Food Hub. The grant funds will allow the hub to scale to their current supply chain, sell to up to six regional school districts, and provide local food education to students in three school districts. NCFC will also leverage their existing partnerships to increase sales to local schools from frontier and remote farmers.

The National Farm to School Network

The National Farm to School Network was awarded $47,000 to organize 10 field trips as part of their 2020 National Farm to Cafeteria Conference. Offering pre-conference field trips will allow attendees the chance to see farm to school efforts in action, network with farm to school stakeholders, and envision ideas for their own work based on real-world examples.

The Future of Farm to School

After long delays and a lot of hard work by advocates like NSAC and NFSN, FY 2019-2020 is shaping up to be the year that Congress may just finally rewrite the nation’s outdated child nutrition laws. Congress typically revisits child nutrition programs and policies every five years in a single omnibus bill known as the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act, or “CNR”. This bill authorizes a litany of programs, including school feeding and farm to school programs.

NSAC and NFSN are working with our Coalition and allies to ensure that the next CNR includes a much-needed increase in mandatory funding for the Farm to School Grant program, as well as commonsense regulatory reforms that will make it easier for schools to connect directly with family farmers.

To learn more about CNR and how to get involved in our efforts to expand support for farm to school programing, check out our campaign page and our recent blog.

Additional Resources:

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Categories: Organizations

Demolition by Relocation: ERS and NIFA Moving Day Looms Closer

Wed, 07/24/2019 - 11:46am
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue answers media questions during his first official trip as secretary to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Beacon Facility in Kansas City, Mo., April 27, 2017. USDA photo by Preston Keres

Last week, the Senate Agriculture Committee took the latest action in the ongoing, collaborative effort to reverse the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) relocation of two core research agencies from Washington, D.C. to Kansas City, Missouri. The Committee called on Dr. Scott Hutchins, Deputy Undersecretary for USDA’s Research, Education, and Economics (REE) Mission Area to report on the agency’s plans for implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill, and how relocation of the Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) would affect those efforts.

The REE mission area encompasses ERS and NIFA, as well as the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). Together, these four pillars of REE are responsible for providing critical research, insights, and recommendations to Congress, and to food and farm stakeholders across the country.

Less than a month after USDA announced its decision to relocate ERS and NIFA’s core services to Kansas City, employees at both agencies have been told that they must report for duty at the yet-undetermined new location to keep their jobs. The move is being carried out with little to no oversight from federal procedural rules and has been broadly opposed by Members of Congress and many key stakeholders.

Senate Probes USDA on Impacts of Relocation

During last week’s hearing, Senate Democrats led the charge opposing the move and took the agency to task on its relocation decision. In her opening remarks, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, called USDA’s relocation plans rushed, and criticized the Department’s bypassing of Congress and dismissal of their clearly stated intent to halt further negotiations on the move until more information on the costs, benefits and impacts of the relocation could be thoughtful weighed by policymakers.

In a strong show of opposition, Senator Stabenow echoed the concerns of stakeholders who suspect that the true goal of the relocation is to reduce federal investments in agricultural research (despite Congress’ resounding rejection of proposals for budget cuts). She directly referred to the uprooting of ERS and NIFA as “not a relocation but a demolition” and went on to underscore that everything possible must be done to salvage the valuable expertise that ERS and NIFA have cultivated over the years.

In Dr. Hutchins’ defense of the move, he referred to Kansas City as a vibrant urban center that was already home to many federal workers. Using talking points previously circulated by USDA, Hutchins claimed that placing ERS and NIFA in close proximity to agriculture constituents would lead to thriving research and continued growth. When pressed on whether or not valuable economic and market reports produced by ERS would meet delays as a result of the relocation, Hutchins claimed that ensuring continuity of the mission of both agencies was of utmost priority.

Despite these assurances, however, both ERS and NIFA are already seeing considerable loss of highly-qualified staff. Of the 253 positions at ERS, and 294 at NIFA to move to Kansas City, more than half of ERS employees said they will not relocate, while more than two-thirds of current NIFA staff indicated they will not be moving with the agency or did not respond prior to the initial July 15th deadline. These numbers are expected to increase as employees now have until September 30th to make their final decisions on whether or not to relocate.

With such severe attrition rates, it is unclear how ERS and NIFA can sustain vital programs that serve the nation’s researchers, producers, and policymakers without critical staff. Dr. Hutchins admitted that for some programs, like those doing organic economic policy analysis or research, he had no data on attrition, making the continuity of these programs even more uncertain. Already, the move threatens to jeopardize at least $80 million in grant funding for essential programs if review and subsequent disbursement of awards are delayed as a result of staff losses.

USDA insists that it has an aggressive hiring plan in place to fill lost positions, however, a recent report by the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA) notes that replacing such highly qualified staff can take four years or more. Additionally, AAEA warns that  the effort is likely to cost between $141 and $203 million in lost research. This is on top of the already high levels of currently vacant positions at the agencies (20 and 26 percent for ERS and NIFA respectively) which USDA may have no intention of refilling.

In response to Senator Amy Klobuchar’s (D-MN) question as to whether he believes that ERS and NIFA will suffer the loss of significant expertise in agriculture research, Dr. Hutchins acknowledged the losses but responded that there will be significant cost savings to grow the agencies in the future. Yet, the costs of replacing and training new staff, reductions in services, as well as the cost incurred from breaking current leases held in Washington DC, have not been accounted for by USDA – points raised in the AAEA report which notes a net loss to the American taxpayer as a result of the relocation.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) was also critical of the move saying in comments to Dr. Hutchins that there is no merit or justification for the relocation which only serves to undermine the mission of both agencies. The Senator also admonished USDA for ignoring and violating previous requests from Congress to provide a cost-benefit analysis. When asked whether USDA will follow the law should Congress either not provide funds for relocation, as requested in the President’s budget, or block the use of funds for relocation, Dr. Hutchins noted that the agency will follow the law.

Kansas City or Bust?

As of September 30, 2019, ERS and NIFA employees will need to report to Kansas City; among them six new hires. Employees will work from a temporary location in the Kansas City area until a new permanent location is secured – a process that is currently without a timetable or pubicly shared plan. This only deepens current and future employees’ state of uncertainty, who as of yet do not even know where in the Kansas City metropolitan area the permanent location will be housed (Kansas or Missouri).  

In addition to the ongoing staff losses and anticipated impacts to essential research programs, the relocation also threatens to erode key partnerships and collaborations that ERS and NIFA have forged in the nation’s capital. The primary direct beneficiaries of ERS, for example, are policy-makers, other federal agencies, and Congress – not farmers in the field. This move will therefore move the agencies farther from their core constituencies. Thus far, there has been no defensible or economic justification provided as to why ERS and NIFA should be uprooted, and no proof that relocation would yield economic or research benefits.

In NSAC’s testimony to the Committee, we highlight serious concerns that the broader sustainable agriculture community has regarding the pending relocation, and urge Congress to halt this misguided decision immediately before any further damage can be done. The House has already included in its FY 2020 spending bill language that would block plans to relocate both agencies from the nation’s capital. The Senate, however, has not yet acted, and will need to address this issue when they take up their respective spending bill for USDA’s FY20 budget.

NSAC will continue to urge the Senate to act with the utmost urgency and join the House in blocking this relocation before the damage inflicted on the agencies, and on agricultural research in general, becomes irreparable.

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Categories: Organizations

Taking Matters into Their Own Hands: Farmers Urge USDA to Ensure Rights in Upcoming Rulemaking

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 1:07pm
Fly-in participants, RAFI-USA staff, NSAC staff, and CCAR staff. Photo credit: RAFI-USA.

Poultry, hog, and cattle growers from across the country stepped off their farms and stood up this week to consolidation, grower exploitation, and market manipulation by large meatpackers and processors (also called integrators). Meeting in Washington D.C. earlier this week, growers traveled from North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, West Virginia, Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota as part of Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI-USA), the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM), and the Government Accountability Project (GAP)’s Stand With Family Farmers campaign fly-in.

The Campaign for Contract Agriculture Reform (CCAR), of which the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is a member, also supported the fly-in’s success and played an integral role advocating for family farmers throughout a turbulent history with the Packers & Stockyards Act that governs this industry.

During this week’s fly-in, current and former growers shared personal testimony of unfair practices and corporate retaliation at a press conference and a bi-cameral congressional briefing hosted by Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH). In addition to the briefings, the farmers met with their congressional members, 2020 presidential candidate offices, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and House Agriculture Committee staff, urging them to use and support the use of the upcoming USDA rule on undue preference to finally address the preferential treatment and exploitation of chicken, hog, and beef growers. 

Fly-In participants meeting with Representative Kaptur. Photo credit: RAFI-USA

What Family Farmers Are Facing

Former poultry grower and Alabama law-enforcement officer Anthony Grigsby called out the “corporate bullying, intimidation, and a mafia-like mentality” the corporate meatpackers used to retaliate against his family after he began to inquire about docked paychecks and sick chicks that were delivered to his farm from the integrator.

Grigsby mentioned that he’s not the only farmer being trapped in vicious contracts:

I have been contacted by many farmers saying they wish they could say or do something but they’re too afraid because they see what’s been done to me… The undue preference rule in the Packers and Stockyards Act was written for the American Farmer to simply get a fair shake. Right now, chicken farmers are given a false choice: do what we say or don’t; if you don’t want to do what we say, then do something else for a living. But not doing what they say means you won’t receive chickens again, you won’t be able to make your mortgage payment, and you’ll lose your farm – just like we did.

— Anthony Grigsby, former poultry grower Stand with Family Farmers Congressional Press Briefing. Photo credit: RAFI-USA.

While poultry integrators have been the most aggressive with predatory tactics as the market has consolidated, hog and cattle sectors are not far behind. While in DC for this week’s fly-in, cattle producer, former Nebraska state senator, and OCM board member Al Davis warned:

Over the last few decades, a functioning cattle market has simply disappeared…The four largest meatpackers control over 82 percent of the market today. Over 75 percent of cattle killed today are controlled by the meatpackers through forward contracting agreements, while 14 years ago that figure was roughly 50-50. The existing trendline indicates the market will soon cease to exist and the remaining leverage held by the producer will be gone.

Al Davis, former state senator, cattle producer

In his testimony, Davis went on to say:

…something must be done if we want to preserve the family farm for the family and not for multinational nameless entities whose only goal is to accumulate trillions of dollars at the expense of hard-working Americans whose love for their livestock, their lifestyle, and their community cannot be questioned.

Take Action

USDA is releasing a proposed rule later this summer or early fall that will address the issue of undue preference that the growers bravely spoke on during this week’s fly-in. This rule is a long overdue piece of the original Farmer Fair Practice Rules that support the rights of livestock and poultry growers against powerful meatpackers and processors.

Included in the Stand with Farm Families campaign is a petition that will be delivered to USDA to show support for a robust rule that offers adequate protection for growers. The petition requests that four principles be included in the rule:

  • Ensure freedom for growers to speak the truth;
  • Ensure freedom for growers to join together in producer associations;
  • Ensure protection from corporations enforcing a self-serving system; and
  • Contain clear criteria with detailed, specific rules that adequately cover different types of livestock, and are suitable for the future.

“The Packers and Stockyards Act was passed in 1921. We have had this law on our books for close to a century now, it is nothing new,” said Craig Watts, former North Carolina poultry grower. “So this summer we call on USDA to do its job, and ensure that farmers’ basic rights are protected.”

NSAC stands firmly with those speaking out against the unfair and retaliatory efforts of integrators that harm family farmers and calls upon USDA to include the above principles in the rulemaking for comment.

You too can show your support by signing on to this petition.

Additional information on the upcoming rule and advocacy opportunities can be found here. NSAC will also publish a detailed analysis of the final rule once it is released.

The post Taking Matters into Their Own Hands: Farmers Urge USDA to Ensure Rights in Upcoming Rulemaking appeared first on National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Categories: Organizations

USDA Updates Options for Cover Crop Termination

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 9:00am
Photo credit: NRCS

Cover crops are a critical tool that farmers can use to improve soil health, reduce erosion, retain moisture, and suppress weeds. Especially as farmers are up against devastating floods, drought, and unpredictable weather and pressures, cover crop adoption is an essential practice to build resilient systems and mitigate risk. Despite these clear benefits for risk mitigation, however, USDA cover crop termination guidelines have presented major roadblocks for farmers concerned about maintaining their eligibility for federal crop insurance. In response to a 2018 Farm Bill directive, that roadblock was largely removed by USDA last week.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) worked with our members and partners to reduce cover crop termination barriers through the 2018 Farm Bill. Key provisions that we backed and were included in the final bill have now been incorporated into updated cover crop termination guidelines from USDA. NSAC applauds USDA for quickly moving forward to ensure these changes were in place for the 2020 crop year and for incorporating our feedback as they worked to update the guidelines. We hope they will move quickly again to make several further improvements on the cover crop rules, and then proceed without delay to addressing the larger issue of making all conservation practices acceptable within the federal crop insurance program.

Cover Crop Termination Guidelines – Background

The cover crop termination guidelines were established several years ago, the product of an interagency workgroup including the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Risk Management Agency (RMA), and the Farm Service Agency (FSA), all of which are now housed under USDA’s Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) mission area. The process of establishing the guidelines involved input from experts, stakeholders, and farmers with firsthand experience adopting cover crops on their land.

Cover crop termination means a practice that “historically and under reasonable circumstances results in the termination of a cover crop,” and is completed before the planting of a cash crop. The purpose of the guidelines was to ensure that termination is timed and conducted in such a way as to ensure that winter cover crops are terminated properly, so they do not act as weeds in crop production, slowing soil drying and warming in the spring. The post below details the major changes included in the updated cover crop termination guidelines, including what it means for farmers in the 2020 crop year and beyond.

Cover Crops as Good Farming Practices

Prior to the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, NRCS cover crop termination guidelines had to be strictly followed in order to retain federal crop insurance eligibility, or a deviation from the guidelines had to be approved in advance. For many would-be cover crop adopters, this additional step was a major barrier and discouraged them from incorporating cover crops into their insured management systems out of fear of potentially jeopardizing their coverage and not wanting to jump through additional hoops.

The updated guidelines now clarify that rather than having to go through the approval process in advance, the cash crop can be insured at the time of planting, and cover crop management practices will be reviewed under the normal RMA rules for Good Farming Practice (GFP) determinations, which is similar to how other management decisions are reviewed for crop insurance purposes (e.g. fertilizer application, seeding rates, pest management, etc.).

The GFP process kicks in whenever there is a question by the insurer as to whether a producer is entitled to an indemnity payment when they have a loss. A farmer’s indemnity payment can be reduced based on the amount of the loss that is attributed to their failure to employ GFP. The theory behind that is that a well-defined standard for the production of a crop reduces the moral hazard associated with federally subsidized crop insurance. A farmer who does not care for their crops up to the standard, cannot receive their full indemnity.

Recognizing cover crop practices as GFP follows the directive from the 2018 Farm Bill. NSAC urged RMA to ensure that the GFP process replaced the previous rigid pre-set termination rules, and we are pleased that the new plan reflects this shift.

Flexibility to Ensure Locally Adaptive Management and Provide Maximum Assurance

The updated guidelines make clear that they are not intended to function as a substitute for locally adaptive management for cover crop termination timing, but rather serve as but one option available to producers. It is essential cover crop termination decisions can be flexible and site-specific, in order to optimize water use efficiency, erosion control, soil health improvement, weed and pest control, habitat for beneficial organisms, nutrient cycling, and water quality improvement.

The guidelines will now serve as one option available to farmers, rather than as a mandated prescription. As a recognized nationally applicable agricultural expert resource, they provide an additional level of comfort for producers that want to have the up-front assurance that their cover cropping management decisions will be considered a GFP. However, RMA also recognizes that farmers may be implementing innovative cover cropping systems that fall outside of the guidelines, and thus additional options are being provided for those farmers seeking up-front assurance. Farmers can opt to utilize any one of the following three options:

  1. Pre-approved termination options from NRCS (“NRCS Cover Crop Termination Guidelines”)
  2. Pre-approved cover crop management options based on published expert advice applicable to the crop and the region
  3. Requesting an exception to the guidelines based on a written letter of support from a research, extension, or other expert

In the case of option #1, the guidance document provides information by zone regarding when the cover crop should be terminated in relation to the planting of the following crop. There is also additional guidance available regarding no-till systems, fall seeded cover crops, exceptionally dry or wet seasons, as well as cover used as herbaceous wind barriers or nurse crops.

Under the new policy, however, there is no need for farmers to make use of one of those three pre-approval options. Pre-approval is an option, not a requirement. As mentioned above, cover crop management, including termination, can now be handled through the normal Good Farming Practice process in the same manner as all other agronomic practices. Should an insurance company at claim time take steps to suggest a lack of GFP, the producer can obtain a letter of support from two local experts supporting their cover crop management and termination practice. Treating cover crops under GFP should go a long way to removing the widespread perception that using cover crops could risk crop insurance coverage.

We hope, in recognition of the new changes, that the agencies will change their terminology and cease to use the word “guidelines”, which suggest they are regulations or requirements. Instead, we believe they should be called “pre-approved termination options from NRCS”. We also hope that in the next iteration of the guidelines or options, additional innovative options that are becoming common practice will be added as additional pre-approved options.

Cover Crops on Summer Fallow Acres

The new guidelines also make some important progress for cover crop users in low rainfall summer fallow areas of the country. Previously choosing to plant cover crops, rather than leave fields fallow, resulted in the farmer being locked into disadvantageous insurance. Under the new policy, cover cropped summer fallow acres can be insured under the more advantageous summer fallow insurance option. For those who opt to use the pre-approved guidelines, the newly revised guidelines provide a more liberal termination deadline date (relative to the previous guidelines) of June 1 preceding the insured crop. For areas or situations where even a June 1 date is impractical, farmers could make use of the other two pre-approval options, or proceed under the normal GFP process.

New Haying and Grazing Date for Prevent Plant

In addition to improving soil health by adding organic matter and living roots, natural passages for water infiltration, scavenging nutrients that are often lost after harvest or during winter, providing wildlife habitat and pollinator food, cover crops can also provide livestock producers with additional grazing or haying opportunities.

Separate from the GFP and cover crop guidelines issue, RMA also recently announced additional flexibility for haying and grazing of cover crops on prevent plant acres, which is especially important this year as heavy rain and flooding significantly obstructed planting for farmers in the Midwest and throughout much of the country. For this year, RMA amended the policy of penalties against haying or grazing the cover crop prior to November 1. Using their administrative discretion, USDA set September 1 as the new date for when haying and grazing can begin without the penalty of a lower prevent plant payment.

More information on this change is available in our blog post as well as guidance from RMA.

What’s Next?

NSAC continues to believe USDA must declare, without exception, that all conservation practices and enhancements endorsed by USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service are Good Farming Practices with respect to USDA’s Risk Management Agency and the federal crop insurance program. The Senate version of the 2018 Farm Bill included this provision, but the final bill unfortunately only addressed cover crops. The Conference Report, however, makes this important point:

“The Managers note that producers considering voluntary conservation practices like cover crops, whether directly through a USDA conservation program or informally according to USDA’s recommended procedures, should have confidence that following the program guidance, procedures, or advice will not impact their insurability or protection under Federal Crop Insurance. The Managers expect USDA to coordinate internally and provide clear guidance to farmers, agents and loss adjustors to ensure that guidance, procedures , or advice regarding voluntary conservation practices from one part of USDA does not potentially put other USDA benefits at risk.”

One path forward to make this statement of the Managers a reality would be to have RMA involved upfront in the regular process of reviewing and updating conservation practice and enhancement standards rather than allowing the federal insurance program to question those practices and enhancements at the back end, during the crop insurance claims process.

NSAC is urging USDA to get such a process established this year and to subsequently give farmers an absolute assurance that adopting conservation practices and enhancements will always automatically be considered Good Farming Practices.

For More Information

NSAC will continue to provide updates as additional information is made available regarding cover crop termination. You can review the NRCS cover crop termination guidance document here, and more information on cover crops from RMA is available here.

The post USDA Updates Options for Cover Crop Termination appeared first on National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Categories: Organizations

USDA Grant Funding Now Available to Support Farmers of Color and Military Veterans

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 1:49pm
Photo credit: USDA

Historically, farmers of color and military veterans have struggled to access vital farm programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). These disparities have existed for a number of reasons, including inadequate outreach to these communities by USDA, as well as institutional discrimination.

In order to better serve farmers of color and veteran farmers, Congress created the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (also known as the “2501 Program”) nearly 30 years ago. USDA’s Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement (OPPE) administers the 2501 program, which helps to ensure that historically underserved producers have equitable access to the information, programs, and opportunities that will help them find success in agriculture.

This week, USDA announced the availability of over $16 million in Section 2501 grants to help organizations conduct targeted outreach and provide technical assistance to veterans and farmers of color.

For project ideas, check out the last year’s Section 2501 grantees.

Compressed 2019 Funding Cycle

OPPE released the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for the 2501 Program for fiscal year (FY) 2019 earlier this week, and applicants will have just 30 days to apply for grant funding this year.

All applications must be submitted via by 11:59 pm EST on August 15, 2019.

With the delay in passing a new farm bill, and month-long government shutdown earlier this year, USDA has been behind on releasing most of its grant opportunities this year. However, coming just three months before the end of the fiscal year, this year’s 2501 RFA marks a record in bureaucratic delays. This administrative delay not only creates an impractical and unnecessarily compressed application window for grantees (especially taxing for limited capacity organizations), but puts the program’s grant funding at risk of expiring before awards can be made by the end of the fiscal year.

NSAC is calling on Congress to provide the necessary oversight to ensure that USDA follows Congress’s directives to allocate grant funding this year, and releases future funding announcements much earlier in the fiscal year, with at least 60 days for grantees to complete the complicated and time-consuming application process.

Details for Potential Applicants

This year’s FOA is largely unchanged from previous years with two significant changes to the grant award and project term. The maximum amount that organizations can apply for is now $250,000 per year for a total project length of three years. NSAC pushed hard for this change in the farm bill and are excited to see larger and longer grant funding available.

There is no match required for applications and only one project proposal may be submitted per eligible entity.

Grant funding will be awarded to three categories of applicants:

  • Category 1 – Minority serving academic institutions (e.g., 1890 and 1994 Land Grant Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, American Indian Tribal colleges)
  • Category 2 – Non-profit, community-based organizations, and Indian Tribes
  • Category 3 – Other academic institutions and organizations (e.g., 1862 Land Grant Universities)

Organizations must have demonstrated expertise in working with underserved, socially disadvantaged and/or veteran farmer communities.

USDA is soliciting project proposals that address the following program priorities, which are unchanged from last year:

  • Assist socially disadvantaged or veteran farmers and ranchers in owning and operating successful farms and ranches
  • Improve participation among socially disadvantaged or veteran farmers and ranchers in USDA programs
  • Build relationships between current and prospective socially disadvantaged or veteran farmers and ranchers and USDA’s local, state, regional and national offices
  • Introduce agriculture-related information to socially disadvantaged or veteran farmers and ranchers through innovative outreach and technical assistance techniques
  • Introduce agricultural education targeting socially disadvantaged youth and beginning farmers and ranchers, in rural and persistent poverty communities

Additional Resources:

USDA will host two upcoming conference calls to answer questions from potential grantees: the first will be on July 23 at 2:00 pm EST, and the second on August 6 at 2:00 pm EST. Additional details on those calls are included in the FOA.

The post USDA Grant Funding Now Available to Support Farmers of Color and Military Veterans appeared first on National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Categories: Organizations

Child Nutrition Reauthorization on the Horizon

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 9:00am
Farm to school, Mississippi. Photo credit: Sunny Young Baker

Much to the surprise of many advocates – including those of us at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) – 2019-2020 may just turn out to be the year that Congress finally rewrites the nation’s outdated child nutrition laws. Congress typically revisits child nutrition programs and policies every five years in a single omnibus bill known as the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act, or “Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization” (CNR) for short. This bill authorizes a litany of programs, including school feeding and farm to school programs. 

At the start of the year, most advocates and Hill watchers thought congressional action on a new CNR was only a remote possibility. Within the last few months, however, Congress has shifted its attention to moving it forward this year.

Following House and Senate hearings on child nutrition programs earlier this spring, Members of Congress in both the Senate and the House have been introducing “marker bills” laying out the priorities that they would like to see incorporated into the next CNR. NSAC and our partners (and coalition member organization) at the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) are once again playing key roles in the CNR process, and are currently championing two CNR marker bills: the Farm to School Act of 2019 (S. 2026, H.R. 3562), and the Kids Eat Local Act (H.R. 3220, S. 1817).

In this inaugural post in our newly launched CNR campaign, we unpack the following topics related to child nutrition and farm to school policies:


Those interested in joining the fight for farm to school and local food in schools in the next CNR can check out NSAC’s CNR campaign page, which includes CNR updates and opportunities to take action.

The Farm to School Act of 2019

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm to School Grant Program is a competitive grant program that helps schools connect with local foods (through school feeding programs) and farms, and also supports farm and garden education and programming. Since making its first awards in 2013, the program has received more than 1,900 applications requesting over $141 million in support. With only $5 million in mandatory funding available annually, however, the Farm to School Grant Program has historically been forced to turn away roughly 80 percent of qualified applications.

The Farm to School Act of 2019 was introduced by a bipartisan group of congressional leaders who want to address this disparity between interest in farm to school and available program funds. The bill, sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), David Perdue (R-GA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) and Representatives Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), will expand funding for and the programmatic scope of the highly successful USDA Farm to School Grant Program. The Farm to School Act of 2019 would allow more impactful projects to be realized by increasing annual mandatory funding to $15 million.

The proposed legislation will also: increase the maximum grant award to $250,000; prioritize grant proposals that engage beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and serve high-need schools; fully include early care and education sites, summer food service sites and after school programs; and, increase access among Native and tribal schools to traditional foods, especially from tribal producers. The Farm to School Act of 2019 is an updated version of the previously introduced Farm to School Act of 2017.

Kids Eat Local Act

Institutional markets represent some of the most lucrative and dependable options for America’s family farmers and ranchers – in fact, the Farm to School Census of 2015 estimated that the purchasing powers of school districts alone could generate over $1 billion in local economic activity! Unfortunately, however, they can also be among the most challenging to break into.

The Kids Eat Local Act would introduce a simplified local product specification option, through which schools can specify “locally grown,” “locally raised” or “locally caught” in their procurement language. This change would help to break down barriers between school food purchasers and family farmers by simplifying local purchasing guidelines for school meal programs. The Kids Eat Local Act was introduced by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) and Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Josh Harder (D-CA), and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE).

The 2002 Farm Bill included a provision, that was later strengthened in the 2008 Farm Bill, to encourage institutions participating in child nutrition programs to purchase “locally produced foods for school meal programs, to the maximum extent practicable and appropriate.”  The statutory provision was necessary to overcome a federal regulation that outlaws geographic preference in government purchasing unless it is specifically authorized.

While that change in statute was an important step forward, in practice, schools have not been able to secure adequate varieties and quantities of local food. The problem is partially due to limits on product specifications and the need for more training and technical assistance. However there are also remaining regulatory burdens. For example, current law does not allow schools to explicitly require “local” or “regional” as a product specification. Although there are workarounds to this rule, the net effect is a system that is confusing and burdensome to school food service providers.


Members of Congress have started introducing marker bills, and the committees of jurisdiction (Senate Agriculture Committee and House Education and Labor Committee) are beginning to draft the next CNR.

For the Farm to School Act of 2019 and the Kids Eat Local Act to be included in the next CNR, Congress needs to hear from you!

This is your chance to make it easier for schools to source local food and provide funding for innovative projects like school gardens and seasonal vegetable taste-testing that help kids learn where their food comes from.

In order to raise awareness about these important bills and build support for their inclusion in the next CNR, NSAC and NFSN have launched a joint national advocacy campaign. You can learn more about CNR, our advocacy campaign, and ways you can get involved by visiting our CNR campaign page here.

The Farm to School Act of 2019 and the Kids Eat Local Act are NSAC’s core priorities for CNR, but they aren’t the only ones we are supporting or the only options in play. Included in the following sections are several additional proposals and provisions that are also under debate for inclusion in the next CNR.

Other Happenings: Local Food Expansion Act

The 2014 Farm Bill created an Eight State Unprocessed Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Program that allowed participating states to use their USDA Food Entitlement funding to purchase unprocessed and minimally processed produce from non-USDA channels. According to an evaluation done by USDA, the pilots were immensely successfully helping the participating schools increase the use of fresh and unprocessed fruits and vegetables. The pilot program also made it easier for the schools to source fresh foods from local vendors.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Representative Peter Welch (D-VT) worked closely with NSAC to get the original pilot program included in the 2014 Farm Bill. Based on the success of the pilot, Senator Wyden and Representative Welch have introduced the Local Food Expansion Act (S.1952, H.R. 3492). This bill re-authorizes and expands the program to include at least 15 participating states and school food authorities. NSAC and NFSN both support these policy changes and will be working with members of Congress to see that they are included in the next CNR.

Other Happenings: School Food Modernization Act and Nutrition Standards

Another marker bill that NSAC and NFSN are watching closely is the School Food Modernization Act (S.1949, H.R. 3444). This bill would provide guaranteed loans and grants to schools to support equipment upgrades and training for school food personnel. Improved kitchen equipment and facilities is critical to schools’ efforts to move away from “heat and serve” and more toward scratch cooking and the utilization of local food in school meals.

Similar to past CNR debates, nutrition standards will also be a major flash point in the 2019-2020 debate. There have already been attempts from some Members of Congress to further rollback the nutrition standards of the 2010 CNR. Those attempts are being fought against by many in the nutrition community, as well as by other Members of Congress who want to maintain or strengthen improved nutrition standards. How this debate in particular unfolds will, in many ways, determine whether or not a new CNR comes to fruition or not.

Other Happenings: Community Eligibility and Summer Meals

Defending the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) will be another potential flash point during the ensuing CNR debate. The changes to CEP in the 2015-2016 House CNR bill, along with a proposal to pilot block granting school nutrition programs, were among the primary reasons the last CNR process fell apart. Anti-hunger and nutrition advocates will be watching closely to see if similar proposals will surface again, and if so, how they might impact the success of the next CNR.

Another central piece of the CNR debate will be the Summer Food Service Program.  According to USDA, of the over 30 million students that rely on free and reduced-price meals during the school year, only about 10 percent of those qualify to participate in the summer meal program. A number of different approaches to bridging this gap and increasing access to summer meals for hungry children have already been proposed. Which proposals gain traction as the CNR debate unfolds will be something key for nutrition and anti-hunger advocates to keep an eye on.

CNR History

Two laws provide the foundation for child nutrition programs: the 1946 National School Lunch Act and the 1966 Child Nutrition Act. Prior to the National School Lunch Act, Congress appropriated federal aid for school lunch programs on an annual basis. Without a guarantee of permanent funding, states and school districts often refrained from investing in kitchens and lunch programs. 

The 1946 National School Lunch Act responded to this uncertainty by giving permanent status to the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Similar to today, participating schools were required to serve lunches that met minimum nutrition standards, serve meals at reduced prices to children who were unable to pay the full price, operate the program on a non-profit basis, and utilize commodity foods from USDA.

Building on the success of the first two decades of NSLP and in response to movements for economic and racial justice, Congress passed the Child Nutrition Act in 1966. The Act authorized increased funding for lunches for low-income students, school kitchen equipment assistance grants, and a pilot school breakfast program, which later became the national School Breakfast Program. 

Congress continued to expand the scope of the National School Lunch Act and the Child Nutrition Act in the late 1960s and 70s. During this time, Congress piloted and later permanently authorized the Child and Adult Care Feeding Program (CACFP), the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), and the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Congress also standardized and reduced eligibility requirements for free and reduced-price school meals and guaranteed reimbursement rates would reflect increased program participation and higher food costs.

After 35 years of expansions and improvements, child nutrition programs suffered major setbacks in the early 1980s. Budget cuts in child nutrition programs resulted in stricter eligibility requirements, reduced reimbursement rates, the elimination of school kitchen equipment assistance grants, and weakened nutrition standards. As a result, schools increasingly turned to processed and frozen foods that were cheaper to procure and prepare.

In the early 1990s, a series of reports on the nutritional inadequacy of school meals prompted Congress to require child nutrition programs to conform to National Dietary Guidelines. Congress also established an initiative to support increased nutrition education. Even today, the debates and disagreements around healthy eating and lifestyles persist.

The last CNR, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, included the most significant changes to child nutrition programs since the 1970s. The 2010 CNR expanded children’s access to nutritious meals and snacks, improved the nutritional quality for school food, supported healthier school environments, and increased nutrition and food system education. It also provided $5 million per year in mandatory funding to the USDA Farm to School Grant Program for the first time.

In 2015, during the 114th Congress, efforts began to rewrite and reauthorize CNR. In the end, however, the legislative process fell apart and Congress failed to pass a new CNR. Thankfully, while CNR traditionally gets revised every five years, it does not necessarily have to be reauthorized, as most of the program authorizations are permanent or have been extended through the annual appropriations process.

Visit our CNR Campaign page for more information on the history of CNR, NSAC’s advocacy campaign, and ways you can get involved!

The post Child Nutrition Reauthorization on the Horizon appeared first on National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Categories: Organizations

$2 Million Available to Ramp Up Farm Stress Response

Thu, 07/11/2019 - 11:52am
Photo credit: USDA

Farmers and ranchers across the country are in distress. Plummeting farm incomes, market instability, extreme weather patterns, and a thin disaster safety net has pushed many to bankruptcy, foreclosure, and even suicide.

Farm Aid (an NSAC member) has seen a 109 percent increase in distressed farmer calls over the past year on their farmer hotline – the only national hotline targeting farmers in distress. And the first quarter of 2019 had a 93 percent vault in year-to-date calls. And while studies on farmer suicide rates differ, the same message rings clear: farmer-occupational suicide rates are significantly higher than that of the general U.S. population. Making matters worse, preventative mental health and behavioral services are often out of reach due to rural out-migration, affordability, and stigmas surrounding receiving therapy treatment.

Amidst this emerging crisis in farm country, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced $2 million in funds to better support farmers in stress. In this initial year of funding, the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN) seeks to establish a network of organizations to connect farmers and ranchers, along with farmworkers, to stress assistance programs and resources across the country. FRSAN is a competitive grant program and administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). More details on this funding opportunity are outlined further below.

Applications are due on July 25, 2019 at 5 pm EST.

Organizations already addressing farm stress, and who played a foundational role advocating for FRSAN – such as Farm Aid, Rural Advancement Foundation International – USA (RAFI), National Farmers Union (NFU), and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) – are doing all they can to fill in the gaps, but resources are stretched too thin.

While no silver bullet, this new resource is a small but important step in responding to the urgency of stress in farm country. However, it is nonetheless imperative to also develop longer-term policy solutions that respond to the root causes of this stress and ultimately build a more resilient food and farm system that can withstand disruptions that will undoubtedly continue into the future.

FRSAN Overview

Although originally authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill, FRSAN only first received funding this year. Authorized to received up to $10 million per year, Congress provided $2 million in initial grant funding for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019. With limited funding this first year, the 2019 pilot program will utilize a collaborative, regional network approach.

The goals for the first year of funding are to:

  • Establish a diverse, regionally-representative network of member organizations;
  • Develop a clearinghouse of farmer assistance programs in each region; and
  • Educate teams in each regions about existing resources in responding to farmers in stress.

Funding in additional years will provide more direct support on the ground to network partners in expanding services.


NIFA is seeking applications from regional partnerships and collaborations that are led by or include nongovernmental organizations, state departments of agriculture, Cooperative Extension Services, and Indian tribes with expertise in providing professional agricultural behavioral health awareness, counseling as appropriate, education, training, and referral for other forms of assistance as necessary.

All applicants must be working in regional partnerships (networks) composed of three or more separately operated, domestic, public or private entities, including a lead applicant organization. Members may be involved in more than one applicant network; however, they may only be the lead applicant for one proposal. For entities wishing to be associated in more than one geographic region (see the below table), they must demonstrate the capacity to meet the responsibilities that come with their multiple regional associations.

Applicant teams are encouraged to identify and map the already existing resources in their region, which may include:

  • Farm crisis helplines and websites
  • Farm stress training programs and/or workshops
  • Support groups
  • Therapy services

Once a regional network is mapped, a regional clearinghouse could be formed by training state-level employees to appropriately refer farmers to services within the network, ultimately connecting and increasing farmer and rancher access to those services.

Networks may be comprised of urban and rurally located members, but at least two network members must be currently serving USDA’s Economic Research Services (ERS) designated rural counties or rural census tracts within urban counties. To determine the location of a certain member, refer to the USDA-ERS Rural-Urban Continuum Codes. Further, proposals must center their services in one of the four regions listed in Table 1; although, the RFA provides no guidance on how many states must be involved actively involved within a region.

NIFA intends to grant four awards (one per region), on a twelve-month project term, which starts on September 1, 2019.

Funding Availability

Proposal budgets are not to exceed $488,000, including indirect costs. Indirect costs are limited to 30 percent of total federal funds, or an otherwise negotiated rate, within the budget. Matching resources are not required for proposals, and NIFA will not factor any matching resources during the review process. If additional funding is provided in future years, USDA will solicit stakeholder input to decide on how to best scale projects, and increase outcome services.

How to Apply

Interested applicants should visit NIFA’s FRSAN website to access the Request for Applications (RFA) and application portal. Applications must be submitted through by July 25, 2019 at 5 pm EST.

More information on FRSAN:

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