What’s New in Michigan Organic AG?
Sept 25-Oct 7, 2007
1. Proposed Farm Bill falls short on food security
2. Business as usual? Why should we forget the farm bill?
3. TAKE PRECAUTIONS WHEN HANDLING DRY PODS TO REDUCE SOYBEAN HARVEST LOSSES
7. Concern about wheat supplies lifts prices
8. Harvest time
Notice of Position Openings
Position: Director of Communications at The Rodale Institute
14. Organic Tree Fruit Projects Field Day, Friday, November 2, 2007,
15. Propagation and Cultivation of Medicinal Herbs, November 3, 2007, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute
16. Intensive Mini-school Series for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) January 19, 2008, Kettunen Center, Tustin, Michigan, February 23, 2008, Kalamazoo Public Library
September 20, 2007
Farm Bill? It's really a food bill, because it strongly influences most aspects of our food system.
Past farm bills -- and the current version as passed by the House of Representatives -- represent an unsustainable approach to food and agriculture that imposes huge costs on the health of people and the health of our rural and natural environments. Increasing rates of child obesity and hunger, and the loss of family farms and cropland, are the most visible signs of this.
As a longtime analyst of local food systems and an advocate for strengthening them, it is clear to me that major changes are needed in the Senate and final versions of the bill.
Reform of obsolete funding priorities is crucial if we are to ensure our long-term food security.
Farm bill spending to support nonfood commodities has far exceeded all other programs, even though two-thirds of farmers receive no crop subsidies. The top 1% of those who do received 17% of the total crop subsidies for 2003-2005. Nutrition programs -- mainly the Food Stamp program -- are not funded at levels needed to meet either inflation or the increasing numbers that need help. Conservation programs to protect erodible land are threatened by non-farm bill subsidies for ethanol and biodiesel that encourage farmers to plant corn and soy on more of their conservation and regular cropland to produce fuels, something that has already raised food prices.
Finally, a number of existing small and innovative programs aimed at rebuilding more sustainable and secure foundations for our food systems are threatened by the House bill.
These include the USDA's Community Food Projects Competitive Grants Program. First authorized by Congress in 1996, the CFP program has provided grants to cities, towns and rural counties to develop grassroots solutions to local and regional food, nutrition and agriculture problems.
In Michigan, CFP grants have helped boost local food production and marketing in Clare, Kent, Ottawa and Van Buren Counties; helped Lansing area farmers' markets link growers with low-income neighborhoods; helped low-income communities in west Michigan plan local food and nutrition improvements; and in the Detroit area, supported two groups to promote local gardening, community farms and locally based retail outlets in neglected neighborhoods.
The CFP has funded similar innovative programs in all 50 states. And this with only $5 million in annual mandatory funding.
While the House did recommend $30
million for the CFP in its bill, this was as discretionary funding, which makes
it unlikely the CFP will be funded at all, since it is also unlikely, given the
If these budget priorities are not changed, it will mean the end of this innovative program and many others that help local communities and regions enhance their food security.
I urge you to join me in contacting Michigan U.S. Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow about the Farm Bill, especially Stabenow, who is on the Senate Agriculture Committee. Let them know how important it is to invest more in conservation, hunger mitigation, healthy foods, and particularly innovative programs like Community Food Projects.
A. DAHLBERG is professor emeritus of political science and
environmental studies at
Why we shouldn't forget the Farm Bill
Posted by Aimee Witteman at 1:55 PM on 02 Oct 2007
Once again, a prime example of our misguided farm policies hits like a ton of factory-farm manure sludge -- or in this case, a massive sack of federally insured, genetically modified corn.
Last Wednesday, Monsanto announced that the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) approved a pilot program that will give farmers a 20 percent discount on insurance premiums if they plant a majority of their corn acres with seeds featuring Monsanto's trademarked YieldGard Plus with Roundup Ready Corn 2 or YieldGard VT Triple stack technology. This is the first time the FCIC Board has approved a crop insurance discount for specific crop traits, but not likely the last.
For the moment, let's set aside the potentially sordid nature of this public/private arrangement. What is particularly ironic and imbalanced is that organic producers pay an extra 5 percent surcharge when they sign up for crop insurance because of the perceived additional risks associated with organic production.
That's right. Organic producers are actually penalized for using production practices that have been shown to lessen risks.
Simply put, this is bad policy that should be reformed when the Senate takes up the farm bill this month.
It's tempting to want to forget about the behemoth that is federal farm policy and concentrate on local solutions to the food system crisis. There is no question that making change on a local, human scale is critical, not to mention more accessible and arguably more gratifying. We should not view advocacy as an either/or proposition, however. If we do not address federal policy, the scaffolding that shapes our decisions as producers and consumers, our efforts to make sweeping changes in the food system will likely amount to no more than a few heirloom tomatoes in a sea of GM corn.
Scott Marlow, Director of Farm Sustainability for RAFI-USA, explains how our current crop insurance policies affect producer behavior -- behavior on which a large-scale food revolution hinges.
In May, Marlow testified before Congress about the impact crop insurance has on the ability of farmers to adjust to shifts in our agricultural economy. Currently, crop insurance for organic producers not only carries a 5 percent surcharge, it does not cover the added value of specialty marketed crops. Instead, the crop insurance payments are calculated based on the conventional price.
other words, if you are an insured organic producer like the ones devastated by
Because the added value of specialty marketed crops is uninsured, it is frequently not included in either collateral valuation or anticipated income. As Marlow remarked in his testimony, "while lenders do not recognize the higher value of specialty crops, they do recognize the higher expense of producing them."
Marlow says that the lack of risk management for value-added products and the reduction in access to credit and other disaster programs that accompanies it, creates a financial disincentive for farmers to make the transition to organic production, and increases the risk and vulnerability of those that do.
And there's the farm bill rub.
Unfair, punitive crop insurance policies may not raise the eyebrows or pitchforks of smaller organic producers who are less likely to take out operating loans or are sheltered from risk by a growing a huge variety of crops. For mid-sized "agriculture of the middle" family farmers, however, it can be the deciding factor in choosing whether to transition relatively large amounts of land out of monoculture commodities and into diversified, specialized crops and livestock.
The upside of Congress' slow progress in reauthorizing the current farm bill is that we still have a chance to steer this ship around. The farm bill is an opportunity to reform current inequities and support the kinds of farming that results in healthier people and landscapes. Contact members of the Senate Agriculture Committee today.