A New Agriculture Secretary, A Decision on ACRE, Speak Up on the Farm Bill, and More

American Farmland Trust
American Farmland Trust

Farm Policy Update March 3, 2009

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack on the Job

 Inaguration Farm and Capital

Take Action Now

Just hours after President Obama’s inauguration, former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack was confirmed by the Senate and sworn in as the new Secretary of Agriculture. During his confirmation hearing, Sec. Vilsack pledged to endorse local food economies and to help farmers diversify their income through renewable energy, organic farming and similar endeavors. He also vowed to “make sure the Department of Agriculture does its part in administering a robust farm safety net and create real and meaningful opportunities for farmers and ranchers to succeed.” Voice your support for our “9 for ’09” policy recommendations, and show Secretary Vilsack and the rest of President Obama’s Administration that you care about farmers and farmland! Read our recommendations, then send an e-card to nine of your friends

A Victory for American Farmland Trust’s ACRE

The USDA made a critical decision regarding calculations for the Average Crop Revenue Program (ACRE). The ruling now allows farmers to decide which safety net program they want to participate in during the life of the 2008 Farm Bill, and as they are making their planting decisions for the next growing season. “ACRE has two major benefits. It serves the real world needs of farmers better, and it makes better use of our tax dollars by helping farmers only when there’s a real need,” says Tim Recker, farmer and president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association. One agricultural newspaper calls ACRE a “decision that beckons.”

A Yardstick for Sustainability

Dr. Ann Sorensen, director of American Farmland Trust’s Center for Agriculture in the Environment, and our California office are working with partners such as the Western Growers and the Natural Resources Defense Council to develop performance metrics for specialty crop producers. This will give growers a practical yardstick for measuring the effects of water and pesticide use and other production decisions, allowing them to reduce their environmental footprint and set the direction for agriculture to become even more sustainable.

It’s Time to Speak Up for the 2008 Farm Bill 

Passing the farm bill is always half the battle. The legislation lays out what ought to happen without great detail. But turning farm bill promises into reality involves speaking up during the public comment period on the draft rules so that the final legislation is accessible and easy to use for farmers. Participate in this process as USDA seeks comments on three programs: the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP), the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) and the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP). 

USDA Office of Ecosystem Services—A Green and Forward Thinking Move

In December, then USDA Secretary Ed Schaffer announced a new Office of Ecosystem Services and Markets. Established by the 2008 Farm Bill, the office will coordinate the efforts of all government agencies in creating markets that give farmers and ranchers the chance to sell the services they provide on their land—such as clean water, carbon sequestration and wildlife habitat. “Creating markets for environmental benefits will result in enormous new opportunities for farmers and ranchers to improve the environment while expanding their sources of revenue,” said American Farmland Trust’s President, Jon Scholl.  

Top Ten Early Action Items for 111th Congress

Senate Democrats announced their legislative priorities for the first session of the 111th United States Congress. This is a long-standing tradition at the start of each congressional session, and the Republicans will soon release their own key priorities. The Democrats’ first 10 bills: a comprehensive stimulus package; tax reform; the Homeowner Protection Act; comprehensive health care reform; the Cleaner, Greener Smarter American Act (green investments and updating infrastructure; reducing greenhouse gasses); redirection of foreign policy in Iran and Afghanistan; expanding education opportunities; a review of Bush administration regulations; strengthening border security and reforming immigration policies; and addressing the federal deficit and national debt.

House and Senate Agriculture Committees Form for New Session

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson (D-MN) has announced the 46 members of his committee, including 28 Democrats and 18 Republicans with one vacancy to be filled. The committee has authority over a wide range of issues, including conservation, food and nutrition programs, renewable energy, disaster assistance and risk management programs, crop insurance, rural development, credit for agriculture and many other areas. Similarly, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) has announced that the Senate Agriculture committee will be comprised of 11 Democrats and 10 Republicans.

Media Update

American Farmland Trust’s Managing Director for the Agriculture & Environment Campaign, Jimmy Daukas, was tapped as an environmental expert for the National Geographic News story, “Wish List for Obama,” detailing the “9 for ‘09” policy recommendations for the new Administration.

George McGovern, former Senator and Ambassador to the World Food Program, and Marshall Matz, an attorney who has spent his career specializing in agriculture legislation and hunger issues, penned an opinion piece for The Chicago Tribune. The op-ed examines the challenges facing U.S. agriculture and recognizes the important role of the U.S. agriculture sector in meeting the world’s future food, fiber and fuel needs.

An economics professor in India effectively argues that in the wake of press coverage on the global financial crisis, food shortages around the world have lost a place in the media’s attention. “Where are the billion-dollar bailouts for the hungry?,” she asks.

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