From the Chesapeake Bay to the Puget Sound; Policy News on Conservation, Climate Change; Farmers Markets Abound

American Farmland Trust
American Farmland Trust

Farm Policy Update May 22, 2009

Looking for a Seat at the Table: Agriculture and Climate Change Legislation

American Farmland Trust Board Chairman Jay Winthrop participated in an Earth Day roundtable and press conference with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Chairmen Waxman (D-CA), Rangel (D-NY) and Peterson (D-MN) as the leaders pledged to craft climate change legislation in the year ahead. Toward that goal, the House’s Energy and Commerce Committee is marking up the “The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009” this week, designed to curb the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. As managers of more than 40 percent of the nation’s land, farmers and ranchers can play a major role in combating climate change—potentially helping to reduce up to one-fifth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Farmers, ranchers and agricultural advocates are watching the debate closely to see if House members recognize the significant role of agriculture in a national cap-and-trade program. House members are expected to act on the bill before the holiday recess.

More Than Good Intentions Needed for Conservation

Despite President Obama’s desire to support conservation and agriculture, his proposed FY 2010 budget would cut hundreds of millions of dollars from conservation programs promised under the 2008 Farm Bill. The Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) could be slashed by as much as $175 million and $250 million respectively, which would greatly affect the ability of farmers and ranchers to protect their land and our environment. Even The Hill headlines this “backtracking on land preservation.” On a brighter note, the President designated funding for the Conservation Loan Guarantee Program, which supports producers’ efforts to apply conservation practices.  

President Obama's Conservation Budget Graph

American Farmland Trust Gives a Good Briefing

The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Research & Energy invited Dennis Nuxoll, American Farmland Trust’s Senior Director of Government Relations, to be part of a panel to provide all members and their staff with a briefing on agriculture’s greenhouse gas offsets in climate change legislation. Nuxoll described the benefits for agriculture under cap-and-trade legislation 

Chesapeake Bay’s Environmental Health in the Spotlight

PBS’ Frontline special, Poisoned Waters, highlighted water quality challenges in two of our nation’s most unique waterways: the Puget Sound and the Chesapeake Bay, where American Farmland Trust is working with farmers for “cleaner water because of farms, not in spite of them.” And President Obama signed a historic executive order making the federal government in charge of the efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, the same day that the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council announced new short-term milestones in the seven bay states (MD, PA, NY, WV, DC, VA and DE). These and future milestones aim to put the necessary pollution control measures in place for a restored bay by 2025.

Living the Local Food and Farm Victories of the Farm Bill

Last spring, those with a stake in farms and local food waited with bated breath as the 2008 Farm Bill made its way through Congress. Under the bill, the Farmers Markets Promotion Program received an expanded allocation of $33 million for the next five years, and applicants have now applied to put that money to use. In the spirit of supporting America’s farmers and their local markets, American Farmland Trust is doing a promotion of our own. Farmers market managers are currently enrolling in our Vote for America’s Favorite Farmers Markets contest, so this summer market customers from California to Maine will vote for their favorite!

Who Are Today’s Beginning Farmers?

As defined by USDA, beginning farmers and ranchers are those who have operated a farm for less than 10 years by themselves or with other beginning operators. Today’s beginners are more likely to be female, non-White, Hispanic, and younger than established farmers. About one-third is over age 55 or older, compared with nearly 67 percent of established farmers of that same age group. USDA’s Economic Research Service has a new report with more data on beginning farmers, and AFT recently made a recommendation for how urban-edge communities can help retain agriculture respective to this key group of farmers.

Media Update

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack honored American Farmland Trust Senior Advisor and USDA/NRCS Chief Emeritus Norm Berg by dedicating the National Plant Materials Center in his name. Congress chose to recognize the late Berg in the 2008 Farm Bill for his achievements in conservation and farmland protection. Learn more about Berg at the Farmland Information Center’s Berg Collection.

Check out this blog post to hear broadcast interviews with Jim Baird, American Farmland Trust’s Mid-Atlantic States Director, and Dennis Nuxoll, American Farmland Trust’s Senior Director of Government Relations, in which they discuss their perspectives on water quality and climate protection.

At the recent meeting of the USDA National Organic Standards Board, Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced that $50 million is available for farmers who want to transition to organic production, or for certified organic producers to receive special assistance for conservation projects under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Applications are due by May 29.

For Earth Day, Pacific Northwest States Director Don Stuart wrote about the environmental benefits of agriculture, appearing in the Capital Press Agriculture Weekly and The Seattle Times. His East Coast counterpart, Mid-Atlantic States Director Jim Baird, did the same, appearing on the Baltimore Sun’s environmental blog.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack is interested in hearing from producers and stakeholders on the National Animal Identification System, and he has announced a series of listening sessions around the country on this topic.

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