NFU News Clips December 19, 2011
PLEASE NOTE - Contents in the NFU News Clips are presented from their original sources. National Farmers Union does not have editorial control over the content. NFU does not endorse the views and issues contained in these articles and they do not necessarily represent NFU's official policy and positions. The News Clips are intended to provide news stories as they are presented by the media.
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In this edition:
December 14, 2011
Across the U.S., young people are heeding the call for a more just, sustainable, and healthy food system, and are heading to the fields to build it themselves. They are working on farms and starting their own small-scale farm businesses from scratch. But, as the National Young Farmers' Coalition recently revealed, there are big obstacles getting in the way of these green entrepreneurs -- and the change eaters want to see on their grocery store shelves. Last month, the Coalition released the results of a needs survey of 1,000 young and beginning farmers from across the nation. They also made recommendations for anyone looking to help these farmers succeed. Read more…
December 19, 2011
Produce News Daily
A free, on-line tool can help small- and medium-sized growers meet food-safety requirements for large buyers who want to purchase certified sources of local produce, said Jim Slama, president of the non-profit FamilyFarmed.org, during a Dec. 15 press conference. Mr. Slama unveiled the On-Farm Food Safety Project, which allows farmers to come up with a food-safety plan while learning how to mitigate food-safety risks, at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s headquarters with USDA, retailer, farmer and produce trade association representatives. Read more…
December 19, 2011
The new year will bring the continuation — and perhaps escalation — of a suite of major energy and environmental battles. Here are some major issues E2 will be watching, in no particular order: Solyndra: House Republicans have vowed to press forward their investigation into the Obama administration’s $535 million loan guarantee to failed solar firm Solyndra next year. Solyndra, a California-based solar panel manufacturer, declared bankruptcy in September about two years after receiving the loan guarantee from the Energy Department. Read more…
December 15, 2011
Former Delaware Ag Secretary Michael Scuse has been nominated to be the Undersecretary for Farm & Foreign Agricultural Services at the US Department of Ag and he is nominated to serve on the board of Directors of the Commodity Credit Corporation. During a Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry hearing today, Senator Chris Coons in his opening statement speaks in support of Scuse – saying that through his work in Delaware and Washington has given Scuse the skills and experience to be a great undersecretary of agriculture. Read more…
December 19, 2011
The eyes of the environmental community were on the South African city of Durban over the past two weeks, as diplomats from more than 190 countries met for the annual UN climate-change summit. The talks ran 36 hours longer than scheduled — so late that host South Africa had to arrange for bigger flights to accommodate departing diplomats, but in the end representatives managed to come to an agreement, sort of. Essentially nations decided to begin the process of negotiating a bigger and better climate treaty — one that could eventually encompass all major emitters, including big developing nations like China and India — while keeping the Kyoto Protocol alive for at least a few more years. Read more…
1. Whippersnappers unite: Young farmers work to change 2012 Farm Bill
December 14, 2011
Lindsey Lusher Shute
Across the U.S., young people are heeding the call for a more just, sustainable, and healthy food system, and are heading to the fields to build it themselves. They are working on farms and starting their own small-scale farm businesses from scratch. But, as the National Young Farmers' Coalition recently revealed, there are big obstacles getting in the way of these green entrepreneurs -- and the change eaters want to see on their grocery store shelves. Last month, the Coalition released the results of a needs survey of 1,000 young and beginning farmers from across the nation. They also made recommendations for anyone looking to help these farmers succeed. Chief among these recommendations is a set of proposed laws, which would go into effect under the 2012 Farm Bill, called the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2011 [PDF].
What exactly did the survey tell us? Not surprisingly, young farmers reported that capital and land access presented the biggest challenges, followed by lack of health insurance. On the flip side, they rated apprenticeships, local partnerships, and community supported agriculture (CSA) as the movement's greatest assets.
The challenge of getting capital into the hands of beginning farmers is closely tied to the types of businesses that they want to create. Lenders, from the USDA's Farm Service Agency to the cooperative Farm Credit, are now faced with a very different customer. Instead of a few types of businesses with well-known outcomes -- i.e. commodity corn or contained animal feeding operations (CAFOs) -- these new farmers want to sell dozens of products directly to consumers. The lenders, who once merely had to multiply the price of a bushel of corn by the acreage, struggle to understand the economic possibilities inherent in farmers markets and CSAs. How do you predict a farm's income, they ask, when it's not based on the commodity market -- and the government guarantees that go with that market?
Rebecca Thistlewaite, who with her husband built a half-million-dollar farm business selling pastured poultry, eggs, pigs, beef, and lambs on rented land near Watsonville, Calif., was one of those new farmers challenging lenders' assumptions. Needing a permanent farm home to build infrastructure, the couple embarked on a nationwide search for affordable land and eventually found a perfect "turn key operation" just two hours from Minneapolis-St. Paul. The 80-acre farm was complete with a poultry processing facility, a cooler, a freezer, and an affordable price tag.
Knowing that they wouldn't get far with a traditional lender, they applied to the Farm Service Agency (FSA) for a farm ownership loan. After submitting their 30-page application, including a business plan backed by real numbers from their growing business in California, the couple was turned away. "The FSA didn't believe it was possible in Minnesota," Rebecca explains. "They didn't understand the type of farming that we do."
Other than questioning their business model, the county FSA office cited a USDA loan rule that farmers must file a "Schedule F," the IRS tax form for farmers, for three years before qualifying for a farm ownership loan. The FSA's own manual [PDF] doesn't require a "Schedule F," only participation "in the business operations of a farm for at least three years out of the 10 years prior to the date the application is submitted," but local agents often use the IRS form to determine eligibility. Rebecca and her husband's two years of Schedule Fs and five years managing other farms weren't enough for local agents. "This county decided that they were going to stick hard and fast to the rules," Rebecca recalls. After making one more unsuccessful application to the FSA in California, Rebecca and her husband shuttered their farm business and took other jobs.
The three-year managerial requirement, often misinterpreted by local agents, is just the kind of obstacle that the National Young Farmers' Coalition is hoping to do away with in the next Farm Bill. We're advocating for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2011, which would fix, fund, and continue USDA programs for beginners. The Act was introduced in the fall with bipartisan support in the House by Tim Walz (D-Minn.) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), and by a cadre of Democrats in the Senate, led by Tom Harkin (Iowa). Answering to the top needs identified by young and beginning farmers, it's a long to-do list for USDA and Congress.
The Act includes a microlending program, new provisions that would help farmers find affordable land, and continued priority for beginners in many USDA programs. In addition, the Act would reauthorize mandatory funding for a competitive grant program that enables nonprofits and universities to offer educational and business planning to beginners.
USDA = friend or foe?
This grant program funds the Land Stewardship Project's "Farm Beginnings" course that helped Josh Reinitz reinvent his family's Minnesota dairy into East Henderson Farm, a certified organic, 60-member CSA farm in 2009. Josh's farm, located just a stone's throw from where Rebecca Thistlewaite attempted to establish her business several years prior, illustrates the potential of the USDA to play a positive role within a changing and often difficult agricultural landscape.
Josh's father closed their family's dairy in 1985; he sold off all but 40 acres and took a job off-farm. Despite hard memories and the pursuit of other interests in college, Josh eventually decided he wanted to work the land. After moving back to his hometown from Minneapolis, Josh and his wife began growing a big garden on the family's property and enrolled in Farm Beginnings to see if they could build a viable business on his family's remaining acres. After developing a comprehensive farm plan through the class, they launched their CSA in 2009.
Unlike with Rebecca's experience, the USDA has been a big help in getting Josh's farm started: The Natural Resources Conservation Service awarded the farm a grant to help him build a season-extending high tunnel, and the FSA just financed the construction of a new vegetable packing shed. Josh found that the agents at his local USDA offices were "not used to working with vegetable farmers," but he describes them as "open-minded."
With the Farm Bill process now on restart (after the congressional supercommittee meltdown), the National Young Farmers' Coalition is taking those like Rebecca and Josh to meet their members of Congress to demonstrate why the nation needs a Farm Bill that is responsive to a changing farm economy. The Coalition is looking to Republican senators who have a growing number of diversified, direct market farms in their states, such as Sen. Olympia Snowe from Maine, to provide needed bipartisan sponsorship for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act.
With tens of billions of cuts already on the table from supercommittee dealings, an outpouring of support is required to save good programs that are boosting farmers like Josh, and to begin to chip away at the underlying structural issues that are preventing farmers like Rebecca from achieving their potential. Citizens and farmers can help by asking their members of Congress to support the Act to give young farmers the chance of success that they as farmers -- and we as a nation -- clearly need.
To view this story at its original source, follow this link: http://www.grist.org/farm-bill/2011-12-14-whippersnappers-young-farmers-work-to-change-the-2012-farm-bill
2. New farm tool helps small produce suppliers become GAP certified
December 19, 2011
Produce News Daily
A free, on-line tool can help small- and medium-sized growers meet food-safety requirements for large buyers who want to purchase certified sources of local produce, said Jim Slama, president of the non-profit FamilyFarmed.org, during a Dec. 15 press conference.
Mr. Slama unveiled the On-Farm Food Safety Project, which allows farmers to come up with a food-safety plan while learning how to mitigate food-safety risks, at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s headquarters with USDA, retailer, farmer and produce trade association representatives.
"Effectively managing risk is important to all producers, and having an acceptable food-safety program is in the best interest of consumers, buyers and the farmers themselves,” said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, during the 40-minute press call. The USDA funded the on-line tool for farms to gain certification as a Good Agricultural Practices producer.
Farmers don’t want to spend countless days behind a computer, she added.
Two-and-a-half years in development, the on-line program is based on harmonized GAP standards and uses decision trees to help farmers develop a customized food-safety plan and document their practices. It also can help in preparing for a food-safety audit if a company decides to pursue GAP certification, Mr. Slama said.
Farmers answer questions on food-safety issues, such as worker health and hygiene, agricultural water, previous land use, soil amendments and manure, animals and pest control, packinghouse activities, product transportation, agricultural chemicals and field harvesting.
Groups that participated in the project include: Chipotle Mexican Grill, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Compass Group, Earthbound Farm, Farm Aid, FDA, NSF Agriculture, Produce Marketing Association, Sysco, The Organic Center, Western Growers, Wallace Center at Winrock International, Wild Farm Alliance, University of California-Davis, United Fresh Produce Association and the USDA National Institute for Food & Agriculture.
The project was launched after a conversation between Mr. Slama and Will Daniels, senior vice president of operations and organic integrity at Earthbound Farm.
After the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement was developed, Mr. Daniels said that he recognized the need for a comprehensive food-safety tool that would be easy to use for smaller producers.
The Food & Drug Administration’s Senior Policy Analyst Michelle Smith said that the new on-line tool could not be more timely, as the FDA plans in early 2012 to propose the first-ever federal produce safety standards under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. While following GAPs may be common sense, some farmers have difficulty developing food-safety plans, and this tool will help with that, she said.
Buyers also are pleased with the latest innovation.
The tool allows Compass Group to move forward more confidently with buying local produce, said Marc Zammit, vice president of the company’s sustainability and culinary initiatives.
The foodservice company, which delivers 6 million meals a day, wants to buy from local sources to provide diversity in flavor and savings against the rising cost of transportation, Mr. Zammit said.
One of the biggest challenges for Chipotle Mexican Grill is keeping up a steady supply of locally sourced fresh produce as the company grows, and this project can help local farms establish food-safety programs, said Chipotle’s Phil Petrilli, mid-Atlantic regional director.
In 2011, Chipotle bought more than 10 million pounds of local produce, and he said that the company hopes to buy more in 2012.
From the farmer point of view, the on-line tool saves money.
Steve Murray, owner of the 300-acre Murray Family Farms, said, “If I can do this, anyone can do this.”
More buyers are demanding growers be GlobalGAP-certified, which can cost farmers $5,000 in consulting fees for starters, he said.
Mr. Murray said that he spent half a day answering questions and attaching documents to come up with a food-safety plan, which was tested by a mock audit. “This is going to save a huge amount of money,” he added.
With a food-safety plan in hand, Murray Farms plans to become GlobalGAP-certified by the 2012 growing season, he said.
To view this story at its original source, follow this link: http://www.theproducenews.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=33474:new-farm-tool-helps-small-produce-suppliers-become-gap-certified&catid=8:lead-story-cat&Itemid=35
3. Energy battles set to rage into 2012
December 19, 2011
Andrew Restuccia and Ben Geman
The new year will bring the continuation — and perhaps escalation — of a suite of major energy and environmental battles.
Here are some major issues E2 will be watching, in no particular order:
Solyndra: House Republicans have vowed to press forward their investigation into the Obama administration’s $535 million loan guarantee to failed solar firm Solyndra next year.
Solyndra, a California-based solar panel manufacturer, declared bankruptcy in September about two years after receiving the loan guarantee from the Energy Department. Republicans have pounced on the bankruptcy, raising questions about President Obama’s green energy agenda and alleging that the administration approved the loan guarantee for political reasons. The White House strongly denies the allegations.
The months-long GOP investigation has yielded more than 185,000 pages of documents and two Obama administration subpoenas, one to the White House.
The investigation has not uncovered evidence that the loan guarantee approval was influenced by politics. But the probe has nonetheless been a political nightmare for the White House going into the 2012 elections.
Top Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee say they will broaden their investigation in the coming months to include other green energy loan guarantees.
Nuclear safety: The March disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant has prompted the country’s nuclear power regulators to re-evaluate existing safety regulations.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is in the early stages of evaluating and implementing a series of more stringent safety standards recommended by a federal task force mandated by President Obama in the aftermath of the disaster.
NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko has called on his commissioners to implement the new standards, which include rules to ensure that plants can deal with sustained power outages, within the next five years. That’s a speedy time frame for an agency that took a decade to impose new regulations after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The commission will make a series of key decisions next year that will lay the groundwork for its new safety standards.
NRC members will need to make the decisions amid major tensions at the agency. Four NRC commissioners launched a public revolt against Jaczko this week, arguing his “erratic” behavior could prevent the body from protecting public health and safety.
During back-to-back hearings, they alleged that Jaczko has overstepped his authority, withheld information from his colleagues and verbally abused staff members. Jaczko strongly denies the allegations.
Republicans attacked Jaczko over the allegations, with some even calling for his resignation. But many Democrats came to his defense, arguing that the commissioners are retaliating against Jaczko over his efforts to move forward quickly with new nuclear safety standards.
Keystone pipeline: The Keystone oil sands pipeline is also likely to remain a political battleground into 2012, regardless of the outcome of Capitol Hill talks on a compromise that could alter the timeline for a federal decision.
Environmental groups bitterly oppose TransCanada Corp.’s project to connect Canada’s oil sands projects with Gulf Coast refineries. Look for them to keep pressure on President Obama to personally reject the project.
But at the same time, major business groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute, back the project. They’re casting it as a job-creation engine during a campaign season dominated by the economy.
Green-energy tax credits and funding: Look for renewable energy companies and their Capitol Hill allies to ensure preservation and extension of various incentives for renewable electricity projects.
A major priority will be protecting the production tax credit for wind power projects (and some other renewables) slated to expire at the end of 2012.
Historically, new wind power installations have plummeted when the credit has lapsed; the industry will put its lobbying muscle into an extension.
At the same time, the White House is pushing green energy research funding, a challenge amid efforts to cut federal spending.
EPA regulations: EPA is vowing to continue crafting greenhouse-gas regulations for power plants and refineries. House Republicans have passed bills to scuttle the rules, but they haven’t advanced in the Senate. Don’t expect them to stop trying.
More broadly, EPA will be implementing other Clean Air Act rules that many Republicans and some Democrats — backed by powerful utilities with coal-fired generation — oppose and are seeking to soften.
Offshore drilling: The Interior Department is moving ahead with a 2012-2017 offshore oil-and-gas leasing plan that Republicans and oil industry groups call far too modest, while environmentalists remain dismayed over plans to sell leases in fragile Arctic seas in several years. Expect the legislative and political pressure to continue.
To view this story at its original source, follow this link: http://thehill.com/blogs/e2-wire/e2-wire/200241-energy-battles-set-to-rage-into-2012
December 15, 2011
Former Delaware Ag Secretary Michael Scuse has been nominated to be the Undersecretary for Farm & Foreign Agricultural Services at the US Department of Ag and he is nominated to serve on the board of Directors of the Commodity Credit Corporation. During a Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry hearing today, Senator Chris Coons in his opening statement speaks in support of Scuse – saying that through his work in Delaware and Washington has given Scuse the skills and experience to be a great undersecretary of agriculture.
Poultry is really the beating heart of the Delaware agricultural sector, but there are lots of other components to it. I just want to start by saying that I am grateful, madam chairman, for the opportunity to introduce my friend and fellow Delawarean, Michael Scuse.
It is a rare and good day when I see good people advance here, in Washington, and Michael is one of the best I have ever known. He and his wife, Patrice, have been good friends to my wife, Annie, and I for a long time. I first got to know him well in a public capacity when he was serving as the secretary of agriculture for the state of Delaware and we had an opportunity to get to know each other both personally and professionally. He is passionate about agriculture, he is hard working, he is smart, he is genuine, and he is a decent man. He and his brother continue to run a family farm in Smyrna. Like me, he commutes to and from Delaware. His wife, Patrice, is with him today and I know that he remains a connected part of the tightknit farm families that are the backbone of rural Delaware.
I worked most closely with Michael when I was the New Castle county executive. The day I announced my candidacy for that position, promoting farm preservation and strengthening our partnership between the county and state was one of the things I was determined to do– and it was not easy. It required a state secretary of agriculture who was innovative, who was willing to find ways to adapt to program and who was willing to partner with me. And largely because of Michael’s leadership and the governor under whom he served, Delaware, today, has the highest percentage of preserved productive agriculture farmland of any state in the country.
We also worked together to promote agro-tourism and to promote on-farm income sources that where non-traditional, which in my county –which is rapidly becoming suburban– was one of the few ways we could save for the long term, productive agricultural properties.
I just wanted to share with you, if I could, by way of introduction, that I think Michael’s critical work in the state of Delaware and now here, in Washington, in the United States Department of Agriculture gives him the skills and the experience to build on his personal character and values to be a great undersecretary of agriculture. I also think he will contribute significant skills and experience to the Commodity Credit Corporation.
I think you could do no better than to take this great Delawarean and give him an opportunity to show everybody in the United States that Delaware doesn’t just have a great agriculture sector, it also grows great agricultural community leaders and Michael Scuse is one of the best.
To view this story at its original source, follow this link: http://www.wgmd.com/?p=42982
December 19, 2011
The eyes of the environmental community were on the South African city of Durban over the past two weeks, as diplomats from more than 190 countries met for the annual UN climate-change summit. The talks ran 36 hours longer than scheduled — so late that host South Africa had to arrange for bigger flights to accommodate departing diplomats, but in the end representatives managed to come to an agreement, sort of.
Essentially nations decided to begin the process of negotiating a bigger and better climate treaty — one that could eventually encompass all major emitters, including big developing nations like China and India — while keeping the Kyoto Protocol alive for at least a few more years.
There's no certainty that Durban will actually result in a real climate treaty (virtually nothing agreed to at the summit was binding), but it's at least a little bit better than nothing.
More than 7,000 miles away in Washington, however, another negotiation is underway that could be much more important to the climate than the UN summit — and the end isn't likely to be as positive. U.S. wind and solar companies are panicking over the murky future of federal support for renewable energy.
Generous tax credits and subsidies — especially since the 2009 stimulus — have helped the U.S. renewable industry thrive, with wind power alone growing 37% annually over the past four years. But much of that government aid is set to expire at the end of the year, and if Congress doesn't act — which seems increasingly unlikely in these politically dysfunctional days — the U.S. renewable-energy industry could suffer a major crash in the years ahead. That could have knock-on effects both for the fight against global warming and for the slowly recovering job market.
"Wind-turbine manufacturing has been a bright spot for the U.S. over the past few years," said Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), in a conference call with reporters. "But we're putting those jobs at risk.
Renewable-energy projects are eligible for the Production Tax Credit (PTC), which provides a credit of 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour of energy produced in a wind farm or solar-utility project, for the first 10 years of operation. That money has driven rising investment in renewable energy over the past several years. IHS Emerging Energy Research estimates that the PTC — which has been in place since 2005 — has supported an average of 5.6 gigawatts of annual growth in wind energy, which has helped the industry reach more than 43 gigawatts of installed capacity.
That's been good for the climate as renewable energy displaces coal or natural gas, but it's also been good for American manufacturing.
There are more than 400 facilities in 43 states producing parts for wind turbines, and today 60% of a turbine's value originates from the U.S., up from 25% before the PTC was enacted in 2005.
"These are good manufacturing jobs," said John Purcell, the vice president of wind energy for Leeco Steel. "That's a great job to have in today's times."
But the PTC for wind is set to expire at the end of 2012. A study by Navigant Consulting — admittedly commissioned by the AWEA — predicts that if that happens, investment in the industry will drop from $15.6 billion in 2012 to $5.5 billion in 2013, while jobs will fall from 78,000 to 41,000.
New wind installation would fall to 2 gigawatts from the 8 gigawatts of installation that is projected to occur if the PTC is renewed. It's little wonder that groups as disparate as the United Steelworkers and the National Association of Manufacturers have endorsed the renewal of the PTC. "Time is of the essence," says Terry Royer, president of Winergy Drive Systems.
The PTC for solar isn't scheduled to expire until 2016, so that industry has a bit more breathing room. But it faces an additional challenge: the end of the 1603 program. Before the recession, companies took advantage of the credits provided for funding renewable-energy projects by applying them against their tax bill.
Banks — unsurprisingly in the boom years — were major customers for those credits. But a funny thing happens during a recession: companies stop making a profit, which also means they stop paying much in taxes — so they have little use for tax credits. As the tax-equity market dried up, so did financing for renewable energy — especially solar projects, which already receive less investment than wind.
Enter the 1603 program, which was also enacted as part of the 2009 stimulus. Instead of receiving a credit against tax bills, companies that invested in renewable energy could simply get cash straight from the federal government, bypassing the tax-equity problem.
As a result, investment in renewables soared — last year 1603 paid out $3.3 billion, helping the solar industry employ some 100,000 people. But if 1603 isn't renewed — and with House Republicans against anything that smells of "stimulus," it's not looking good — the U.S. solar industry could lose nearly 37,000 jobs and miss out on as much as 2 gigawatts of additional installation. The "next year is going to be a Darwinian one for the solar industry," says Ed Fenster, CEO of SunRun, a solar-financing company. The "expiration of 1603 means that smaller companies are going to have a difficult time getting access to capital."
Conservatives protest that the 1603 program — which has cost $9.6 billion through 2011, nearly three times what Congress had expected — is unaffordable in an era of tight budgets. There's also the argument that government aid should focus more on supporting breakthrough-energy technologies, instead of spending money year after year enabling sources of renewable energy that are unable to survive without government aid.
But the cost of wind and solar are dropping rapidly, finally putting renewable energy in a position to compete in the marketplace — as long as the certainty of government aid doesn't disappear.
The history of U.S. clean-energy policy has been one of fits and starts, with the renewable industry rising and then crashing when subsidies expire.
As the climate crisis worsens — and countries barely seem to be able to do anything about it on the international stage — now's not the time to pull the rug out from under American renewables.
To view this story at its original source, follow this link: http://tehrantimes.com/science/93668-why-2012-will-be-a-bad-year-for-renewable-energy