“Get big or get out,” is an epitaphic statement that sums up the last 40 years of farm policy as well as any 5 words can. It was spoken by Earl Butz, a Nixon/Ford era Secretary of Agriculture; possibly more famous for saying outrageous things than for his long term thinking. As we know for every force in the world, there is an equal an opposite force. And for every Butzism uttered about agriculture, there is a Lappé, to combat the myth. Here Anna, walks us through some truths about agriculture in the modern world.
Archive for the ‘Farm Bill/Policy’ Category
UPDATE: Despite many requests and close to 20,000 petition signatures, the Oregon Department of Agriculture issued temporary rules yesterday opening up canola production in the Willamette Valley. Friends of Family Farmers has more info and links here.
UPDATE II: The Oregonian has a fairly balanced article with quotes from principals and more background. You can read it here.
UPDATE III: An Editorial from seed Grower Frank Morton, here.
UPDATE IV: Score one for the good fight, according to Friends of Family Farmers, Oregon Court of Appeals agreed with the arguments set forth by Friends of Family Farmers and four other plaintiffs, finding it very likely that the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s (ODA’s) temporally rule is invalid. The push for canola in the valley is far from over, more details are available here from FFF.
Normally, our Friday blog post is dedicated to upcoming Markets: Hours, events, what is in season, what to do with the bounty of NW’s agricultural goodness, but today’s post is about canola. Not because any of our farmers or growers sell bushels of the commodity scale crop formerly known as rapeseed oil, rather because Oregon Department of Agriculture is considering sidestepping rules to end gridlock over a boundary map of where canola can be grown in the Willamette Valley – The ODA usually has a 30 day period for comments and consideration when they are set to change rules and policy, but they are contemplating changing the canola growing area via temporary rule today, August 10th.
So why is there a canola growing area? Canola is a promiscuous little devil, a brassica, a member of the mustard/cabbage/turnip/cauliflower family, it will cross breed with any and all of it’s cousins and this will be a problem for Willamette Valley’s seed growers. The Valley is a unique area whose climate and human capital have made it a prime seed growing area for over a century. The seed packets you get for your garden, the massive vigorous seeds used by large scale planters to grow crops for grocery stores, comes from the $34 million industry based in the Valley. Canola, a crop that is being expanded for use in biofuels, is putting over a 100 years of Oregon based knowledge, a unique biosystem and a major Oregon industry at risk. A person can be for biofuels and for Oregon seed growers at the same time, the question is – Does canola need to be grown in the what is considered to be one of the last remaining premiere seed producing areas in the world?
In addition to the threat of cross-contamination, canola mono-cropping also brings the threat of pests that are currently absent from the Valley. Much of the canola crop is genetically engineered, a complicated issue onto itself, but there are two things two keep in mind with the issue of GE (genetically engineered) and GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) crops. One, the term organic excludes GEs and GMOs, so a farm that works hard to remain pesticide free, can lose their certification if their crops are cross-contaminated. Two, the company that holds the patents for much of the GE Canola seed has a history of suing individual farmers when their GE seed or crops turns up on land, even if the seed has fallen off a truck and cross-bred or volunteered on a family farm’s land. Given the resources backing a multinational corporation, these stories never end David and Golith style.
PFM has signed a petition asking the ODA to abide by its own rules. You can join Slow Food, Gathering Together Farms, Friends of Family Farmers and others by clicking and electronically signing this petition. Or please, politely email or call ODA director Katy Coba: (503-986-4552, firstname.lastname@example.org) or call Oregon Governor Kitzhaber’s office (503-378-4582) with your concerns: That the department abide by its own lawful rules and adhere to the transparency that comes with good governance, to respect the Valley’s unique culture as a seed proiagator and to protect the majority of Oregon’s family farmers from pest infestion, crop contamination and possible litigation.
Special thanks to Friends of Family Farmers, who do such great work each and every day, for keeping us abreast of these developments. You can keep track of the canola story, one that is both important and not exactly headline news by visiting the FoFF website.
It might be the heat too.
The USDA announced that due to demand, the number of Farmers Markets have grown by 9.6% in 2012. The combination of high-quality produce and crafted foods, a traditional market place to meet family, friends & neighbors, a chance to directly support local farmers and innovative programs like Fresh Exchange that make local foods available to all of Portland’s residents have fueled this growth.
PFM isn’t celebrating with any specific events, since every week is a Farmers Market week to us. However, we’d like to thank (always) the people who work so very hard to grow and make our foods, along with everyone who supports local agriculture. We’d also encourage you to use the occasion of Farmers Market Week to check out the good work our friends at the Farmers Market Coalition do to promote local agriculture and thanks also to Governor Kitzhaber for the helping promote agriculture in Oregon – link the proclamation below. Personally, I’m celebrating with a peach, one so big it might make Roald Dahl’s James a little envious.
Next year, the Farm Bill will be debated and renewed. Passed every 5ish years, the Farm Bill allocates federal spending in the billions of dollars annually. (You can read more about the history of the Farm Bill here.) The legislation is so massive it touches every corner of agriculture from planting seeds to purchasing groceries. Despite the bill’s long reach, it has only been in recent years – thanks largely to the work of Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle and Eric Schlosser – that people outside of farming have begun paying attention.
With interest in omnibus legislation at an all time high, well this legislation anyway, we were fortunate enough to be able to ask Congressman Earl Blumenauer (Oregon’s 3rd District) about the Farm Bill and its impact on local farmers, ranchers, growers and Market goers. A big thank you to the Congressman and his office staff for taking time to answer questions about an issue we are passionate about at the Market.
1) Without getting all wonky about it, could you explain what the “Farm Bill” is? (Is it one piece of legislation, its cost, how often is it renewed, etc.).
The Farm Bill is a massive comprehensive bill that dictates federal food and agricultural policy. It is arguably the single biggest piece of legislation affecting land use in the United States. Passed approximately every five years by the US Congress, the most recent version of the Farm Bill (The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008) cost $288 billion. The Farm Bill sets policy for everything from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as “food stamps”) to crop insurance, conservation, and rural development programs.
2) Michael Pollan feels we should call this legislation the Food Bill. More cynically, I think it should be called the “Crop Subsidy Omnibus”. Arguably the Farm Bill has little to do with strengthening the occupation of farming (A vocation the Census no longer tracks). What changes are you proposing to put the Farmer back in the Farm Bill?
Farmers, in my experience, don’t want big government handouts. Like the rest of us, they want to be able to do their job, provide for their families, and protect their quality of life. The federal government can help provide a safety net that cushions the inevitable insecurity of agricultural production, but its most important role should be in supporting research, marketing assistance and small loans to ensure that farmers have the access to capital they need. With these smaller, targeted investments, the Farm Bill can provide small farmers the support they need, while ensuring that the playing field is level and that the federal government isn’t wasting money on large agribusiness that do not need subsidies.
Title I Commodity payments in the Farm Bill are not applied equally to all states or all farmers: 62% of farmers receive no subsidy payments at all and ten states receive more than 50% of the subsidy payments. In addition, 74 % of payments go to 10 % of farmers – comprised almost exclusively of enormous agribusinesses.
Earlier this year I offered an amendment to the Fiscal 2012 Agriculture Appropriations Bill capping commodity payments at $125,000 per entity. While the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 limited the amount of direct payments an agricultural entity can receive to $40,000 annually, and limited counter cyclical payments to $65,000 annually, there are no limits on market loan payments, loan deficiency payments and commodity certificates.
I have also led efforts to boost specialty crop funding for fruits, nuts, and vegetables and protect conservation, research, and [protect] nutrition programs from devastating cuts.
3) Two part question: (A) Agriculture, as practiced, can be anything between a slash and burn enterprise to what Wendell Berry calls “Stewardship of the land”. How can the Farm Bill help build a sustainable, ecological and an environmentally strong economy? (Part B) Are farmers part of our future green workforce?
Farmers are facing new and increasing pressures from budget deficits, trade rules, urban sprawl, climate change, rising energy costs and shrinking water resources. The 2012 Farm Bill reauthorization is an opportunity to craft policies that present a new way forward for agriculture. Reliable funding for research, conservation, and programs such as “Farm to School” will help farmers and rancher adapt to a changes in the global economy and environment. The Farm Bill can help—by not forcing farmers to grow just six commodity crops and ensuring that multi-crop farmers receive the same support and insurance that commodity growers do.
Farmers are absolutely part of our green workforce. What we eat has almost as much of an impact on our carbon footprint as what we drive or where we choose to live. Without a reliable source of locally grown fresh foods, Americans have fewer choices and buy heavily processed, more expensive, less healthy foods.
In addition, agricultural production is playing an intriguing role as we work to develop answers to new questions. A great example is found in the initiative to develop sustainable aviation fuels. Industry leaders Boeing and Alaska Airlines are initiating the nation’s first regional stakeholder effort to explore the opportunities and challenges surrounding the production of sustainable aviation fuels. More than 40 organizations representing aviation, biofuels production, environmental advocacy, agriculture, government agencies, and academic research are assessing all phases of biomass production and harvest, refining, transport infrastructure and use; and prioritizing state and federal policy recommendations needed to spur the creation of sustainable fuels for aviation.
4) Historically, the Farm Bill has also allocated funds for food safety. How can this legislation promote safe and healthy food without burdensome regulations for the small grower, farmer or rancher?
The majority of federal food safety programs are funded through annual appropriations rather than the Farm Bill. For example, the Food Safety Modernization Act, which passed Congress in 2009 and mandates tougher standards on food processors, food importers and foreign suppliers, is funded through the Agriculture Appropriations bill. I supported the Act and overwhelmingly opposed efforts in the House to cut implementation funding earlier this year. I also met with small farmers from my District to understand their concerns about additional regulations and worked with the bill’s sponsors to make sure these issues were addressed in the final legislation.
Severe underfunding at the FDA means that the federal government has been missing in action when it comes to protecting consumers from tainted food. We can and must do better. While these food safety regulations are necessary for the health of the American public, the focus should be on the outcome, not the process. If farmers and producers are meeting the safety requirements, the federal government shouldn’t force them to do so in a particular manner. In addition, for farmers and producers of a certain size, the federal government should provide financial support to make sure that the requirements are not too burdensome.
5) We should all be thankful that our food supply is not dependent on my less than green thumb. Even if I am unable to grow a single tomato, the Farm Bill is important to how I am able to shop and prepare food. Are there any proposed changes in the 2012 Farm Bill that will help Farmers Markets – both the farmers who sell and the access for people to shop at them?
The explosion in the number of farmers markets in Oregon, let alone in the US, is staggering. The increased demand for fresh fruits and vegetables cuts across all income levels and age brackets.
There are several programs in the Farm Bill that encourage and expand consumer access to farmers’ markets. The 2008 bill continued funding for the Farmers’ Market and Community Food Promotion programs, and created the Healthy Food Enterprise Development Center, a program that will increase underserved communities’ access to locally grown and produced agricultural products. In addition the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program was extended to provide fresh, locally grown produce to low-income seniors and enable participants in the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program to obtain fresh produce from farmers’ markets. The challenging budget circumstances in Washington DC mean that we must fight to hold the line on these programs in the 2012 reauthorization and make sure they are not a target for drastic cuts.