USDA Extends Dairy Margin Protection Program Deadlines

USDA is extending the deadlines for the Dairy Margin Protection Program. Farmers now have until Dec. 5, 2014, to enroll in the voluntary program, established by the 2014 Farm Bill. Coverage election in subsequent years will take place from July 1 through September 30.

The program provides financial assistance to participating farmers when the margin – the difference between the price of milk and feed costs – falls below the coverage level selected by the farmer.

Producers are encouraged to use the online Margin Protection Program Decision tool at www.fsa.usda.gov/mpptool to calculate the best levels of coverage for their dairy operation. The secure website can be accessed via computer, smartphone or tablet.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also extended the opportunity for public comments on both the Margin Protection Program and the Dairy Product Donation Program until Dec. 15, 2014Comments can be submitted to USDA via the regulations.gov website at http://go.usa.gov/GJSA.

The Dairy Product Donation Program (DPDP), authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill through Dec. 31, 2018, addresses low margins for dairy operations by using Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) funds to purchase dairy products for donation to public and private nonprofit organizations that provide nutrition assistance to low-income populations. Purchases are only made by USDA during periods of low margins. No enrollment is required for dairy operators to benefit from the DPDP. The Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) will administer DPDP if ever triggered.

USDA report outlines opportunities in the emerging bioeconomy

Source: Monique Bienvenue – Cal Ag Today Social Media Manager/Reporter

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released a comprehensive report synthesizing current literature that explores opportunities in the emerging bioeconomy. The report, entitled Why Biobased?, was created as a precursor for a more comprehensive economic study to be released in the coming months by the USDA BioPreferred program on the economic impacts of the biobased products industry.

“This new report presents the opportunities U.S. agriculture and forests have in the emerging bioeconomy,” said Vilsack. “The recent inclusion of mature market products into the BioPreferred program strengthens our commitment to the U.S. biobased economy and brings together two of the most important economic engines for rural America: agriculture and manufacturing.”

Synthesizing findings from existing government, academia, and non-governmental organizations, the new report explores how government policies and industry business-to-business sustainability programs are driving the biobased economy. The report further demonstrates that the biobased economy is, in fact, growing and it offers great potential for increased job creation in numerous sectors across the U.S.

For instance, one report cited concludes that biobased chemicals are expected to constitute over 10 percent of the chemical market by 2015. Another report in the study concludes that there is a potential to produce two-thirds of the total volume of chemicals from biobased materials, representing over 50,000 products, a $1 trillion annual global market.

On the heels of this completed study, the USDA BioPreferred program has awarded a contract for a more in-depth economic study of biobased products and economic impacts, including research on job creation and economic value. It will be the first federally-sponsored economic report of its kind targeting the biobased products industry in the U.S. Congress mandated the upcoming study in the 2014 Farm Bill.

The USDA BioPreferred program works to increase the purchase and use of designated biobased products through a preferred procurement initiative for federal agencies. Designated products may also carry the voluntary consumer label.

The voluntary “USDA Certified Biobased Product” label is designed to promote the broad-scale marketing of biobased products to consumers. As of September 2014, USDA has certified over 1,940 biobased products in more than 187 product categories for the label. Certified and designated products include construction, janitorial, and grounds keeping products purchased by Federal agencies, to personal care and packaging products used by consumers every day.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) has estimated that U.S.-based jobs for the renewable chemicals sector will rise from approximately 40,000 jobs in 2011, which represents 3%-4% of all chemical sales, to over 237,000 jobs by 2025. This employment level would represent approximately 20% of total chemical sales.

Senators Applaud Designation of Central Valley as “Critical Conservation Area”

U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein (both D-CA) have praised Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s announcement that California’s Central Valley has been selected as one of eight critical conservation areas (CCA) under the USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). Senator Boxer posted that the designation comes after the Members urged him in a letter to designate the Valley a CCA.

Authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill, the CCA program will provide businesses, non-profits, universities, and federal, state and local governments opportunities to partner with agricultural and conservation groups to invest in innovative water and soil conservation projects.

“The Central Valley is the breadbasket of the world, home to millions of Californians and a rich habitat for fish and wildlife. But drought and other environmental challenges threaten to devastate the region. Designating the Valley a critical conservation area will provide much-needed resources to supplement ongoing conservation efforts. This support will help preserve the Valley as a key source of food, safeguard its role as a driver of California’s economy and protect the area for Californians and wildlife alike,” Senator Feinstein said.

“I thank the Obama Administration for selecting the California Bay Delta and the Central Valley as a Critical Conservation Area,” Senator Boxer said. “This designation will support innovative projects to help our farmers during a time of historic drought, while also promoting soil and water conservation to ensure that the Central Valley remains vibrant and productive for decades to come.”

The designation of the Central Valley (the Bay-Delta Critical Conservation Area) as a CCA acknowledges the importance of the Valley in the nation’s food supply and the difficult challenges the region faces. It produces one-quarter of the nation’s food, representing $17 billion in annual economic revenue.

At over 450 miles in length and 60 miles at its widest point, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service reports it is the largest patch of Class I soil in the world, and enjoys a productive growing climate nearly all year. It’s the source of our country’s most nutritious crops, with more than 250 varieties of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and grains.

Noteworthy for its agricultural productivity, ecological diversity, and complexity, the Bay Delta is one of the largest and most complex water delivery systems in the nation. The Sacramento River and San Joaquin River meet in the Delta, which provides water to one of the most significant estuary ecosystems in the United States and provides drinking water to 25 million Californians.

The Central Valley is also home to more than 6.8 million Californians, as well as 55 species of fish and 750 species of plants and wildlife, including migratory bird populations.

The Valley currently faces significant hardship as a result of historic drought and other environmental stressors – making it all the more vital that resources be directed to the area that benefit watershed restoration, improve air quality and soil management, and create resiliency in our agricultural system.

 

California Program Helps Needy Families Buy Fresh Produce at Farmers Markets

Source:  Claire Fleishman

With tight budgets and children to feed, recipients of federal nutrition assistance were rarely seen at farmers markets, where the words “affordable” and “fresh” didn’t often mix. That is changing, thanks to a state program that is in line to get a big boost in federal support.

More and more recipients are stepping up to market managers’ tables, swiping their card from CalFresh (nationally known as SNAP or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and getting a bonus good for fresh produce.Under the Market Match Program, CalFresh recipients can get $10 a week in bonus scrip for fruits and vegetables for every $10 they spend at farmers markets. Over 30,000 CalFresh participants have used the scrip at 130 markets statewide, creating more than $1 million in additional income for farmers at these markets.

Locally, the bonuses are available at a number of farmers markets, including Altadena, Long Beach and Canoga Park. Federal and state officials are trying to expand the bonuses to other farmers markets to help stem an old problem: low-income recipients using federal nutrition assistance to purchase unhealthful products, particularly high-sugar sodas and junk food.

The matching money comes from the California Market Match Consortium, which was founded five years ago by farmers market operators and community organizations. The consortium is funded by the California Department of Food and Agriculture and a variety of private donors. Recently the Los Angeles County agency First 5 LA, which draws on tobacco tax money to help programs benefitting young children, became a partner.

More funding is on the way. The 2014 Farm Bill allocated $100 million over the next five years for incentive programs. A new California Assembly bill proposes a Market Match Nutrition Incentive Fund of $2.75 million per year for five years, to maximize capture of federal dollars. With these funds, all 854 markets in California could participate. SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, feeds one in seven people in the nation. It dispenses $8 billion in California. But beneficiaries of the program, especially children, also suffer high rates of obesity and diabetes, which have been linked to cheaper, sugary foods.

California has the most cases of diabetics in the nation, and spending in the state to treat the disease in 2012 approached $28 billion, according to American Diabetes Association data. New York City tried to ban the use of SNAP funds for buying high-sugar drinks in 2010. Beverage manufacturers and some civil libertarians objected, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs SNAP, vetoed the idea.

In lieu of curbing the supply of junk food — a politically unattractive option — public health advocates are working hard to change the demand by making healthful foods cheaper and more attractive.

Carle Brinkman of the Berkeley-based Ecology Center, which assists farmers markets statewide with implementation of electronic benefit transfer programs, said, “Instead of being punitive, we like to incentivize (healthful) food choices. We can give customers who wouldn’t normally shop at farmers markets a boost, and at the same time, send additional funds to small- and medium-size farmers.”

The question now is: Will the incentives change decades of entrenched habits? Initial signs are positive. In Massachusetts, a USDA Healthy Incentives pilot project followed 55,000 SNAP households for a year; some were credited with 30 cents for every dollar spent on targeted produce. Spending on fruits and vegetables was higher for those receiving incentives at a rate that was both “statistically significant and … nutritionally relevant,” the study concluded.

And a recent survey by the California Consortium found that nearly 3 of 4 Market Match shoppers came specifically for the match. They leave with bags of fresh produce and new ideas from nutrition classes frequently held in conjunction with Market Match.

At one market recently, a rapt audience of about 20 women and children absorbed a “Rethink Your Drink” lesson as a dietitian stirred a frosty pitcher of ice water laced with mint and cucumber slices. Delicious, several women agreed, and even cheaper than soda.

USDA Modifies Farm Loan Programs to Give More Opportunity to Producers

Farm Loan Modifications Create Flexibility for Farmers and Ranchers

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack TODAY announced increased opportunity for producers as a result of the 2014 Farm Bill. A fact sheet outlining modifications to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) Farm Loan Programs is available here.

“Our nation’s farmers and ranchers are the engine of the rural economy. These improvements to our Farm Loan Programs will help a new generation begin farming and grow existing farm operations,” said Secretary Vilsack. “Today’s announcement represents just one part of a series of investments the new Farm Bill makes in the next generation of agriculture, which is critical to economic growth in communities across the country.”

The Farm Bill expands lending opportunities for thousands of farmers and ranchers to begin and continue operations, including greater flexibility in determining eligibility, raising loan limits, and emphasizing beginning and socially disadvantaged producers.

Changes that will take effect immediately include:

  • Elimination of loan term limits for guaranteed operating loans.
  • Modification of the definition of beginning farmer, using the average farm size for the county as a qualifier instead of the median farm size.
  • Modification of the Joint Financing Direct Farm Ownership Interest Rate to 2 percent less than regular Direct Farm Ownership rate, with a floor of 2.5 percent. Previously, the rate was established at 5 percent.
  • Increase of the maximum loan amount for Direct Farm Ownership down payments from $225,000 to $300,000.
  • Elimination of rural residency requirement for Youth Loans, allowing urban youth to benefit.
  • Debt forgiveness on Youth Loans, which will not prevent borrowers from obtaining additional loans from the federal government.
  • Increase of the guarantee amount on Conservation Loans from 75 to 80 percent and 90 percent for socially disadvantaged borrowers and beginning farmers.
  • Microloans will not count toward loan term limits for veterans and beginning farmers.

Additional modifications must be implemented through the rulemaking processes. Visit the FSA Farm Bill website for detailed information and updates to farm loan programs.

Ag Secretary Vilsack’s Comments on 2015 USDA Budget and 2014 Farm Bill In a Nutshell

USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stated yesterday that the President’s 2015 USDA budget proposal and the tools provided in the 2014 farm bill:

  • Achieve reform and results for the American taxpayer
  • Foster opportunity and long-term, sustainable economic growth for the men and women living, working and raising families in rural America, where 85 percent of our nation’s persistent poverty counties are located.
  • Equip our farmers and ranchers with the tools they need to survive and thrive
  • Support innovation through strategic, future-focused investments.

Economically, the 2015 budget:

Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack
Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack
  • Supports farmers, ranchers and growers as they achieve net farm income well above the average of the previous decade
  • Assists mid-sized farms and livestock producers who continue to face challenges as a result of prolonged drought.

Implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill should:

  • Restore disaster assistance
  • Invest in programs to help and train beginning, small and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers
  • Invest in programs that will build the skills they need to get back into the workforce.
  • Provide much-needed stability for producers moving forward
  • Support hardworking Americans as they find and keep jobs and transition out of nutrition assistance programs

Last fiscal year, farm and ranch exports reached a record $141 billion and supported nearly one million American jobs. 
To help America’s producers break into new exports markets for farm and ranch products, and building off of President Obama’s recently announced “Made in Rural America” export initiative, USDA will continue funding for trade promotion and market expansion.

Supported by the recently signed 2014 Farm Bill, the budget:

  • US_Department_of_Agriculture circular logoEstablishes Regional Hubs for Risk Adaptation and Mitigation to Climate Change at seven locations around the country
    • The Southwest Climate Hub is: Rangeland Management Unit/JornadaExperimental Range, Agricultural Research Service, Las Cruces, N.M.
    • The Southwest “Sub-hub” is in Davis, California
  • Makes targeted investments in bio-based product manufacturing, local and regional food systems, and specialty crops and organic production.
  • Adds about 23 million acres of land to USDA conservation efforts Sustains 25 million acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, ensuring clean air, clean and abundant water and critical wildlife habitat for generations to come.
  • Makes strategic investments that further innovation and encourage creative approaches to solving rural America’s most pressing challenges
  • Increases funding by $325 million for our premier competitive grants program to support the cutting edge research that will help producers adapt and succeed in the face of modern challenges, including a changing climate
  • Provides $25 million each to three public-private innovation institutes that focus on bio-based product manufacturing, pollinator health, and anti-microbial resistance research, respectively.
  • Recognizes fiscal realities; it supports USDA’s ongoing efforts to modernize and update the way we do business.
  • Builds on our efforts through the Blueprint for Stronger Service, which in recent years has saved the American taxpayer a total of $1.2 billion while ensuring that USDA customers receive the best possible service
  • Continues to support our leaner workforce to find ways to implement increasingly complex programs with fewer resources.

The security of our nation’s food and fiber supply depends on what we do today to support a rural America that is increasingly nimble, diverse and responsive to changing consumer tastes.