Hope Yet For California Dairy Industry

Proposed Federal Marketing Order Would Benefit California Dairy Farmers

By Brian German, Associate Editor

Chandler Goule, senior vice president of programs for the National Farmers Union
Chandler Goule, senior vice president of programs for the National Farmers Union

California gets hit the hardest when milk prices drop and it is the last state to recover from depressed dairy prices. The California dairy industry eagerly awaits a decision from the USDA regarding the move to a Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO). Chandler Goule, senior vice president of programs for the National Farmers Union, believes the state will gain from moving to FMMO.

“I think it will definitely be a win for the dairy industry,” said Goule, “and for our dairymen out there.” Goule anticipates increased participation in the margin revenue program that was incorporated into the FMMO.

Should the USDA hand down a positive determination, the move to a federal order would require a 2/3 majority vote from California dairy producers. “With California being so far from the corn and grain belt, even though you all produce a lot of food in California, it’s not necessarily feed additives for livestock,” Goule remarked.

Unfortunately, the FMMO has a much better chance of being voted in during a time when milk prices are low, according to Goule, as high milk prices may lessen voter turnout and sense of urgency.

“I’m definitely not advocating for low milk prices whatsoever,” Goule said. “We want high milk prices out there. The sooner we can get this vote done, the better off California will be, and the better off your milk prices will be. Then we can start working on this as a nation rather than 48 states—and California by itself.”

Farmers, Agriculture Technology Providers Reach Agreement on Big Data Privacy and Security Principles Expected to Accelerate Technology Adoption

By: Monique Bienvenue; Cal Ag Today Social Media Manager/Reporter

A coalition of major farm organizations and agriculture technology providers (ATPs) announced an agreement on data privacy and security principles that will encourage the use and development of a full range of innovative, technology-driven tools and services to boost the productivity, efficiency and profitability of American agriculture.

The coalition supporting the principles includes: American Farm Bureau Federation, American Soybean Association, Beck’s Hybrids, Dow AgroSciences LLC, DuPont Pioneer, John Deere, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Corn Growers Association, National Farmers Union, Raven Industries, The Climate Corporation – a division of Monsanto, and USA Rice Federation.

“The principles released today provide a measure of needed certainty to farmers regarding the protection of their data,” said American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman. “Farmers using these technology-driven tools will help feed a growing world while also providing quantifiable environmental benefits. These principles are meant to be inclusive and we hope other farm organizations and ATPs join this collaborative effort in protecting farm-level data as well as educating farmers about this revolutionary technology.”

The principles promise to greatly accelerate the move to the next generation of agricultural data technology, which includes in-cab displays, mobile devices and wireless-enabled precision agriculture that has already begun to boost farm productivity across the United States.

Central to the effort surrounding the principles will be grower education initiatives that will include an easy-to-use transparency evaluation tool for farmers. The tool would allow farmers to compare and contrast specific issues within ATP contracts and to see how the contracts align with these agreed-upon principles, and how ATPs manage and use farmers’ data.

“The privacy and security principles that underpin these emerging technologies, whether related to how data is gathered, protected and shared, must be transparent and secure. On this matter, we all agree,” said Stallman. “Farmers are excited about this new technology front, which is why Farm Bureau asked these groups to come together and begin this collaborative dialogue.”

The principles cover a wide range of issues that must be addressed before most farmers will feel assured to share their private business information with data providers. Highlights include:

  • Ownership: The group believes that farmers own information generated on their farming operations. However, farming is complex and dynamic and it is the responsibility of the farmer to agree upon data use and sharing with the other stakeholders with an economic interest such as the tenant, landowner, cooperative, owner of the precision agriculture system hardware, and/or ATP etc. The farmer contracting with the ATP is responsible for ensuring that only the data they own or have permission to use is included in the account with the ATP.
  • Collection, Access and Control: An ATP’s collection, access and use of farm data should be granted only with the affirmative and explicit consent of the farmer.
  • Notice: Farmers must be notified that their data is being collected and about how the farm data will be disclosed and used.
  • Third-party access and use: Farmers and ranchers also need to know who, if anyone, will have access to their data beyond the primary ATP and how they will use it.
  • Transparency and Consistency: ATPs shall notify farmers about the purposes for which they collect and use farm data. They should provide information about how farmers can contact the ATP with any inquiries or complaints, the types of third parties to which they disclose the data, and the choices the ATP offers for limiting its use and disclosure.
  • Choice: ATPs should explain the effects and abilities of a farmer’s decision to opt in, opt out or disable the availability of services and features offered by the ATP.
  • Portability: Within the context of the agreement and retention policy, farmers should be able to retrieve their data for storage or use in other systems, with the exception of the data that has been made anonymous or aggregated and is no longer specifically identifiable.
  • Data Availability: ATPs agree they should provide for the removal, secure destruction and return of original farm data from the ATP, and any third party with whom the ATP has shared the data, upon request by the account holder or after a pre-agreed period of time.
  • Market Speculation: ATPs will not use farm data to illegally speculate in commodity markets.
  • Liability & Security Safeguards: The ATP should clearly define terms of liability. Farm data should be protected with reasonable security safeguards against risks such as loss or unauthorized access, destruction, use, modification or disclosure.

Privacy and Security Principles for Farm Data can be found here: http://bit.ly/1zjQ4Sk.

Federal Plans Begin to Address Climate Realities

Source: Dru Marion; CalCAN

Despite producing mixed results for sustainable agriculture interests, President Obama’s 2015 budget request is an encouraging sign that the federal government is getting serious about climate change, and particularly about adapting to its impacts.

The President’s proposal includes a $1 billion dollar Climate Resilience Fund, which is intended to strengthen preparedness of states and communities for increasingly extreme weather like floods, droughts, and wildfires.

The fund would support investment in research, technologies, and infrastructure across numerous agencies and sectors, including agriculture.

Word of the fund first came out in February, when Obama met with growers and ranchers in the San Joaquin Valley, the heart of drought-stricken California.

While touring the farm of Joe and Maria Del Bosque, who have fallowed their melon fields due to water shortages, the President emphasized the role federal support could play in alleviating drought impacts and preparing for the future.

“A changing climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods are potentially going to be costlier,” he noted, “And they’re going to be harsher.”

More and more, the President’s administration seems to be acknowledging the link between climate change and adaptation needs in agriculture.

Last month’s visit from the President followed close behind Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s announcement that the USDA will be launching seven ‘Climate Hubs’ across the country, intended to “deliver science-based knowledge and practical information to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners within each region of the United States to support decision-making related to climate change.” (See the USDA fact sheet).

It is uncertain exactly how the Climate Hubs will be funded, however, and USDA Climate Change Program Office Director Bill Hohenstein has declined to comment on the overall estimated costs of the program.

Meanwhile, the 2015 budget request for USDA comes in at $23 billion – about a billion dollars below FY2014 levels. The Climate Resilience Fund is an obvious place to provide needed financial support to the Climate Hubs, but it remains unclear as to whether the President intends for the Fund to provide that support, and also whether Congress will approve the expenditure.

Despite these uncertainties, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson has voiced his support for Obama’s budget plan, saying, “The President’s proposed Climate Resilience Fund will provide farmers and ranchers with much-needed assistance after extreme weather events, which are occurring with increasing frequency.”

A growing acknowledgement of the link between climate change and agriculture on a federal level is heartening, to be sure, but it is worth noting that the budget plan leaves significant room for improvement with regard to sustainable ag programs more generally.

For a full overview of what the budget request means for sustainable ag interests, click here.

The California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN) brings a sustainable agricultural perspective to climate change and agriculture policy. Their efforts are aimed at increasing funding for research, technical assistance and financial incentives for farmers whose practices reduce GHG emissions, sequester carbon, and provide many environmental co-benefits.