Secretary Ross Signs Landmark Trade Agreement

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross signed a cooperative trade agreement with officials from the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA) in Mexico City. This agreement is a follow-up to the Governor’s Trade Mission that occurred earlier this year.

The trade agreement includes a number of trade priorities that address such diverse issues as cross-border trade delays, technical dialogue related to beef and organic trade, agricultural cooperative extension outreach, and climate change collaboration.

SAGARPA Mexico

“Mexico is a vital partner for California agriculture,” said Secretary Ross. “Further collaboration between our countries will enhance the opportunities within the agricultural sector for farmers and ranchers in both of our nations.”

The agreement follows months of dialogue between CDFA and SAGARPA that culminated in a meeting between Secretary Ross and Secretary Enrique Martinez at the Produce Marketing Association trade show in Anaheim at the end of October.

California is the largest agricultural producer and exporter in the nation, with more than $18 billion in food and agricultural exports. Mexico is California’s fifth largest export destination valued at $888 million. Over the last ten years, agricultural exports to Mexico have increased three-fold.

New Farm Bill Resource Now Available to Help Farmers and Food Advocates Navigate USDA Programs

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

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) published a comprehensive digital guide to the key federal farm and food programs that support sustainable farm and food systems.  The Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs will help farmers and non-profit organizations navigate the numerous farm bill and other U.S. Department of Agriculture programs that have been championed by NSAC.

“The Grassroots Guide will be a valuable resource for farmers as they look for opportunities and financing to grow their farms and help build a more sustainable farming system,” says Juli Obudzinski, Senior Policy Specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.  “The Guide is specifically targeted to the farming community and distills very technical federal policies and programs in a way that is accessible to farmers and consumers alike.”

The Grassroots Guide includes up-to-date information on conservation, credit, rural development, research, and food programs authorized in the farm bill and other pieces of federal legislation – including recent policy changes made in the 2014 Farm Bill.

This new resource details over 40 federal food and farm programs that provide funding to farmers and organizations for conservation assistance, farm real estate and operating loans, outreach to minority and veteran farmers, beginning farmer training programs, value-added enterprises, support for farmers markets and farm to school programs, and more.  The Guide is organized into the following topic areas:

  • Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers
  • Conservation and Environment
  • Credit and Crop Insurance
  • Food Safety
  • Local and Regional Food Systems
  • Organic Production
  • Renewable Energy
  • Rural Development
  • Sustainable and Organic Research

For each program included, the Guide provides plain-language explanations of how the program works, who can utilize the program, examples of the program in action, step-by-step application instructions, additional resources, and a brief overview of the program’s history – including legislative and administrative changes and historical funding levels.

California and Mexico – a win-win relationship

By: Karen Ross, California Agriculture Secretary

It speaks volumes that during our meetings in Mexico, the notion of “ganar-ganar,” or a “win-win” relationship was mentioned more than once. Our discussions have focused not only on building stronger trade relationships between our two markets, but in also in capitalizing on the shared resources of our people, climate and economy. A strong and growing Mexican market is a win for California and a win for Mexico.

In our meeting with Mexico’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food  we discussed the great opportunities for cooperation between our two markets that can have long lasting benefits for both of our economies. Working collaboratively to solve cross-border trade delays that impact businesses on both sides of the border is an issue that can be resolved. Further, we wish to explore opportunities that jointly leverage our resources and production capacity.

We can no longer consider a California/Mexico divide. We need to see how cooperation can benefit us both in the long-run. I’ve committed to SAGARPA that within the next 60 days we will have progress in moving forward with a collaborative relationship that involves the public and business sectors finding solutions to cross-border issues that benefit both markets and producers.

Following our meetings with SAGARPA we had the pleasure of meeting with Walmart Mexico and Central America. The company also stressed cooperation and a “win-win” relationship that California and Mexico can share.

In celebrating the successes of the 20th Anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), we should also celebrate the ongoing trade benefits of this relationship. Demonstrating this success, Walmart shared that their imports of U.S. produce has increased more than 10 percent each year for the last three years. This underscores that Mexico’s economy is growing and California is benefiting.

I look forward to furthering our trade relationship and cooperation with Mexico. It can be a “win-win” relationship like no other.

USDA Announces $78 Million Available for Local Food Enterprises

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that USDA is making a historic $78 million investment in local and regional food systems, including food hubs, farmers markets, aggregation and processing facilities, distribution services, and other local food business enterprises.

“The 2014 Farm Bill has given USDA new tools, resources and authority to support the rural economy,” Vilsack said. “Consumer demand for locally-produced food is strong and growing, and farmers and ranchers are positioning their businesses to meet that demand. As this sector continues to mature, we see aggregation, processing, and distribution enterprises across the local food supply chain growing rapidly.

These historic USDA investments in support of local food give farmers and ranchers more market opportunities, provide consumers with more choices, and create jobs in both rural and urban communities.”

Vilsack said that $48 million in loan guarantees for local food projects is now available through USDA ‘s Rural Development’s Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program, and $30 million is available through competitive grants via the Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) Farmers Market and Local Foods Promotion Program.

The 2014 Farm Bill requires USDA to set aside at least five percent of Business and Industry (B&I) program loan guarantees for projects that focus on local food business enterprises. Details on how to apply for local food funding through the B&I program are available on the Rural Development website. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis.

The B&I program has the authority to fund local food infrastructure in urban areas as long as the project supports farm and ranch income and expands healthy food access in underserved communities.

Rural Development’s B&I program provides financial backing for rural business development in partnership with private-sector lenders. It is one of several USDA programs that help finance local foods projects.

In 2013, Rural Development supported more than 170 local food infrastructure projects – from food hubs, to scale-appropriate processing facilities, to cold storage and distribution networks. Entities eligible for B&I loan guarantees include cooperatives, non-profit organizations, corporations, partnerships or other legal entities, Indian tribes, public bodies or individuals.

The 2014 Farm Bill tripled funding for marketing and promotion support for local food enterprises by creating the Farmers Market and Local Foods Promotion Program, administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). This new program makes $30 million available annually to farmers markets, other direct producer-to-consumer venues, and other businesses in the local food supply chain.

Under this program, $15 million is now available for marketing and promotional support specifically for local food businesses, including food hubs, delivery and aggregation businesses, and processing and storage facilities along the local food supply chain, while $15 million is for marketing support for farmers markets and other direct to consumer outlets.

Since 2009, AMS, which administers this program, has funded nearly 450 projects totaling $27 million to support direct marketing efforts for local food. More information about how to apply is available on the AMS website. Applications are due June 20, 2014.

These funding opportunities are cornerstones of the USDA’s commitment to support local and regional food systems. USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative coordinates the Department’s policy, resources, and outreach efforts related to local and regional food systems The Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass maps nearly 3,000 local and regional food projects supported by USDA and eleven other federal agencies.

Secretary Vilsack has identified strengthening local food systems as one of the four pillars of USDA’s commitment to rural economic development, along with production agriculture (including expanding export markets and improving research), promoting conservation and outdoor recreation opportunities, and growing the biobased economy.

Subcommittee Examines Economics, Regulations 
Plaguing Livestock Industry

Rep. Rick Crawford, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Livestock, Rural Development, and Credit, TODAY held a public hearing to review the state of the livestock industry.

Members heard from two panels of witnesses that ranged from the Chief Economist of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to an array of experts representing the animal agriculture industry. Together, they highlighted issues, such as regulatory burdens, feed costs, drought, animal disease, and trade that are impacting this sector of the agricultural economy.

“Today’s hearing offered our members an opportunity to explore a variety of issues impacting the livestock industry. Our farmers and ranchers have endured a great deal over the past few years from record droughts to higher input costs and the ongoing burden and uncertainty associated with mandatory country-of-origin labeling rules.

Combined, all of these issues and others have tightened operating margins, which create challenging business conditions for our producers. I hope we will use what we have learned to work on real and lasting solutions to the problems we discussed,” said Chairman Rick Crawford (R-AR-01).

“In the San Joaquin Valley, our livestock producers are struggling to hold on in the face of a devastating drought, and farm workers who usually have tired hands from working the fields may soon be standing in line at food banks to feed their families,”  commented Ranking Member Jim Costa (D-CA-16).

“As harmful as this drought is to California livestock,” Costa continued, “the fact is that the industry nationwide is battling other factors like the country-of-origin labeling law and the RFS that endanger their bottom lines. Today’s hearing gave us the opportunity to highlight the natural, bureaucratic, and regulatory challenges facing the industry.”