From Mark Schonbeck

August 9th, 2012

Farm Bill Update and What We Can Do Now
Congress on August Recess is Opportunity for In-district Meetings

         Yes, the 2012 Farm Bill is “in limbo” after Senators and Representatives left Capitol Hill for a month long recess through Labor Day without the House passing its version.  The soonest the Farm Bill could move ahead to the next stage is right after Labor Day, and that is not at all certain.
However, whether Congress manages to complete the new Farm Bill before the end of this year, or whether they end up extending the current 2008 Farm Bill for another year, the priorities stated in e-mails from this source over the past several weeks remain:  protect funding for Beginning Farmer, Rural Development, Organic Research, Organic Cost Share, and Conservation programs; protect the recent GIPSA Rule (new regulations to protect contract farmers’ rights), and accomplish real reform in commodity and crop insurance programs.
I just got back from a very energizing meeting of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, where we were reminded that the next several weeks, with our elected Representatives and Senators in their home districts / states, is an important opportunity to communicate our farm policy concerns and priorities.  Although we do not have specific bills or amendments to advocate for at this time, it is very effective to tell our stories, and what we want or need in the way of federal farm policy to help family farms and rural communities thrive, improve public health and child nutrition, and to sustain our food and agricultural system over the long run.

Is your Representative or Senator holding a town hall meeting, listening session, or other event at which they seek to hear directly from constituents? If so, you can simply attend the event – arrive early and ask event organizers for a time to speak. You will have a few minutes to communicate your message directly to your Representative or Senator (or, in some cases, one of their top Legislative Assistants).   Call his/her office to find out when and where such sessions might take place.
Otherwise, see if you can set up an appointment to talk with the Rep / Senator in person, or with one of their staff who works on agricultural issues.  For those of you with working farms that demonstrate successful organic or sustainable enterprises, it can be extremely effective to invite your Representative or one of his/her staff for a tour of your farm.  While it is a bit late to begin planning for the current recess (and I apologize for not getting this suggestion to you a month earlier), it is worth a try, and even making an initial contact and getting an answer of “too busy now, let’s set up something next time ___ is in the district” would be a valuable step in opening the dialogue.

If you find yourself wondering which of the myriad of issues to focus on, I would suggest the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP).  The BFRDP funds the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition Project, coordinated through Virginia Tech with some 25 partners including VABF, several other non-profits, and several farms, as well as VA Cooperative Extension and other agencies.  BFRDP has funded dozens of other beginning farmer training, networking and assistance programs across the US.  With today’s crisis of shrinking and aging farm population and farmland loss, BFRDP and other programs that help establish a new generation of sustainable farmers make a vital contribution to the future of our agricultural and food system
BFRDP is currently funded at $19 million a year.  The Senate version of the 2012 Farm Bill would cut it slightly to $17 million, while the House Ag Committee version would slash it to $10 million, and a one-year “extension” of the 2008 Farm Bill would zero it out unless a special provision to restore BFRDP funding is explicitly included in the extension.  (Several other key programs would be in the same boat, including Organic Certification Cost Share, Specialty Crops Research Initiative, and Organic Research and Extension Initiative).
If you are involved in or have benefited from the VA Beginning Farmer Coalition, you are in a great position to speak on this issue.

Special request: if you are in Bob Goodlatte’s district (6th VA), and you would like to set up an in-district meeting with him or a staff person, and you would like some help or collaboration on this, let me know ASAP by return e-mail.  Either I or some of the wonderful folks at the NSAC office in Washington, DC can help you with logistics, messaging, and other specifics. I may be able to attend an event with you – the main reason I am not trying to set one up on my own is that I am not in his district, and would not get much “traction” on my own.
 As Vice Chair of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Goodlatte will play an important role in the Farm Bill outcome regardless of what path it takes.  And, with a strong BFRDP-funded coalition helping new farmers in Virginia, I believe we can persuade Rep. Goodlatte to go to bat for this program.


August 1, 2012

2012 Farm Bill Update  – “dirty” Extension Bill pulled

Thanks in large part to a tidal wave of dissent from both sustainable and conventional agriculture interests, a recent attempt by the US House of Representatives leadership (not the Ag Committee per se) to abort the 2012 Farm Bill and supplant it with a truly lame 12-month “extension” of the existing 2008 Farm Bill (with severe cuts to conservation in the name of providing drought disaster relief funding, and zeroing-out of a dozen key beginning farmer, sustainable ag, and rural development programs) has been defeated.  Faced with the intense opposition, the leadership decided not to even bring it to a vote.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that there are still plans afoot to pass a drought disaster relief funding bill (which is OK) and to “offset” the expense thereof by taking the funds out of the Conservation Programs under the 2008 Farm Bill (self defeating, considering the vital role of conservation in helping farms survive the drought!).  Watch for potential updates and action alerts from National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC).

What is the next step with the 2012 Farm Bill?  Answer: still unknown at this point in time. However, note that the Senate and House will be on recess from next Monday August 6 through Labor Day weekend.  This will be an excellent time for in-district meetings with our Senators and Representatives, to communicate our concerns and priorities related to the Farm Bill.  The 2012 Farm Bill could go into “conference” where the Senate-passed farm bill and House Ag Committee draft will be combined and reconciled into a final bill.  There is even a slight chance it could go to the floor of the House in September.  Or, there may be a (hopefully more reasonable) extension agreement to go into effect when the 2008 bill expires September 30, with the expectation that Congress will get to work to create a 2012 or 2013 Farm Bill as soon as practical after that.  I will forward any new information and action alerts as things unfold – it is likely that there will be more to share after the NSAC summer meeting on August 6-8.


July 18, 2012

Dear All,

The House Agriculture Committee passed a farm bill last week.  It is far from what we all could have hoped though there are a few bright spots.  A few key points:

1. LOSS: The House bill funds the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) at $10 million per year, about a 45% cut from the 2008 Farm Bill funding level.  A bipartisan amendment offered by Reps. Walz, Noem, and Fortenberry would have increased BFRDP funding to $17 million per year, and imposed sodsaver provisions on crop subsidy programs that would have saved $65 million (35 M to go into BFRDP and the rest into deficit reduction).  Vehement opposition from the committee chair (Rep. Lucas) resulted in the amendment being withdrawn.

2. WINS:  Other amendment to provide beginning farmer training to returning military veterans, offered by Fortenberry & Walz; and to create a USDA liaison for returning vets seeking to get into funding (Gibson & Boswell) passed by a voice vote.

3. WIN: An amendment offered by Reps. Fudge and Fortenberry to provide FSA microloans (up to $35K) to beginning farners with streamlined applicaion procedures was passed by voice vote.

4. WIN:  An amendment offered by Reps. Ellmers, Pingree, and Gibson to facilitate public school meal programs accessing local food through farm-to-school programs was passed by voice vote.

5. WINS:  Value Added Producer Grants were funded at $50 million over the farm bill cycle (equal to the level in the final Senate Farm Bill), and Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers was funded at $10 million (twice the Senate level)

6. WIN:  Organic Crop Insurance Price Elections (directing USDA to insure organic crops at organic prices, similar to a provision in Senate Bill) passed by voice vote.

7 LOSS:  An amendment to repeal the remaining provisions from the USDA GIPSA Rule to protect rights of contract poultry farmers and to limit unfair market practices that shut independent family farms out of livestock markets, was passed.

8. LOSS:  An amendment to restore funding for the Organic Certification Cost Share Program was defeated.

9. LOSS:  Of the $35 billion saved in this Farm Bill, the nation’s hungry were forced to contribute $16 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – formerly food stamps).  However, one bright spot is passage of an amendment that facilitates use of some of the remaining SNAP dollars for recipients to participate in CSAs.

10.  LOSS:  the House Farm Bill failed to close the loophole that allowed absentee landowners and large farmer to receive commodity subsidy payments for multiple farms (a reform that is included in the Senate bill). In fact, there were no substantive reforms to commodity programs.

Next Steps for the House Farm Bill

are at this time uncertain.  Three possible outcomes:

1 – Floor debate and vote on the bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee. This is actually considered unlikely.

2 – A modified Conference process, in which the Chairs and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Ag Committees reconcile the recently passed Senate Farm Bill and the House Ag Committee version.

3 – No 2012 Farm Bill passed before the 2008 Farm Bill expires on September 30 – in which case a “continuing resolution” will keep most of the 2008 Farm Bill in place, for a period of 3 to 12 months, giving Congress more time to pass a new Farm Bill.  However, funding for those programs that have no “baseline” beyond 2012 would end – these programs include BFRDP, Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), and Specialty Crops Research Initiative (SCRI).
In addition, this is truly a “back to square one” scenario, since the November elections will bring in a whole new Congress, with lots of new faces and possibly a different balance of power  between the major parties.

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is working hard on developing strategies for each of these possible outcomes, and will issue action alerts as it becomes clear in what direction things are actually moving.

Meanwhile, what can we do?

August is recess time for Congress.  It is an opportunity for in-district meetings within your district (or in-state meetings with Senators or their staff).  This is a good time for farmers and farmer advocates to bring your concerns to the attention of your Representative or Senator.  You can set up an in-district meeting or appointment with the Member of Congress or his/her staff, or you can attend a town hall meeting if your Representative holds one.

Once again, this is a particularly good time for those of you in Rep. Goodlatte’s district (6th, including Roanoke, Harrisonburg, and a number of counties between these two cities) to talk with him or his staff.  Bring your concerns or requests to him!  As vice-chair of the House Agriculture Committee, Goodlatte will have significant impact in any of the three above scenarios.

Stay tuned for additional developments.

Thank you,

Mark Schonbeck


July 10, 2012

Dear All,

The House Agriculture Committee will begin marking-up the House version of the 2012 Farm Bill tomorrow (Wednesday July 11), and will likely complete the process by the end of the week.

As I mentioned in a recent e-mail, the draft bill offered by the committee leadership (Chair Frank Lucas and Ranking Member Collin Peterson) has some major gaps and deficiencies when it comes to sustainable agriculture and family farms. There is a chance that some of these can be addressed right in the Committee during this week’s markup.  These include strengthening beginning farmer programs, and a provision to facilitate school systems purchasing from local farms for USDA funded meal programs.

Others may need to be addressed from the floor of the House, owing to a lack of support within the Committee.  Examples include the Organic Certification Cost Share program, and conservation compliance.

For those of you in Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s district (6th Congressional District of Virginia), now is the time to contact his legislative aide for the Farm Bill and other agricultural  issues, Carrie Meadows, at 202-225-5431.  Rep. Goodlatte is vice chair of the House Ag Committee, and is thus a very important player in the Committee’s work this week.  If you do not reach Carrie directly, by all means leave a message on her phone, or send her an e-mail, <>.

For those of you not in Virginia’s 6th, but whose Representative also serves on the House Agriculture Committee, call your Representative’s office in DC (if you do not know the number, call Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121), and ask to speak with the staff person in charge of Farm Bill and other agricultural issues.

For those of you whose Representative does not sit on the House Agriculture Committee, stand by for future action alerts related to Farm Bill action from the floor of the House of Repreesentatives.  This could happen very soon – within a week or two.

Farm Bill Update by Teleconference
This evening (Tuesday July 10) at 6:00 pm – call 1-800-977-8002, code 577467#

Get the latest on the Farm Bill, including a compliation of additional Amendments lined up during the course of today, as well as more detailed suggestions for grassroots action than I can give in this e-mail.

Sarah Hackney and/or Shavaun Evans of National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) will join policy coordinators Lydia Villanueva and Gabrielle Lane of Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group to bring you the latest.  They can also provide specific guidance for communications with Representative Goodlatte and other members of the House Agriculture Committee.

Please join us at 6 pm sharp by dialing 1-800-977-8002, and entering the access code 577467# at the prompt.

Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) and other Beginning Farmer programs

The draft House Farm Bill would cut funding for the highly successful Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program by nearly 50%. This is clearly a step backward!  Our nation’s farmers are aging, and we can’t afford to wait any longer to help the next generation of farmers and ranchers get off to a strong start.  Programs that invest in the future of American agriculture and provide assistance to beginning and historically underserved farmers and ranchers deserve full support in the Committee’s bill.

Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R) and Tim Walz (D) will introduce an amendment to restore BFRDP funding and strengthen other beginning producer programs and provisions in the Farm Bill.  When you contact Rep. Goodlatte’s office to urge his support for this Amendment, emphasize that the BFRDP is already funding the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition Project, coordinated through Virginia Tech; that the Coalition has developed an extensive beginning farmer training curriculum to be piloted this year by seven of its 25 partner groups, and is developing a statewide farmer mentoring network; and that beginning farmer training programs like this create new job and entrepreneurial opportuntiies and promote economic recovery.  If you are personally involved in, connected with, or benefiting from (or expect to benefit from) the VA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition Project, tell your story!  According to NSAC policy associates (who have daily direct experience working on Capitol Hill), the overriding question in many Representatives’ minds will be: does this program have positive impact in my district or my state?  For BFRDP, which funds the VA Beginning Farmer Coalition, we can truthfully say it most certainly does!

In addition, Represntatives Gibson and Boswell will offer an amendment to establish a Military Veterans Agricultural Liaison at USDA. The purpose of this Liaison will be to facilitate beginning farmer training for returning military vets who want to get into the farming profession.  Finally, Representatives Fudge and Fortenberry will offer an amendment to allow USDA to make small business loans tailored to meet the needs of small, young, beginning, and military veteran farmers and ranchers. These two Amendments will support and strengthen the impact of the Fortenberry-Walz amendment – again, any stories of how these measures would benefit you, your family, or anyone you know (e.g., a family member returning from the Afghanistan war for whom a farming career would help them make a successful transition back to civilian life) would be the most powerful advocacy.

Farm to School Provision

Our nation’s schoolchildren deserve to eat fresh, healthy, local food in schools – and with that, the opportunity to develop healthy eating habits for life. Produce and meat from nearby farms on school lunch trays – it seems like a smart, simple concept.  Yet the opportunity for farmers to create jobs, spur economic growth, and provide healthy and wholesome foods to schoolchildren in their neighborhoods is often harder than it seems because of arbitrary barriers to school meal programs accessing local food.

In its draft Farm Bill, the House Agriculture Committee missed an opportunity (that would cost nothing!) to make it easier for schools to purchase fresh, healthy, local food for children’s lunches.

Representatives Ellmers (R-NC), Pingree (D-ME), and Gibson (R-NY) want to seize this opportunity, and have introduced an amendment that will make it easier for farmers to supply food to local school districts.  It establishes pilot projects to allow schools to use program dollars from USDA Foods (a school food distribution program) to purchase fresh produce from local farmers.

When you call your Represenative, emphasize that this is a job-creating amendment that costs no money – and it can help to boost our local economy by supporting our local farmers!  And that it is a win-win amendment for the state’s farmers and schoolchildren.

Watch for additional Farm Bill alerts and updates in the coming days.


Mark Schonbeck


July 8, 2012

2012 Farm Bill Process Begins on House Side
Grassroots Action Needed in the Next Couple Weeks

Chairman Frank Lucas and Ranking Member Collin Peterson of the House Agriculture Committee released their initial draft of the House version of the 2012 Farm Bill, on which the Agriculture Committee will base its “mark-up” to release for debate by the full House of Representatives later this month.  National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) staff have studied the initial draft and describe it as an “anti-reform” bill, for the following reasons:
It would slash $35 billion out of the Farm Bill over five years, of which $6 billion would come out of conservation and a whopping $16 billion out of nutrition programs, especially Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – food stamps).  [Do I hear “then let them eat cake” in this move?]
Crop insurance subsidies are increased to an unprecedented $10 billion per year, with no caps, no income limits, and no conservation compliance requirements
Commodity subsidy payment limits are increased to 2.5 times the levels in the Senate bill – and there is no attempt to close loopholes that allow single large farms to collect multiple subsidies.
Acreage enrollments for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) are cut by 30%.  In other words, farmers are being told, “if you want to save soil and protect water and wildlife, then do it on your own dime.”
The current draft bill cuts the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program by half (similar to Senate farm bill before the Brown amendment restored most of the slashed funds), also cuts minority farmer programs by half, and rural development by 88 percent.
The bill would repeal the Organic Certification Cost Share program – yet another attack on organic.

The House Ag Committee is scheduled to markup the draft bill on July 11 – this Friday.

NSAC Policy Director Ferd Hoefner noted that, because of its many defects, the House Farm Bill will need to undergo substantial revision and improvement before NSAC could support it.  “The Committee should address these major deficiencies when it meets to markup a bill next week,” said Hoefner.  “To the extent that does not happen, we are confident that these will be topics of major amendments when and if the bill reaches the House floor.”

As mentioned in earlier e-mails from this source, Virginia’s Representative from the Sixth District – Bob Goodlatte – is vice chair of the House Agriculture Committee, and is therefore a key person to contact ASAP to urge him to support the commodity and crop insurance reforms in the recently passed Senate bill, and to suppport full funding for BFRDP, rural development, organic certification cost share, and conservation programs.  Those of you in his district, and especially those of you with personal experience or stories relating to the benefits of BFRDP, rural development programs like Value Added Producer Grants, Organic Certification Cost Share, and/or conservawtion programs, can have a particularly substantial impact on the outcome of this week’s Ag Committee process.  Please give his office a call at 202-225-5431, and ask to speak with the Agricultural Legislative Assistant, Carrie Meadows.

More detailed and focused action alerts will follow during the course of this week.

From Mark Schonbeck, June 26, 2012

Farm Bill – Thank You!
and a request to those in Virginia’s 6th Congressional District

As mentioned in my last e-mail, the Senate has passed its Farm Bill, and I want to thank you, both for your patience with the flood of action alerts, and especially for the calls, e-mail, and other actions you might have taken in response to any of these alerts.  Both of Virginia’s Senators voted for the Brown Amendment (Beginning Farmer and Rural Development funding) and the Chambliss Amendment (Conservation Compliance requirements for crop insurance programs)  Both Amendments passed by relatively narrow margins – thus, our collective action in Virginia may well have been a significant factor in their success.

The House Agriculture Committee will begin to work on its version immediately after the July 4 recess.  Grassroots action on the House side will initially focus on those Members of Congress who serve on the House Ag Committee, including Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who is vice-chair of the Ag Committee.

If you are in Bob Goodlatte’s district, and you are interested in participating in vital advoacy with him for a more sustainable and family-farm-friendly Farm Bill, please contact me by return e-mail ASAP. I will put you in touch with National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition staff who can assist you to do so.

If your Representative is not on the House Ag Committee – take a break – next action alert will likely be around the middle of July.

If your Representative is on the House Ag Committee, the upcoming July 4 recess is a good time to talk with him or his staff in person about Farm Bil issues. Call his district office and see if you can make an appointment.  Speak to any of the following issues that you feel most passionate about, or that most directly impact your farming operation.
Beginning Farmer Programs, including but not limited to the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), whose funding was mostly restored in the Senate Bill through the Brown Amendment.  In the House, it is still appropriate to speak in behalf of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act
Rural Development Programs, such as the Value Added Producer Grant program.
Local Food System, with emphasis on the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act, which is also a rural development and jobs creation bill.
Conservation programs – EQIP Organic Initiative, Conservation Stewardship Program, Conservation Reserve Program and other easement programs.
Commodity program and crop insurance program reforms – we want the House bill to at least match the Senate bill on historic reforms that will save money by limiting subsidies to very large farms, while maintaining an effective safety net for mid scale family farms.
Organic programs – organic certification cost share, Organic Research and Extension Initiative, and reform to crop insurance to make it more accessible to organic producers (similar to Merkley amendment in the Senate bill).

Many thanks again!




From Mark Schonbeck, June 22, 2012

Dear All,

Yesterday afternoon (Thursday June 21), the Senate passed its version of the 2012 Farm Bill by a comfortable margin of 64 aye to 35 nay.  Although it is far from perfect, the final Senate Farm Bill contained a number of key amendments that sufficiently improved it that the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) issued a press release expressing support for the final bill passed by the Senate.

Thank you for all your calls to Senators and their agriculture legislative assistants, which helped bring about this success.

Senate Farm Bill Summary

Some of the Amendments, strongly supported by NSAC, which are now part of the Senate Farm Bill include:

The Brown Amendment to restore funding for Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), Value Added Producer Grant Program (VAPG), and other rural development programs.  Passed 55-44
The Durbin-Coburn Amendment to reduce crop insurance subsidy rates for larger, higher-income farms, a small but important step toward reform.  Passed 66-33
The Chambliss Amendment that imposes conservation compliance requirements for participation in crop insurance subsidy programs.  Passage of this key reform by a 52-47 margin despite considerable opposition from Big Ag is a major win, and one that would likely not have happened without NSAC and all our collective efforts.
The Merkley Amendment that initiates a process to remove discriminatory barriers to organic farmer participation in crop insurance programs.  Passed 63-36.
The Grassley-Johnson Amendment that imposes payment caps on marketing loan payments, an element of commodity subsidy reform that was missing from the original Senate Farm Bill.  Passed by a wide margin of 75-24.

Several other Amendments that sought to eliminate key programs, including the VAPG, the Organic Certification Cost-share, the Farmers’ Market Promotion Program, and both the Conservation Reserve and Conservation Stewardship programs, were all soundly defeated.

In Virginia, Senator Webb voted “with” us on all of the above measures, while Senator Warner was with us on all except the Grassley-Johnson.  A brief call to their offices to thank them for supporing beginning farmers, rural development, conservation, and crop insurance reform in the Farm Bill debate would be appreciated and would help strenghen their resolve in working for sustainable agriculture in the future.  Senator Webb – 202-224-4024; Senator Warner – 202-224-2023.

Some disappointments included: the failure of the Gillibrand Amendment that would have modestly reduced subsidies to crop insurance providers (not directly impacting farmers) in order to fully restore funding for SNAP (food stamp) benefits; the defeat of an amendment to require consumer labeling of foods containing genetically engineered (GMO) ingredients; and the fact that the Tester Amendment to set aside USDA research funding for classical breeding leading to release of public crop varieties and livestock breeds was not even included on the roster of Amendments to be considered in the Senate floor debate.

House Farm Bill – a Breather, and Next Steps:

The House Agriculture Committee has postponed its “markup” (drafting) of a House of Representatives 2012 Farm Bill until immediately after the July 4 recess.  Once the Committee submits its draft, it will go through the same debate, amendment, and voting process that the Senate Farm Bill underwent this week.  It is not a sure thing that the House will actually complete and pass a Farm Bill, and NSAC will be watching events closely as they unfold.

Meanwhile, the slight delay in the start of the House Ag Committee process will give us all a little break, and a chance to develop a more fully thought-out advocacy strategy.

Here in Virginia, we have one key Representative on the Ag Committee:  Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-6th District), who is vice chair of the committee.  If anyone on this list is a direct constituent of Rep. Goodlatte, and you would like to take part in an effort to discuss the sustainable ag / family farm agenda with Rep. Goodlatte, please let me know.  I will connect you with additional resources within NSAC.  One thing to note is that, with the Fourth of July recess coming up, this may be an opportunity to meet with the Representative within his district, either one-on-one, or at a town hall meeting if any of these are scheduled.  Let me know by return e-mail if you are in Goodlatte’s district and you would like to become actively involved in promoting a better Farm Bill in the House.

Many thanks once again!




From Mark Schonbeck, June 19, 2012

Dear All,

The Senate is debating and voting on 73 Amendments to the 2012 Senate Farm Bill this afternoon and tomorrow.

Already, we have had several wins:

The Brown Amendment to restore funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, the Value Added Producer Grant Program, and the Rural Micro-entrepreneur Assistance Program passed 55-44.
An Amendment by Grassley and Johnson to put payment caps on marketing loans passed 75-24.
An amendment to kill the Value Added Producer Grant program was soundly defeated 38-61.
Several amendments that sought to undermine the Clean Water Act were NOT among the 73 that were selected for consideration during last night’s procedural negotiations – and are thus dead, at least on the Senate side.  (They may rear their ugly heads again when the House farm bill process moves forward – but more on that in a few weeks).

To those of you who have made one or more calls in response to recent Farm Bill Action Alerts – thank you so much!  Your input to our Senators was definitely a contributing factor in the successes this afternoon, especially the Brown Amendment.  It sure made my day to see results from our collective efforts – I hope it does the same for you!

Your calls early tomorrow morning (Wednesday June 20) on the following are vital:

The Chambliss Amendment, SA 2438 would place conservation compliance requirements on farmers seeking to participate in Crop Insurance subsidy programs. Basically, they cannot obtain federal support for crop insurance on any sod (pasture, rangeland, prairie) or wetland converted to cropland.  This is identical to the Cardin Amendment mentioned in earlier e-mails – and it has been greatly strengthened by the fact that a  Republican is now leading the charge on an Amendment first offered by a very conservation minded Democrat.  We all know that saving our soil and wetlands is a nonpartisan issue – and now the Senate acknowledges it. Thus, despite some opposition from Big Ag, this “sodsaver / swampsaver” reform to crop insurance has real potential to become part of the 2012 Farm Bill.
        Please ask our Senators to give their active support to the Chambliss Conservation Compliance Amendment SA 2438. Multiple citizen calls to our Senators in support of this Amendment can make the difference!
NOTE – in your message, be sure to specify the Chambliss Conservation Compliance Amendment for Crop Insurance, and its number SA 2438.

The Toomey Amendment, SA 2217 would kill the Organic Certification Cost Share program, on which some 6,100 organic farmers nationwide depend in order to obtain or renew their USDA Organic Certification each year.  Many or most of these participants in the program could lose access to USDA Organic Certification if the Cost Share program is de-funded.
As the Organic Farming Research Foundation has pointed out, the Organic Certification Cost Share helps new farmers enter the certified organic market, enhances domestic certified organic production so that we can meet soaring demand for organic food largely from domestic suppliers, and enhances the diversity of farms seeking and maintaining their USDA Organic Certification.
Please ask our Senators to vote NO on the Toomey Amendment. If you are a USDA certified organic farmer who is using or has used the Organic Certification Cost Share, tell your story, and state honestly how your operation would be affected if the Organic Certification Cost Share were to come to an end.

The Coburn-Durbin Amendment, SA 2439 would reform the Crop Insurance Programs (which now disburse somewhat more tax dollars annually than the notorious commodity crop subsidies) to reduce somewhat the % subsidy for crop insurance for the highest income farmers ($750K gross proceeds /year individual, $1.5M/year couple or family).  Although it is a modest effort toward reform (and a stronger amendment to place an actual per-farm cap on crop insurance subisdy failed to make the list of 73 amendments to be voted on), it  is an important symbolic step in the right direction, and is considered a high priority by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Another Amendment introduced by Senator Chambilss, SA 2432 would kill the Farmers’ Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP, formerly FMPP) – so we definitely want to oppose this one.  This is why it is so important to specify which Chambliss amendment to support – and which to vote NO on.

In Virginia, to make calls to our Senators on any of the above:
         Senator Jim Webb – 202-224-4024.  Ask to speak with Trevor Dean.  If he is unavailable, leave message on his extension.
Senator Mark Warner – 202-224-2023.  Ask to speak with Anna Payne.  If she is unavailable, leave message on her extension.

You can also e-mail the Senators’ aides – but we should use their e-mails with some discretion.  For example, if you are a farmer who would be directly impacted by any of the above Amendments (certification cost share, or other), it may be appropriate to write your story in an e-mail.  Name the Amendment and your position in the Subject Line; e.g., “Support SA 2438 – Promote Good Stewardship by my Farming Neighbors” or “Oppose SA 2217 – My Organic Farm Depends on Cost Share”.  Trevor Dean’s e-mail is, and Anna Payne’s is

If you are not in Virginia:
        Call each of your Senators’ offices in DC and ask to speak to the legislative assistant who works on Farm Bill issues.  If they are not available, leave a message on his/her phone.  To find out your Senators’ phone numbers, dial the Capitol Hill switchboard at 202-224-3121.

I will keep you posted of developments on the Senate Farm Bill.

Farm Bill action in the House begins next week, with “mark up” (initial draft) by the House Agriculture Committee, followed by floor debate and vote sometime after the July 4 holiday.  Look for one or two action alerts next week related to House action, and then a lull for a couple weeks, which will give us all a break from this fast pace.

Many thanks once again for all you do to help bring about a more sustainable and rational Farm Bill!


From Mark Schonbeck, June 17, 2012

Farm Bill Update

The Farm Bill debate on the Senate Floor is in the early stages, in which decisions will be made early this week as to which of the 300 or so Amendments will actually be presented for a vote.  Thus, the first hurdle for key amendments for beginning farmers, conservation, and sustainable agriculture and food systems is to make sure that the Senate will vote on our Amendments.

We know that Virginia’s two Senators are generally supportive of the Brown Amendment (SA 2362) to restore funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disaadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers, and rural development programs like Value-Added Producer Grants.  They are also generally supportive of crop insurance subsidy reform and very interested in conservation, and would likely vote for the Coburn-Durbin Amendment (SA 2186), Shaheen-Toomey Amendment (SA 2201), and Gillebrand Amendment (SA 2156) to reform insurance, and the Cardin Amendment (SA 2219) to require basic conservation compliance to qualify for crop insurance subsidies.  However, in order to ensure that these key Amendments actually come up for a vote, we need as many Senators as possible to take the initiative in promoting their consideration.  The more farmers and other individuals that our Senators hear from on these issues, the more they will be impelled to proactively advvocate for them at this time, rather than simply being willing to vote for them “if they come up for a vote.”

In other words, if these Amendments are not given sufficiently high priority for the Senate floor debate on the Farm Bill, they will be lost, even if a majority of Senators would have voted ‘aye’ if gvien the chance.

Other key amendments mentioned recently include Tester Amendment – conventional seeds and breeds leading to public varieties; Sanders-Leahy Amendment (SA 2386) to facilitate local sourcing of fresh produce for public school lunch programs; and Grassley-Johnson (SA 2167) which would strengthen reforms of commodity subsidies.

(As noted in my last e-mail, two Amendments to oppose are Chambliss-Isakson SA 2326, which would block subsidy reforms in the current Senate bill; and Toomey SA 2217, which would end the Organic Certification Cost Share.  They can be killed either by simply not making the short list of Amendments to be considered in the debate, or by enough Senators voting ‘nay’.)

Thank you to those who have already made calls to our Senators regarding these Amendments.  If you have not already done so, call today – the more input our Senators receive this week from sustainable agriculture advocates, the more likely they will actively support key amendments for organic, beginning farmers, conservation, rural development, and local food systems.  In Virginia, call:
         Senator Jim Webb – 202-224-4024.  Ask to speak with Trevor Dean.  If he is unavailable, leave message on his extension, or e-mail him at
Senator Mark Warner – 202-224-2023.  Ask to speak with Anna Payne.  If she is unavailable, leave message on his extension, or e-mail her at


From Mark Schonbeck, June 15, 2012

Dear All,

Thank you for whatever action you have taken thus far in response to the alerts and updates I have sent you regarding the 2012 Farm Bill. If you have not yet done so, or if there is more you would like to say to our Senators, there is still time to do so. Senate floor debate on the Farm Bill and the many Amendments will continue into next week – thus far the Senate has been sorting out procedural details.

Call today – the more input our Senators receive this week from sustainable agriculture advocates, the more likely they will actively support key amendments for organic, beginning farmers, conservation, rural development, and local food systems.  In Virginia, call:

Senator Jim Webb – 202-224-4024.  Ask to speak with Trevor Dean.  If he is unavailable, leave message on his extension, or e-mail him at

Senator Mark Warner – 202-224-2023.  Ask to speak with Anna Payne.  If she is unavailable, leave message on his extension, or e-mail her at

Those of you not in Virginia, to find out your Senator’s phone number in DC, call the Capitol switchboard, 202-224-3121.

Finally – those of you who have taken action, could you send me a brief e-mail note to let me know what Amendment(s) you addressed, and, if you talked with the staff person directly, how s/he responded.  This will help us gauge the progress of our grassroots farm bill campaign.

Many thanks!  Details, including two new items, follow below.

Mark Schonbeck

Two new Amendments – two new Actions:

From the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition – Farm to School Amendment:

Our nation’s schoolchildren deserve to eat fresh, local food in schools – and with it, the opportunity to develop healthy eating habits for life.  Now’s the time!  Amidst the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, the Senate is debating the 2012 Farm Bill, and decisions are being made that will impact farmers, the environment, and rural communities for years to come.  If you can spare 5 minutes today, you will have an impact.



Produce and protein from nearby farms on school lunch trays – it seems like a smart, simple concept.  Yet the opportunity for farmers to create jobs, spur economic growth, and provide healthy and wholesome foods to schoolchildren is often harder than it seems.  Current policies make it difficult for schools to purchase products from local farms and create barriers for local farmers that want to supply their products to schools.

We can do something about this!  Senators Sanders (I-VT) and Leahy (D-VT) have introduced an amendment (SA2386) to the 2012 Farm Bill to make it easier for farmers to supply local school districts.  It allows schools to use program dollars from Department of Defense Fresh (a fruit and vegetable distribution program) to purchase produce from local farmers.

Will you help us make it easier for students to eat fresh, local food in schools?

Send a message to your Senator today!

Your Senators need to hear that you want a farm bill with real reform and real improvements for the future of farming.  Don’t delay – the Senate is debating the 2012 Farm Bill this week, so they need to hear from you today.

Thank you for all that you do,

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Grassroots Team

From the National Organic Coalition – Protect the Organic Certification Cost-Share

Senator Toomey has introduced an amendment in the Senate Farm Bill that would strike out the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program.  When you call your Senators’ offices, the message is:

“Please vote NO on the Toomey Amendment SA 2217 which would kill the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program.”

If you use or have used the Organic Certification Cost Share, tell your story.  If you buy and support organic, emphasize that the Organic Certification Cost Share is important for all organic farmers, and:
Keeps organic production in the United States — meeting strong US consumer demand for organic with US organic product
Keeps a diversity of farms certifying
Maintains organic certification as a gateway to the market, as farmers grow beyond direct sales
Encourages new entry into certified organic
Encourages processors to certify and grow their organic production, providing Value-Added processing infrastructure for farmers

Updates on Key Amendments in Recent Action Alerts

Brown Amendment to restore funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Rural Development Programs, and Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program has been filed – it is SA 2362.  This is a top priority for NSAC and may other sustainable ag organizations and advocates, and it has a good chance of passing.  Virginia’s two Senators are supportive, but as of the last time I received communication from Trevor Dean and Anna Payne, they had not yet formally signed on as co-sponsors.  Thank them for their support for the Brown Amendment, SA 2362, and ask if the Senator has become a co-sponsor.

Crop Insurance Reform including Coburn-Durbin (SA 2186) to reduce insurance premium subsidies for higher income farmers, Cardin (SA 2219) to impose basic conservation requirements as a prerequisite to receiving crop insurance subsidies, Shaheen-Toomey (SA 2201) to set a per-farm cap of $40K (single) or $80K (married couple) on annual crop insurance subsidies, and Gillibrand (SA 2156) to limit subsidies to insurance companies for administrative costs in providing crop insurance, have now all been filed, and together would constitite an effective crop insurance reform package.  A few notes:
The Gillibrand Amendment imposes only a modest reduction (not a complete cut as implied in my last e-mail – that would have no political future at all!), shaving a fraction off the subsidy rate to the insurance companies – yet it would save enough funds to completely restore funding for the SNAP (food stamps) program (which was cut by $5 billion over 5 years in the Senate bill), and fund a Fruit and Vegetable nutritional progarm.
The excellent conservation measures in the Cardin Amendment face considerable opposition from some conventional big-ag groups who perceive it as overly burdensome and have drawn a “line in the sand”.  Thus, it is important for the Senators to hear from family farmers that they support this Amendment.
Note that we are strongly supporting the Shaheen-Toomey Amendment, which sets caps for crop insurance subsidies on a par with caps on commodity subsidies.  Toomey is (like many Republicans) out to save tax dollars anywhere he can – and we agree with him on crop insurance, and disagree with him on organic cost share.

Other Subsidy Reforms:
Urge Senators to support the Grassley-Johnson (SD) Amendment (SA 2167), which sets payment limits on Marketing Loan Gains and Loan Deficiency Payments.
Urge them to oppose the Chambliss-Isakson Amendment (SA 2326) – This would stop Commodity Reform.  It would block the current Senate Farm Bill’s reforms to plug loopholes in the “actively engaged in farming” rules until USDA certifies that the provisions will not harm beginning farmers, disabled farmers and farm spouses.
This is a red herring.  The reforms are very positive for beginning farmers and make no changes to current law for disabled farmers
or farm spouses
. The amendment would simply try to delay the new reforms from taking effect.