Agricultural Policy Updates: February 2018

By February 14, 2018Policy

Farm Bill 2018 Action

It’s Farm Bill season, and there are a lot of good initiatives afoot.  Call your legislators on Capitol Hill and ask them to support the following key marker bills and programs:

  • The Local Foods and Regional Market Supply (Local FARMS) Act – strengthens community food systems from farm to fork.
  • The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act – helps train and establish a successful next generation of producers.
  • The Crop Insurance Modernization Act – creates a fair, effective safety net for farmers.
  • Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and other conservation programs.

For more information, visit  Also, read this entire e-news article for more on CSP, and funding for sustainable and organic research programs.


2018 Conservation Stewardship Program Enrollment is Open

Sign up now at your district NRCS field office – deadline is March 2

The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is the largest working lands conservation program offered by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCSf), with 70 million acres now enrolled nationwide.  It rewards farmers who implement high level resource stewardship throughout their farming operations, moving beyond the “fix your environmental problems” level of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), to enhance soil health, water quality, wildlife habitat, and biodiversity across the farming operation.

This year’s signup is authorized and funded to enroll 10 million acres nationwide.  At this time just under 300,000 acres of Virginia farmland(about 3.6%) are enrolled – this is our chance to add to this number and put more of Virginia’s farmland into higher level stewardship.

Check out the new CSP, first introduced in 2017.   It is different from earlier years in that:

  • The program has been restructured to be easier to understand and implement.
  • The new payment formulas provide more support for ongoing conservation stewardship activities, as well as adopting new conservation enhancements.
  • CSP offers a number of enhancements and “bundles” specifically for organic systems.
  • The program now offers a minimum contract payment of $1,500 per year, making it more relevant and remunerative for smaller scale operations.

Note that the March 2 deadline is for the initial application, which is fairly simple.  You have several weeks after that to work out the details of your conservation plans and CSP contract.

For more information visit:


Take Action: Advocate for CSP in the 2018 Farm Bill

The 2018 Farm Bill, now being developed on Capitol Hill, will shape the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and other conservation programs, setting their funding levels for the next five years.  Virginia Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-6th district) serves on the House Agriculture Committee, and I (Mark Schonbeck) talked with his agricultural legislative staffer, Scott Bennett, who is a third generation farmer in the Commonwealth with a first-hand appreciation of the value of soil health and conservation.  Now is an excellent time to call Rep. Goodlatte’s office to encourage him to support full funding for the CSP, and for reforms that further enhance the program’s efficacy in helping producer to adopt comprehensive, whole-farm conservation systems.  Those of you in the 6th district who have had experience with the CSP – as a participant, applicant, or in working with other farmers who have used the program – can be especially effective advocates for the program.  However, calls from any 6th district constituents on behalf of the CSP will make a real impact.

Call Rep. Goodlatte’s office at 202-225-5431, and ask to speak with Scott Bennett – leave a message on his phone if he is not available to talk in person.  Introduce yourself, state if you are a farmer and if you have utilized or applied for the CSP, then ask that the 2018 Farm Bill maintain the unique structure and purpose of the CSP, and ensure sufficient funding to enroll a minimum of 10 million additional acres each year.  

Note: although our Senators are not on the Agriculture Committee, both are strong advocates for conservation, especially protection of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, in which the CSP can play a major role. They talk with their colleagues on the Ag Committee about conservation issues during each Farm Bill cycle. Call Senator Mark Warner’s office at 202-224-2023 and ask to speak with his ag staffer Micah Barbour; and Senator Tim Kaine’s office at 202-224-4024 and ask to speak with his ag staffers Nick Barbash and/or Donald Pollard., to advocate for the CSP in the coming farm bill.


National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Meeting in DC

On January21-24, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, held its semi-annual meeting in Washington, DC.  NSAC staff and representatives of most of the 120 member organizations met to establish our campaign priorities for 2018.  These include Farm Bill initiatives for local and regional food systems, beginning farmers and ranchers, reforming the crop insurance subsidy programs, and strengthening working lands conservation programs, as well as increasing appropriations funding for the SARE program, Food Safety Outreach Program, the “2501” program for socially disadvantaged and veteran producers, and FSA loan programs.

On Tuesday morning January 23, Senator John Tester (D-MT) gave an inspiring address to our gathering.  As a third-generation farmer who adopted organic practices in the 1980s, Senator Tester is a strong advocate for family farms, conservation, organic research, and other NSAC priorities.  We spent the rest of that day on Capitol Hill, meeting with agricultural staff of key legislators on the Agriculture and Appropriations committees, to discuss and advocate for our priorities.  Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, met in person with a group of six NSAC staff and NSAC member group representatives.  In all, NSAC logged over 100 individual visits that day, and our interactions were overwhelmingly positive, laying the groundwork for effective advocacy as the 2018 Farm Bill process unfolds.

That evening, we gathered for a special 30-year anniversary event for NSAC, at which agricultural aides to two key Members of Congress – one Republican and one Democrat – received NSAC awards for their long term commitment to local food systems, family farming, and sustainable practices.

For more on our gathering, visit


Organic Agriculture Research Act Introduced in the Senate.

On February 8, Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced the Organic Agriculture Research Act in the Senate.  The Act would reauthorize the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) in the 2018 Farm Bill, and gradually increase its funding to $50 million per year by 2023, giving it permanent baseline funding in future Farm Bills.  This is a companion bill to a bipartisan bill in the House by the same name.  Co-sponsored by over 50 Representatives, the House bill differs only in that it increases OREI funding to $50 million immediately, in the first year of USDA programming under the new Farm Bill.  While we prefer the latter, it is a major step forward to have bipartisan marker bills in both houses of Congress that would establish robust and permanent funding for USDA funded organic research.

For more information, visit


Budget Deal may Provide Additional Funding for Agriculture

In the wee hours of Friday morning February 9, the House and Senate reached a budget deal to keep the government and all its programs running for the next two years.  This means that – at last – the appropriations process can move ahead for the 2018 fiscal year, and can start on time for fiscal year 2019.  The good news is that, in addition to funding disaster relief for areas hit by hurricanes and wildfires in 2017 and providing additional Farm Bill funding for cotton and dairy programs, the new budget deal raises the cap for non-defense discretionary spending by over $60 billion per year.  In the coming days, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will divide the new funds among 12 Appropriations Subcommittees, of which Agriculture is one.  This opens an opportunity to ease some of the severe budgetary constraints under which many food and agriculture programs have operated over the past several years.

One key discretionary program that could thus benefit under the new budget deal, is Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), the USDA’s leading competitive grants program for farmer-driven research and education in the area of sustainable agriculture.  VABF has led or participated in several SARE funded projects during the program’s 30 year history, and VABF producer member Edmund Frost has developed and released the new, improved ‘South Anna’ butternut squash cultivar, supported in substantial part by two SARE producer grants.  Although authorized at $60 million per year, SARE has never been funded at more than $27 million per year.  As a result, the program has not been able to fund more than 8 percent of eligible proposals, which means that many excellent projects that could advance the practice of sustainable and organic agriculture go unfunded.

Other key programs that depend on annual appropriations include the Food Safety Outreach Program (produce safety training for smaller scale producers), Farm Service Agency loan programs (critical service, especially for beginning farmers), and the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers (sometimes called the “2501 Program”).

Although Virginia’s Senators and Representatives do not serve on the Appropriations Committees, they may contact their colleagues on these committees if they hear from enough constituents that a particular program is vital to their livelihoods or their communities, and thus should have its funding increased.  Now is a good time to talk-up the SARE program and other key programs with our Senators and Representatives.  Tell them how the programs have helped you. 

For more information, visit