April Policy Updates 2020

By April 23, 2020Policy

Update on Assistance to Direct-Market Farmers during the Pandemic

Staff in the office of Rep. Morgan Griffith (9th-VA) recently updated me on assistance to farmers from the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.  Farmers are eligible for support through the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) though not through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL).  Loans under PPP are forgivable if at least 75% of the loan is used for payroll.

USDA also has some funding through CARES to help direct-market farmers whose market venues have been closed or disrupted by the pandemic. National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and partner groups continue to advocate for effective USDA implementation of these provisions, track emergency assistance through USDA loan and insurance programs, and explore new opportunities to expand assistance for farmers, farmworkers, and local markets as Congress develops further COVID-related legislation. Watch the NSAC blog for new updates and potential grassroots actions: https://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/.

Farmers’ Legal Action Group just released their Farmers’ Guide to COVID-19 Relief, a valuable resource that provides much more detailed and accurate information than I have here.

USDA Program Delivery Continues through COVID-19 Crisis

In order to continue its programs while protecting public health, USDA will keep its service centers open by phone appointment only.  Visit https://www.farmers.gov/coronavirus and click on the link under Service Centers Status to locate your service center.

Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)
CSP Moves Ahead Despite Coronavirus
Apply by May 29, 2020 (simple, one-page form)

Would you like to make your farm more resilient to weather extremes and other stresses, more profitable, and at the same time help address climate change, water quality, and other environmental problems?  Do you need financial support to continue and enhance your land stewardship practices? If so, the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is for you!

The CSP is designed to help producers develop and implement comprehensive, whole-farm conservation plans. This year, the CSP offers a minimum contract payment, a funding set-aside for organic and transitioning producers, and increased financial support for advanced crop rotations, cover cropping, and management intensive rotational grazing.  For more on this program, click CSP info, and CSP in Virginia.

Special Note regarding CSP:

Organic and sustainable producers are strongly encouraged to apply for CSP contracts this year.  We need to affirm the original intent of the program: to remunerate the best land stewards for the invaluable ecosystem services you provide to society and the planet, and to help you adopt new cutting edge conservation activities.

NSAC and its member groups want to help you access this program, and we want to hear your stories regarding how the application process went, and how effectively your CSP contract helps you meet your conservation goals.  If you plan to enroll, or are considering it and have questions, please contact Mark Schonbeck at schonbeckmark@gmail.com, or 540-0835-7664.

Signup in Virginia is open through May 29.  You only have to fill out a simple form by then; you and your NRCS field staff will have until late July to complete the contract.

Regarding program delivery during the pandemic, Virginia’s NRCS Assistant State Conservationist Julie Hawkins says: “NRCS offices are still open for business, so we’re not anticipating any significant impacts on program delivery. Customers can contact local service center staff by phone to discuss CSP applications and submit contract paperwork electronically or by mail. NRCS will also continue to complete field work associated with program applications as well as support conservation practice implementation and certification without direct, face-to-face contact with the customers.”

Anna Johnson at Center for Rural Affairs recently posted an excellent article on enrolling in CSP at this time.

Other USDA Programs open for signup include:

Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) under Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP):

Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) Alternative Funding Arrangements (AFA):

Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP):

Regional Food System Partnership (RFSP):

For a more complete summary of current funding opportunities, click here.

National Organic Producers Survey
Now Open through June 1:  
If you are a USDA certified organic producer or you are in transition toward certified organic production, the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) and Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) want to hear from you regarding organic research and plant breeding priorities. For more information see the April 16 NSAC blog post on the surveys. You can also access the survey at https://vabf.org/.

Farmer Letter on Climate Change Solutions in Agriculture
Sign-on Period Remains Open
While our immediate attention must naturally turn toward protecting our health, our families, and farming livelihoods through the pandemic, the longer term challenges of climate change will remain.  We must urge Capitol Hill and USDA decision makers to implement effective policy and programs that will help farmers, ranchers, and rural communities recover from the double-whammy of COVID-19 and extreme weather.  Working from home and on our farms, we can build momentum behind our message that, with best organic and agro-ecological practices, we can develop resilient systems and help restore the world’s carbon balance and climate stability.

If you have already signed – thank you so much !   If you sell $1,000 or more in farm products per year, and have not yet signed, take a few minutes to, visit https://vabf.org/, and click on the Farmers Letter on Climate as it scrolls by.