December Policy Updates

By December 19, 2019Policy

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Farmer Letter on Climate Change Solutions in Agriculture


This nationwide campaign to bring farmers’ voices to the climate policy debate has gathered 900 signatures so far, including 52 through the VABF web site.  Thank you to all who have signed!  National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) will use this letter to urge Members of Congress and USDA program administrators to adopt policy and programming that will help farmers and rural communities meet the challenges posed by the climate crisis – to stay in business, build soil and agroecosystem health, and contribute to climate solutions. Toward this end, our nationwide goal is to gather 10,000 farmer signatures by spring of 2020.


If you have not yet signed, and you meet the USDA definition of a farmer or rancher (making at least $1,000 a year through agricultural enterprises), you can do so at the VABF website.  Visit and click on the farmer’s letter link when it scrolls by on the home page banner.



2019 Organic Production Survey

Make your voice heard! Deadline January 10, 2020


This month, the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) is sending letters to 22,000 certified and transitioning organic farmers across the US requesting their participation in the Organic Farmer Survey for the 2019 season.  The letter will provide instructions for responding on-line, which is faster and more time efficient than a paper survey.


With the 2017 Ag Census showing a 39% increase in organic operations since the 2012 Census, this Survey is an opportunity for organic producers let USDA agencies and the public what organic farming has to offer, and what organic producers need from research, extension, conservation, crop insurance, and other services. If you receive an invitation from USDA to take part in the 2019 Organic Farmer Survey, this is your opportunity to be heard.  For more information, see



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CSP Interim Final Rule Issued

One serious flaw needs to be corrected: comment deadline Jan 13, 2020


The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recently issued an Interim Final Rule for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which goes into effect for the 2020 signup and is also open for public comment.  The Rule implements several key improvements from the new Farm Bill that make it more attractive to organic and conservation minded farmers:

  • Separate ranking and funding pool for organic, proportionally distributed to States.
  • Increased payments for cover crops and rotations, and advanced grazing management.
  • Support for whole-farm comprehensive conservation planning.
  • Increased program emphasis on soil health.


However, the new CSP has one major flawit fails to support our best land stewards to continue and expand their conservation activities.  The 2018 Farm Bill requires NRCS to give equal weight in both ranking and in annual payments to existing conservation at time of application and new conservation measures to be added during the CSP contract.  Instead, the Rule continues to bias ranking and payments heavily in favor of new conservation.  This disadvantages our best land stewards – including many of VABF’s member farmers – and it defeats one of the founding principles of CSP: to “reward the best and motivate the rest.”


We need to let NRCS know – loud and clear – that we want a CSP that supports our best conservation farmers to continue the invaluable services they already provide to the earth and society.  We also need to thank NRCS for the new provisions listed above. For more information, visit  For guidance on preparing and submitting comments, and link to on-line comment submission form, visit




Pesticides, Heat, and the People Who Feed Us: Climate Change Is Making Farmworkers’ Dangerous Job Even Worse

Special report by Rafter Ferguson of the Union of Concerned Scientists


As climate change intensifies summer heat and pest pressures, the 2.4 million farmworkers who perform 2/3 of the agricultural labor to keep the US population fed find their health and safety in double jeopardy.  Pesticide use is increasing to keep up with new and more voracious bugs, the protective clothing required for handling sprayed produce exacerbates heat stress, and farmworkers receive inadequate regulatory protection from these compounded health risks.


The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has published an in-depth report on this severe yet under-reported impact of climate change on agriculture.  See their Dec 9 press release and link to the full report at:




Current USDA and State (VA) Program Opportunities


Virginia Agricultural Best Management Practices Cost-Share Program. $73 million to help farmers implement cover crops, nutrient management, IPM, riparian buffers, fencing to keep livestock out of streams, and more.  Available through June, 2020 or until funds exhausted. Details in July, 2019 e-newsletter and at To apply, visit your Soil and Water Conservation District office. 


USDA Programs:


Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) application deadline Feb 13, 2020.


Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) includes small grants (up to $20K) for producers to install solar, wind, or energy efficiency infrastructure.  Apply by March 31, 2020.  For more info, visit


NRCS Conservation Collaboration Grants including outreach to historically underserved groups and collaboration on strategic natural resources.  Apply by February 7, 2020.


Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) application deadline is January 23, 2020


Organic Transitions Program (ORG) application deadline is February 27, 2020



Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) signup for the 2020 season is either underway or imminent.  Inquire at your local NRCS district office, or visit the State office web site,