February Policy Updates

By February 22, 2023Policy

By Mark Schonbeck

Come Join Thousands at the Farmers’ Rally for Resilience Washington, DC on Monday-Wednesday March 6-8, 2023

From the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC):

Farmers and farmworkers around the country are experiencing the increasing impacts of climate change. But many of them are also at the leading edge of developing climate solutions. Federal policy needs to promote and encourage farmer-led climate solutions, many of which have come from communities of color. Farmers, farm workers, and farmer allies will be converging on Washington D.C. on March 6-8 to urge Congress to make climate change policy a priority in the 2023 Farm Bill. Mobilization on this scale cannot happen without support from our entire community. Whether you want to join our Rally in person, or donate to support our efforts, learn more here about how to get involved today!  Also check out the NSAC press release on the Rally and register here to let us know of any support you need to participate in the Rally.

The three-day event will include an opening ceremony, rally and march, grazing demonstrations, press events, and a lobby day (Wednesday the 8th). The goal of our rally is to urge and support Congress to write a 2023 Farm Bill that addresses the climate crisis in agriculture through:

  • Farmer-led climate solutions.
  • Promoting racial justice throughout the Farm Bill.
  • Climate and agricultural solutions that serve communities, not corporations.

Our event begins Monday afternoon (March 6) at 4 pm with a Welcome and opening ceremony followed at 5 pm with a reception and the beginning of a demonstration of carbon-sequestering grazing practices that will continue through Wednesday.

On Tuesday March 7 we will have our march, rally, and concert, beginning at 10 am.  At 3 pm we will have a lobby training and skill share to prepare for visiting Members of Congress.  Wednesday will begin with a special press event at 9 am featuring farmer stories of adapting to the challenges of climate changes, followed by Capitol Hill visits from 10 am until 4 pm.

With our comparative proximity to Washington, DC, this event offers a golden opportunity for VABF farmer members and other stakeholders to bring our message and concerns to our Senators and Representatives and to join in a mass demonstration of our common desire to heal the land, stabilize the climate, and build an equitable food system

Take Action:
Strengthening Local Processing Act
Build support for small meat processors and the livestock farmers they serve.

On February 9, a bipartisan group of initial Senate and House sponsors introduced the Strengthening Local Processing Act, (S. 354 and H.R. 945) a marker bill that would build decentralized meat processing infrastructure, a vital component for resilient local and regional food systems that bring fresh food to families and continue to do so through disruptions like the covid-19 pandemic.  Some key provisions of this bill include:

  • $20 million in competitive grants to new and existing small and very small meat processing facilities for covid-19 recovery and infrastructure development.
  • College and university training programs in meat processing.
  • $10 million in funding to NGOs and small/very small businesses to offset the costs of training new meat processing personnel.
  • Increase federal cost share for state inspection and cooperative interstate shipment.

Now all we need to do is make sure that the Strengthening Local Processing Act (SLPA) becomes an integral part of the 2023 Farm Bill.  Already, it has substantial bipartisan and bicameral support, including the following original co-sponsors:
House: Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), Jim Baird (R-Indiana), and Dusty Johnson (R-SD)

Senate: Senators John Thune, Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tina Smith (D-Minn), and Angus King (I-Maine)

What you can do:

  • Sign the letter of support for the SLPA.
  • Ask others to sign, especially any livestock farmers, local meat processors, or farming organizations whom you know.  However, all stakeholders – individual and organizational- are invited to sign.
  • Ask your Representative and Senators to co-sponsor the SLPA, S. 354 in the Senate and H.R. 945 in the House.  If you are a small-scale livestock farmer, owner or employee at a small meat processing facility, or a customer seeking local healthful meat, tell your story about how the current supply chain problems have affected you, and how the SLPA would benefit you directly.

More information about the SLPA can be found at this press release as well as the above link to sign the letter of support.

The Next Farm Bill must be a Climate Bill
Add your Name to this Letter to Congress

The Agriculture Resilience Act (ARA) is a key marker bill designed to provide a blueprint for House and Senate Agriculture Committees to design a 2023 Farm Bill that will take effective actions to address the climate crisis in agriculture.  It aims both to make US agriculture climate-neutral by the year 2040 and to help farmers and communities build resilience to the impacts of ongoing and future climate disruptions.

      Thank you to those of you who signed this letter at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) table at our Conference earlier this month, or in response to this notice in the December newsletter.  If you have not signed yet, read on:

Read and sign this letter now to tell Congress: the next farm bill must be a climate bill. The next farm bill is being written now, and we need it to address climate change. Farmers need resources like funding, research, and risk management to implement climate-friendly farming practices. The Agriculture Resilience Act asks Congress to implement these solutions in the next farm bill. Sign on to show your support now: bit.ly/araletter

This letter with its thousands of signatures will be submitted to Congressional decision makers at the upcoming Farmers’ Rally for Resilience.

USDA Program Updates
Farm Loans Just Got Easier
FSA announces plan to streamline application process for direct loans

As part of the Biden Administration’s efforts to make USDA programs more accessible to historically underserved producers, the Farm Services Agency (FSA) has announced a streamlined application process for direct farm loans that will save farmers time and trouble.  Learn more about the new loan application procedures in this February 7 NSAC press release.

USDA Issues its Plan for IRA Funding

On February 13, the USDA announced its plans for utilization of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) funding earmarked for addressing climate issues in agriculture.  This will include increased funding for working lands conservation programs (EQIP and CSP) through each of the States, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), and the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), as well as a special initiative focused on water conservation and drought management in the western region.  Based on this analysis of the announcement, NSAC policy specialist Jesse Womack said that “this funding should make 2023 one of the best years for farmers to utilize conservation programs in a long time.”

USDA Issues Proposed Rule for School Meals
Public comment period through April 10

In addition to raising the bar on nutritional quality of school meals, this new USDA proposed rule would make it easier for public schools to purchase ingredients from local farmers. The Rule is open for public comment through April 10, and the USDA is seeking input on a range of issues including how to provide culturally appropriate meals for Indigenous communities.  For more on the Proposed Rule and issues to address in comments, see this blogpost by Foodcorps.

NSAC Updates
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Meeting

Over 100 people representing 61 NSAC member organizations met in Washington, DC on January 29-February 1 to discuss priorities and strategies for the 2023 Farm Bill, plan for the March 6-8 Rally for Resilience, and meet with Members of Congress and their staff.  We also had a wonderful time reconnecting and spending time together. For more on this event, check out the NSAC winter meeting recap on the Coalition’s blog.

A Critique of Today’s Federal Crop Insurance Program

One of NSAC’s priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill is to implement meaningful reform to the Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP), which was launched in 1938 to help create a safety net for family farms faced with weather disaster, market volatility, or other disruptions that threaten the economic stability of farms.  The FCIP is now the largest Farm Bill program other than the nutrition assistance programs, and a recent NSAC analysis shows that the program currently perpetuates large scale industrial agriculture and unsustainable practices through its lack of reasonable caps on subsidies. While the majority of farms larger than 500 acres purchase FCIP policies, less than one in four farms smaller than 200 acres do so because the program is not accessible to nor well suited for smaller, more diversified farms utilizing sustainable practices.  NSAC’s approach is to seek insurance reforms that make the program available to all farmers, not to discard or defund FCIP.