October Policy Updates

By October 18, 2019Policy

Farmer Letter on Climate Change Solutions in Agriculture


As the Virginia drought grinds on (or – hopefully – breaks by the time you read this!), wildfires rage in southern California, and a freak October blizzard dips into the Dakotas, VABF and other NSAC groups continue to gather signatures on our Farmer Statement on Climate Change.   As organic and sustainable farmers and land stewards, we can make our farms and communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change and help sequester some of the excess atmospheric carbon dioxide in the ground.  But we cannot do it alone. Over the coming months, thousands of producers across the nation are sending the following message lawmakers and federal program administrators requesting their help.


We, the undersigned farmers and ranchers, write to express our deep concerns about climate change impacts on agriculture in the United States and to call for solutions that invest in our rural and agricultural communities.

Agriculture is on the front lines of a changing climate.  For full text of the letter see [link]


Thank you to the dozen or so folks who have already signed the letter through the links on the VABF web site.


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), and find yourself in alignment with the above statement, sign on at the following links:





For more info on this campaign, check out this FAQ developed by NSAC.

Farm to School Programs

Ask our Senators and Representatives to support the Farm to School Act of 2019 and the Kids Eat Local Act


The Farm to School movement has gained momentum in recent years in DC and across the nation.  As Congress gets to work on the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR), bipartisan sponsors in both chambers have introduced the Farm to School Act of 2019 (S. 2026, H.R. 3562) and Kids Eat Local Act (S.1817, H.R. 3230), which provide a blueprint for supporting farm to school work in the next CNR.   In addition to improving child nutrition, these measures will open new market opportunities for farmers.  Call your Representative and Senators and ask them to support these bills. For more information, see https://sustainableagriculture.net/take-action/.


In September, the National Farm to School Network (NFSN, an NSAC member) brought three Farm to School activists to Washington, DC to tell their stories and advocate for increased federal funding for farm-to school programs in the CNR.  Their stories are summarized in a recent NSAC blog post at https://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/farm-to-school-month-kick-off/.


Debra Tropp, who recently retired after 26 years’ service as Deputy Director of Local Food Research and Development, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, has written a historical review of Farm to School programs and projects in the US, which was posted on October 4 at https://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/untold-history-of-farm-to-school-program/.



USDA Research News

Exciting Developments – and One Big Caveat


The USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) recently published a report entitled An Overview of Beginning Farms and Farmers, which provides vital information on the economic challenges that new and beginning producers face, and the strategies they employ to meet them.  This is just one example of how the work of ERS helps shape federal policy and other USDA programing to better serve our nation’s producers and rural communities.  For more, see https://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/beginning-farmer-analysis-highlights-ers-value/.


The USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) recently announced awards under the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) and Organic Transitions Program (ORG) for the 2019 funding cycle.  OREI will fund 19 new projects (total $18.8 M), including $499,646 to the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) and Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) to conduct farmer surveys and listening sessions and identify organic farmer priorities for plant breeding and other research.  Other OREI projects include vegetable-poultry integrated systems for soil health and nutrient cycling, organic IPM for citrus greening, a renewal grant for a promising tomato breeding and disease IPM program, and more.


ORG will fund 11 new projects (total $5.3 M) with a strong emphasis on soil biology, soil health, and nutrient and disease management.  Examples include soil microbiome management for disease control in strawberry, conservation of beneficial soil fungi, and several studies to optimize cover crop selection and management.  For more on OREI and ORG awards see https://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/24m-orei-awards-2019/.


NIFA also recently announced eight large awards (up to $10 M each) for the new Sustainable Agriculture Systems program within the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).  In one project, NSAC members Michael Fields Agriculture Institute and Wallace Center will work with University of Wisconsin in an endeavor to help Midwest producers to convert from grain-based to grass-based livestock production.  A second award to Pennsylvania State University will fund endeavors to enhance productivity, nutrient and water efficiency, and ecosystem services from urban agriculture in the Chesapeake Bay region.  For more on this new AFRI program, see



And here is the caveat:  the abrupt relocation of NIFA and ERS to Kansas City will make it especially difficult for the agencies to administer these exciting new awards and to disburse grant funds to project teams in a timely manner.  Already, half of the 280 ERS employees have retired or sought other employment, and only 7 percent have moved out to Kansas City to retain their positions.  NIFA has suffered similar staff attrition.



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 https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/soil-and-water/costshar2. To apply, visit your Soil and Water Conservation District office. 


Southern SARE Producer Grant Proposals are due November 15.  Grants, up to $15K for individuals and $20K for organizations, support producers to research and develop sustainable, practical solutions to production challenges.


Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) offers funding for on-farm renewable energy (solar, wind, biomass, other) or energy efficiency improvement, including small grants (up to $20K) for producers.  Two application periods close on Oct 31 and March 31.  For more info, visit https://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/reap-rfp-for-rural-renewable-energy-projects/.


NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) is open for applications through December 3.  RCPP supports farmer organizations and coops, universities, and state/local governments in collaborative, innovative endeavors to address regional conservation issues.

More info at: https://www.grants.gov/web/grants/search-grants.html?keywords=10.932.  For more on state RCPP in Virginia, contact Stacey Bradshaw or Julie Hawkins at Virginia NRCS office, 804-287-1692.


Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) RFA for 2020 open through Feb 13, 2020.  http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/14-million-available-to-help-train-the-next-generation-of-farmers/.


Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Foundational grants.  RFA for 2020 open through March 19. http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/afri-foundational-rfa/.


Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI). RFA for 2020 open through January 23.  http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/fy2010-fy2020-orei-rfa/.





National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is Hiring


National Sustainable Agriculture coalition is hiring a Policy Director.  For more information, see https://sustainableagriculture.net/about-us/jobs/.




Join the VABF Policy Team E-mail List Serve


The VABF policy team has established an e-mail list serve for any VABF members who would like to stay up to date on policy developments for family farms and sustainable/ organic agriculture, and engage in dialogue on policy advocacy issues.  If you would like to join, contact Jill Auburn at Jill.auburn@verizon.net.


By: Mark Schonbeck