A former chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service says both the House and Senate farm bills are similar when it comes to reduced funding and consolidation of conservation programs. Bruce Knight, who served as NRCS chief in the Bush administration, gave a synopsis at a Farm Foundation forum on conservation last week.
“The largest difference is whether or not to link conservation compliance to the farm bill,” he said, but he notes that compliance already is linked to shallow loss and marketing loans in both bills.
Knight thinks consolidating conservation programs is a big positive and he believes linking compliance to crop insurance may also be positive in the long run. “That linkage to crop insurance is vitally important long term for being able to defend both crop insurance and farm programs and conservation benefits,” said Knight.
Listen to Knight’s comments here: Former NRCS Chief Bruce Knight at Farm Foundation Forum
USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) representatives were on hand at NAFB Trade Talk last month to discuss the 2013 crop and the 2012 census.
The 2013 harvest is considered completed at this point and Lance Honig with NASS says with a record corn crop and near record soybean crop forecast it’s turned out to be a pretty good year, despite the weather challenges.
“We started one way, we kind of went another way. It’s just the weather shifting throughout the season, but apparently we had enough moisture at the right times to produce a good crop this year”
The November crop production forecast was the final one of the season so Honig says NASS is beginning the process this week of surveying some 80,000 farmers for the final end-of-season numbers coming out January 10.
Listen to my complete interview with Lance here: USDA NASS, Lance Honig
Meanwhile, NASS is also gearing up to release the first numbers from the 2012 Census of Agriculture soon. However, that release is running a little behind schedule due to the two week government shutdown in October. According to Donald Buysse with NASS, the preliminary results are scheduled for release on February 20, 2014 at the Ag Outlook Forum, with the bulk of the data to come later.
Listen to my complete interview with Donald here: USDA NASS, Donald Buysse
2013 NAFB Convention Photo Album
City dwellers as well as farmers need bottom-line returns from over $4 billion invested in federal conservation programs every year. A new “Farm Portfolio” approach shows that the U.S. economy, human health and the environment can benefit in measurable ways from coordinating conservation at all levels.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) highlighted the new six-step approach to focusing conservation programs in a first-of-its-kind Farm Portfolio webinar on Conservation Practices: Farm Fix-it to Farm Portfolio.
Since the 1930s, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has relied on the 9-step conservation plan and its local and state partners to meet with landowners and install conservation practices like field terraces and streambank filter strips. While farm bill conservation programs remain an important component of the new farm portfolio approach, the priority shifts to national-scale environmental outcomes and using resource-driven, data-based professional expertise.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is opening the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) for new enrollments for federal fiscal year 2014. Starting now through Jan. 17, 2014, producers interested in participating in the program can submit applications to NRCS.
Eligible landowners and operators in all states and territories can enroll in CSP through January 17th to be eligible during the 2014 federal fiscal year. While local NRCS offices accept CSP applications year round, NRCS evaluates applications during announced ranking periods.To be eligible for this year’s enrollment, producers must have their applications submitted to NRCS by the closing date.
USDA Rural Development was on hand during last week’s NAFB Trade Talk to share their work with rural communities across the United States and promote the use of #MyFarmBill.
I spoke with Colleen Callahan, Illinois State Director for Rural Development, during the event and she was eager to express their commitment to rural communities and their passion for brining value to agricultural businesses who drive the growth of those rural communities through their financial and loan programs.
“When it comes to the breadth of what USDA does, we at Rural Development feel that we are the jewel in the crown of USDA because it’s not just about any one program or any one business. It’s about entire communities and regions.”
During the Secretary of Agriculture’s press conference at NAFB, Vilsack gave credit to Colleen for her committed work with the National Drought Resiliency partnership. USDA, along with numerous other government organizations have teamed up in effort to become better prepared to mitigate the consequences of future droughts. You can find the complete audio from the press conference here.
You can’t talk with anyone from USDA without bringing up the Farm Bill. Colleen talked about the power of strength in numbers and their promotion of #MyFarmBill. The use of the hashtag will allow us all to express our opinions and share our agriculture story to the decision makers. As one it’s hard to make a stand, but together we can share our words, photos and video using #MyFarmBill to be heard. Colleen also reminds us that this is more than simply a farm bill, it is a food bill. It is about producing food for exports and putting wholesome food on the tables in homes across the country.
“In agriculture during this time of year we use a lot of technology. We use that GPS, we know where we are in the field, what the yield is in that very spot. We use the no-steer guidance to get use where we are at that point in the field and so using that technology helps us with social media. The #MyFarmBill really completes that circle. You’re at the end of the field, you’re unloading, it goes from the augur to the grain cart and you are sitting there watching. Take advantage of the time you have to communicate the business you are in.”
Listen to my complete interview with Colleen here: Interview with Colleen Callahan
Checkout photos from NAFB Convention: 2013 NAFB Convention Photo Album
Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack made a trip to Kansas City to visit with farm broadcasters during the 70th National Association of Farm Broadcasting Annual Convention. The Secretary centered his comments around the RFS announcement, record levels of exports, drought issues and of course, the farm bill.
Vilsack started off by thanking all the farm broadcaster for the work that they do and shared how nice it was to talk to a crowd that understood what truly happens on the farm and appreciates the rural lifestyle.
The first topic Vilsack discussed was his excitement with agricultural exports. He stated, “We have now reached a record level of agricultural exports. Once again, $140.9 billon exports. It’s the best five years of ag exports in the history of the country. If you compare it to the pervious five year period we’ve done $230 billon more of agriculture exports and our volume is up as well.”
Next, the Secretary commented on this mornings announcement about the establishment of the National Drought Resiliency partnership. It is a collaborative effort between the Department of Commerce, Department of Interior, Department of Energy, Army Corp of Engineers, EPA, FEMA and the USDA. The goal with this team effort is to become better prepared and to mitigate the consequences of future droughts.
The final announcement came from the EPA today about RFS. Vilsack said, “At USDA we are going to focus on those aspects of this industry that we can control.” They plan to work with the industry and specifically the larger operators to create a distribution system to increase the availability of ethanol products and not depend on the petroleum industry.
You can listen to the entire press conference here Secretary Vilsack Press Conference
Checkout photos from NAFB Convention: 2013 NAFB Convention Photo Album
Farmers waiting for their Conservation Security or Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) payments should receive them in the coming days. The shutdown of the federal government delayed some of the $907 million in payments from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to CSP participants who have enrolled millions of acres to improve the overall conservation performance of their operations.
The payments are part of a financial assistance program for producers who are already established conservation stewards and are implementing additional conservation activities for higher, farm-level benefits on their property. This work leads to cleaner water and air, healthier soil and enhanced wildlife habitat, while also supporting rural economies.
Funding for other Farm Bill programs expired Sept. 30, including the Conservation Reserve Program, Grassland Reserve Program, Wetland Reserve Program, Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative and Healthy Forests Reserve Program. NRCS is not accepting applications for these programs at this time.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced 14 awards for projects to bring broadband to unserved rural communities. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Utilities Service Administrator John Padalino made the announcement on the Secretary’s behalf while addressing a regional meeting of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association in San Antonio.
USDA is providing $20.3 million in grants through the Community Connect Grant program.
For example, in Tennessee, Scott County Telephone Cooperative has been selected to receive a $2.6 million grant to build a network that will provide free broadband service to essential community facilities such as schools and libraries. The Cooperative also will establish a center where local residents will have access to free internet service for two years.
These are the first awards made under the Community Connect program’s new guidelines that now allow applicants to fund broadband infrastructure for more than one community, and raise the minimum required speed. Projects funded must deliver broadband at five megabits per second (Mbps).
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack highlighted important strides made in offering healthy, local food to millions of school children through USDA’s Farm to School program, and emphasized the program’s role in creating economic opportunity for America’s farmers and ranchers. According to USDA’s first-ever Farm to School Census, in school year 2011-2012, schools participating in farm to school activities purchased and served over $350 million in local food, with more than half of participating schools planning to purchase even more local foods in future school years.
Forty-three percent of public school districts across the country reported having an existing farm to school program in place, with another 13 percent of school districts surveyed committed to launching a farm to school program in the near future.
Interest in local products spans the school meal tray, with fruits, vegetables, and milk topping the list of local products currently offered in schools across the country, while census respondents indicate an interest in local plant-based proteins, grains and flour, and meat and poultry in the future.
Recently the PLANTS website crossed a milestone with the uploading of its 50,000th image. The database, managed by the National Plant Data Team at the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s East National Technology Support Center, hosts images of plants that grow in the U.S. and its territories.
The PLANTS site is one of USDA’s most frequently visited websites.
Besides images, PLANTS provides basic information on plants, including scientific names and distribution. It is used worldwide by scientists, educators, conservationists, students, farmers, horticulturists and others. All of this information assists people in identifying plants with the correct scientific names.
The correct identification of plants can be a serious business. For example, farmers and gardeners need to be able to properly identify weeds so they can take the appropriate steps to control them. Plant identification could even mean the difference between life and death. For example, edible parsley (Petroselinum crispum) and carrot (Daucus carota) are closely related and are similar in appearance to water hemlock (Cicuta maculata) and poison hemlock (Conium maculatum), two species that can be fatal if eaten.
A USDA Agricultural Research Service scientist is working with Monsanto to develop a kit that cotton growers could use to determine whether weeds in their fields are glyphosate resistant. Don Parker, Manager of Integrated Pest Management for the National Cotton Council, explains that early detection is key in managing glyphosate-resistant weeds.
“If a resistant weed is detected early, alternative measures can be employed to try to prevent the spread of that resistance,” he says.
Parker says scientists can determine the resistance to glyphosate in a weed by measuring the amount of the compound shikimate in the tissue. Glyphosate interferes with the production of aromatic amino acids through the shikimate pathways in weeds. “Glyphosate disrupts this pathway, causing shikimate to accumulate so plants susceptible to glyphosate will have high levels of shikimate, while resistant plants will not.”
He says the current detection methods for detecting shikimate takes sophisticated lab work that can take weeks. But this new method can return results in about 24 hours.
Farmers, ranchers and small businesses in rural areas of 22 states will benefit from projects designed to use energy more efficiently, as well as making sure renewable energy from rural America is a significant part of the mix. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the latest round of grants and loans being made available through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).
“REAP continues to help farmers and rural businesses reduce their energy consumption and by doing so, improve the bottom line of their operations,” [Acting Under Secretary for Rural Development Doug] O’Brien said. “This important Farm Bill program and others like it would not be available without a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill.”
A good portion of the REAP funds are going to make operations more efficient, including nearly $110,000 to increase the energy output from an anaerobic digester in Vermont, more than $66,000 for energy efficiency improvements for a Georgia poultry farm, and improvements to a California farm’s food refrigeration system, not to mention dozens of renewable energy projects that include more than $31,000 for some E85 and biodiesel blender dispensers in Iowa and almost $60,000 to purchase equipment to make biodiesel in Indiana.
You can see the entire list of projects here.
Recently released USDA Farm Service Agency data demonstrates a rapid conversion of non-cropland to cropland. Center for Rural Affairs analysis of the 2012 data reveals the importance of inclusion of a national Sodsaver provision in the Farm Bill that would help address the significant loss of grasslands by ratcheting down subsidized crop insurance on cropland converted from native prairie.
“This data shows grassland and other newly broken land converted to cropland in 2012 totals nearly 400,000 acres across the country. Nebraska led the way with over 54,000 acres of new land broken out for cropland,” Traci Bruckner, Assistant Director of Rural Policy, Center for Rural Affairs.
According to Bruckner, the Senate version of the Farm Bill includes a national Sodsaver provision. The House version includes a Sodsaver provision as well, but it is limited to the portions of five states that are in the Prairie Pothole Region of the Northern Great Plains.
“This data could not be more timely for the farm bill debate, nor could it more clearly make the case for a national Sodsaver provision,” noted Bruckner. Bruckner continued, “Of the five states with the most acres of land converted – Nebraska, South Dakota, Texas, Florida, and Iowa – only two have a small portion of the state in the Prairie Pothole Region, most of the states near the top of the list, and a majority of converted acres are outside that scope.”
Bruckner’s analysis concludes that limiting the Sodsaver provision to the five state Prairie Pothole Region would provide inadequate protection for native grassland.
The tales of young, tech-savvy entrepreneurs launching new ventures out of Silicon Valley are common. But what about three 20-something brothers who live – not in some high tech mecca – but near the small community of Wilderado, Texas, who started a new business venture?
The Gruhlkey brothers – Brittan, 24, Braden, 25, and Cameron, 20 – are farming cotton, corn, sorghum and wheat while showing how technology plays an important role in farming. The average age of Texas farmers is nearly 60 years old, making their enterprise a unique one and they’re doing this amid huge challenges, including an ongoing drought and a growing demand for water.
These technological advancements allow them to better water and feed their crops. Through subsurface drip irrigation, they can deliver water uniformly across the field and directly to the root of the plant to use water more efficiently. Through this irrigation system, they can schedule when plants are watered and eliminate overwatering.
In addition to this conservation work, the Gruhlkeys are also working with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to manage crop residue, rotate crops, plant cover crops, control weeds, provide plants for pollinators and use no-till and strip till methods. These efforts benefit their farm and the environment. They conserve resources, provide homes for pollinators, conserve soil moisture, maintain ground cover, prevent soil erosion and improve air quality.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack and Coca-Cola Americas President Steve Cahillane announced a public-private partnership to restore and protect damaged watersheds on national lands. Together these efforts aim to return more than a billion liters of water to the National Forest System – which provides drinking water to more than 60 million Americans. The announcement was made at Midewin Tallgrass Prairie in Illinois.
“By working together, we can better protect our nation’s watersheds and further enhance restoration efforts, even during challenging budget times,” said Secretary Vilsack. “Today’s partnership between Federal, private and non-profit partners is just one example of the strong collaboration that allows government to continue providing results for the American people.”
The new collaboration between government, business and community organizations, including the National Forest Foundation (NFF) and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), which have also contributed funding for these projects, will leverage collective expertise to address increasing challenges on water resources. Additionally, federal dollars spent on these projects have been matched two-to-one by Coca-Cola, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the National Forest Foundation.
The U.S. Forest Service and Coca-Cola are committed to continuing their work together to sustain our nation’s water supply. The organizations signed an agreement formalizing their partnership to continue collaboration through 2018.