American Farmland Trust’s Farm Policy Roundup will not be published the next two weeks as we observe the holidays. The next issue will be sent on January 10.
The U.S. Senate adjourned today leaving unfinished reauthorization of the Farm Bill. Negotiators appear to be very close to reaching agreement across all parts of the bill, but a handful of issues remain that must be settled by a vote of the Farm Bill conference committee. With Congress leaving Capitol Hill for the holidays, no activity is expected on the Farm Bill until next year.
There has been much speculation about what will happen with farm and food legislation expired and the threat of returning to permanent laws established in the 1930’s and 40’s. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has indicated that it is prepared to implement permanent law if it does not appear the Farm Bill will pass early in 2014.
The Farm Bill is expected to be a top legislative priority when Congress returns. The conference committee is expected to meet sometime the week of January 6 for votes on remaining issues, and then details of the final conference agreement are expected to be made public. Floor votes on the House and Senate floor would occur sometime later in January.
American Farmland Trust will provide quick analysis of the final Farm Bill agreement once it is available.
Congress Passes Two-Year Budget
The House and Senate sent a two-year budget agreement to the President this week, laying the groundwork for appropriators to finalize spending ahead of the January 15 deadline when the current continuing resolution expires.
The budget agreement contains the controversial conservation technical assistance user fee which would charge farmers and ranchers seeking to create a conservation plan. The user fee would assess $150 per conservation plan and is estimated to save $40 million over ten years. If the fee is implemented, the Secretary will have authority to waive the fee in the case of beginning farmers or underserved farmers, and also for farmers seeking to maintain eligibility for Farm Bill financial assistance. Revenue generated by the user fee would be deposited in the U.S. Treasury subject to appropriation.
American Farmland Trust remains opposed to the technical assistance user fee and is working with USDA and our partners to understand how this fee, if implemented, will impact farmers seeking access to technical assistance.
FDA to Revise Food Safety Rules for Fresh Produce
The Food and Drug Administration this week announced that it will revise rules for produce safety issued earlier this year. American Farmland Trust commented on the proposed produce safety rule earlier this year, urging the FDA to provide additional analysis on the economic and environmental impact to farms.
FDA Deputy Administrator for Foods and Veterinary Medicine Michael Taylor issued a statement saying, “Based on our discussions with farmers, the research community and other input we have received, we have learned a great deal, and our thinking has evolved. Everyone shares the goal of ensuring produce safety, but, as we said at the beginning of the process, the new safety standards must be flexible enough to accommodate reasonably the great diversity of the produce sector, and they must be practical to implement.”
“To achieve this goal, we believe that significant changes will be needed in key provisions of the two proposed rules affecting small and large farmers. These provisions include water quality standards and testing, standards for using raw manure and compost, certain provisions affecting mixed-use facilities, and procedures for withdrawing the qualified exemption for certain farms. We have heard the concern that these provisions, as proposed, would not fully achieve our goal of implementing the law in a way that improves public health protections while minimizing undue burden on farmers and other food producers.”
FDA plans make significant changes to key provisions and will issue revised proposed rule language by early summer 2014. FDA will seek comment on the revised proposed rule, allowing the public the opportunity to provide input.
American Farmland Trust Sponsoring National Women’s Conference
American Farmland Trust is joining with National Farmers Union and Annie’s Project in sponsoring the NFU National Women’s Conference in January 2014. The conference will be held January 11-14 in Clearwater Beach, Fla.
The conference will provide participants with critical information to allow them to make financial and strategic decisions for their operations. Participants will hear presenters and panels who will offer real-life examples, and will participate in active learning modules to better understand risk management. Teaching will focus on five areas of risk as defined by the USDA and include topics of farm finances, crop insurance, land stewardship, budgeting and cash flow, marketing, farm transfer and estate planning, business planning, generational issues, and action planning.
Susan Sink, American Farmland Trust Vice President for Development and External Relations, will provide a keynote address to the conference on Tuesday, January 14. Registration is open and materials are available from National Farmers Union.
November 2013 Warmest on Record
According to analysis recently released by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), November 2013 was the warmest November for global average temperatures since the government began recordkeeping in 1880.
In its monthly state of the climate report, NOAA also indicated that 2013 is on track to be the fourth warmest year on record. The monthly update also predicts a worsening drought in the western U.S., particularly in California.