Farm Bill Extension in Fiscal Cliff Deal a Disgrace
Buried in the 150-page “fiscal cliff” tax bill passed New Year's Day is a last-minute farm bill extension that buys time for Congress to craft and debate food and farm policy for the long haul since they failed to complete a much-needed overhaul of the federal farm programs in 2012.
Instead of eliminating the wasteful direct payments program, the bill passed by Congress cuts funding for organic agriculture, clean water and beginning farmer initiatives. The extension perpetuates the widely discredited direct payment farm subsidies that will send $5 billion this year alone to large farming operations that already reap record profits.
This move short-changed American farmers and consumers, according to Justin Tatham, senior Washington representative for the Union of Concerned Scientists Food and Environment Program.
“The Farm Bill extension included in the fiscal cliff package is a disgrace. For half a year, the Senate and House debated versions of a new Farm Bill that would have made some progress toward eliminating subsidies for Big Ag and shifting incentives to healthy food and smart, sustainable farming practices. But Republican leadership copped out at the last second. Support for healthy farms became agricultural runoff, while massive commodity subsidies remain in place," said Tatham.
“Incentives for fruit and vegetable production and much-needed programs that protect our air, water and soil will now lose funding. The Farm Bill extension is a blow to farmers who want to grow healthy foods and the consumers who want to buy them," continued Tatham.
According to Craig Cox, senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources at the Environmental Working Group, “This extension reflects the skewed priorities that continue to produce a totally unbalanced farm and food policy. Soil erosion, land conversion and water pollution from farm chemicals are enormous challenges. Yet this extension will hobble a major conservation program, while channeling billions in cash payments to already highly profitable farm businesses. It makes little sense to cut support for organics—the fastest growing sector of the agriculture economy—and to curtail a long list of other initiatives designed to increase access to healthy food and create new economic opportunities for family farms."
“This latest deal underscores for the good food movement why organizations like Food Policy Action are so important to the task of expanding federal government support for innovative food and agriculture policies,” Cox said. “Without significant pressure on Congress and the White House, we can be sure that efforts to improve access to healthy food and reduce dangerous chemicals in the environment will fail.”
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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Noreen Nunez lives in a middle-class neighborhood that rises up a hillside in Trinidad's Tunapuna-Piarco region.