Local Foods Bill Will Provide Healthy Food and Create Jobs
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Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME) introduced the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 yesterday in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The two identical bills expand business and marketing opportunities for farmers and ranchers while increasing consumer access to healthy foods. The legislation addresses production, aggregation, processing, marketing and distribution barriers that limit growth in local and regional food markets. The bill also makes targeted investments in programs that create jobs and spur economic growth through food and farms.
“We applaud Representative Pingree and Senator Brown for reintroducing this legislation,” said Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “Local and regional agriculture is a major driver in the farm economy, yet producers face significant infrastructure, marketing, and information barriers. The bill addresses those barriers and makes smart investments that expand economic opportunities for farmers, increase jobs and improve healthy food access in rural and urban America.”
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has been closely involved in the development of the bill. Originally introduced in 2011, the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act gained the support of nearly 100 legislative co-sponsors and more than 280 organizational supporters in the previous Congress. Due to Congress’ inability to finalize a new five-year farm bill in 2012, an updated version of the bill is being reintroduced this year and is intended for inclusion in what will hopefully be the 2013 Farm Bill.
“This bill will improve the economics of farming in Maine and across the country,” commented Maine organic farmer Sarah Smith, who joined Rep. Pingree, Sen. Brown and Chef Tom Colicchio on Capitol Hill for the reintroduction of the bill. “Passage of the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act will mean more jobs and income for farming communities nationwide and greater availability of high quality locally and regionally produced food for consumers.”
The Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act includes provisions in seven different titles of the Farm Bill, including proposals that address crop insurance, credit, nutrition, rural development, research and extension, horticulture and livestock. Many of the bill’s provisions were included in either or both the Senate-passed and House Agriculture Committee-passed farm bills in 2012.
The bill also invests in several sustainable agriculture programs that were left stranded and without funding by the 2008 Farm Bill extension passed earlier this year, including the Farmers Market Promotion Program, National Organic Certification Cost Share Program and Value-Added Producer Grants.
“For an investment of just more than $100 million a year, the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act can help a growing sector of the food system flourish,” said Hoefner. “This investment is tiny in overall farm bill terms—roughly one-tenth of one percent of total farm bill spending—but big in its power to deliver real, lasting and market-based benefits to farmers, consumers and communities.”
Some of the specific proposals within the bill include:
Whole Farm Revenue Insurance for Diversified Operations
The bill would direct U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Risk Management Agency to develop a Whole Farm Diversified Risk Management insurance product that is available in all states and all counties. The product is relevant to all diversified operations, including, but not limited to, specialty crops and mixed grain-livestock or dairy operations, contract producers, and organic and conventional farms. The new insurance product would be offered at the same buy-up coverage levels as other policies, include a strong crop diversification bonus, and account for all the normal costs involved in moving the crop off the farm and into marketing channels.
The bill will improve institutional access to local and regional foods through a series of provisions regarding school meal procurement. For example, the bill would create USDA pilot projects through which school systems could experiment with local food procurement and would allow small school districts to make their own food purchases on an ongoing basis if doing so creates administrative savings.
The bill boosts rural investment by restoring funding for the Value-Added Producer Grant program to $20 million a year and improving its delivery, with an emphasis on regional market and supply chains. The bill also strengthens the Business and Industry Loan funding set-aside for local and regionally produced agriculture products and food enterprises, and provides authority for local and regional food system funding under Rural Business Opportunity Grants, Rural Business Enterprise Grants and Community Facility Grants and Loans.
Farmers Markets and Local Food
The legislation will establish $20 million a year in mandatory farm bill direct funding for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program. The expanded program will support direct farmer-to-consumer marketing but also will provide grants to scale up local and regional food enterprises, including processing, distribution, aggregation, storage, and marketing. Fifty percent of funding will go to direct marketing, with the remaining 50 percent to local and regional food system development beyond direct marketing, including institutional and retail value chains and markets.
The bill also increases funding for the Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program and provides funding for incentives through the SNAP program to encourage low-income consumers to purchase healthy local food directly from local farmers.
Specialty Crop Block Grant Program
The bill would expand the purpose of the Specialty Crop Block Grant program to include the consumption and availability of local/regional specialty crops, the profitability and ecological sustainability of specialty crops and the affordability of specialty crops for low-income consumers.
National Organic Certification Cost Share Program
The legislation includes a provision to streamline and renew funding for national organic certification cost share to assist organic producers with the annual regulatory costs of producing certified organic products.
Assistance to Small and Very Small Meat and Poultry Processors
The bill improves market access for local and regional livestock and poultry producers by enhancing USDA’s technical assistance and guidance to such facilities. It also helps farmers, ranchers and small local processors by providing greater public information from USDA on approved meat labels.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.