Spring has finally arrived. For farmers this is an especially busy time, with greenhouses to tend, manure and fertilizer applications to get down and ground to prep for plantings.
It gives us little time to sift through the more than 1,200 pages of documents that comprise the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s proposed Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). FSMA was signed into law in 2011 and gives FDA far-reaching control over the growing, harvesting and processing of fresh produce. The rule as proposed will put a significant economic and regulatory burden on every farm growing food and feed in the region.
New England Famers Union (NEFU) has worked diligently to understand the implications of the proposed rule on our region’s farmers. FDA originally set the comment period to close on May 16 — the peak of planting season for our producers. NEFU has advocated strongly for an extension to this comment period and I am relieved to say that we have secured an extension.
We’ve also been busy in other policy areas. We submitted comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in support of area producers’ right to withdraw water from the Connecticut River for agricultural purposes. We supported the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association (CCCGA) in requesting that USDA purchase cranberries through the Commodity Procurement program.
NEFU is also seeking support for the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act (LFFJA) of 2013, re-introduced by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree of Maine and Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio. See our article. Please build support for this measure by asking your members of Congress to co-sponsor LFFJA.
We welcome Don Badeau, Jr., to NEFU’s board of advisors. Don is a board member of CCCGA, a Plymouth County Soil and Water Conservation District official, and owner and operator of a cranberry farm. Don brings a wealth of experience to our advisory board and we are happy to have him join us. Don replaces Jeff LaFleur, a cranberry grower, past executive director of the CCCGA, and NEFU’s first president. Jeff continues to serve agricultural interests as the executive director the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Districts.
Finally, at the end of March, past president Annie Cheatham stepped down from her role as executive director. Annie had been a driving force in creating NEFU and building the robust organization we have today. Annie may no longer be active in the organization but her passion for the mission of serving New England’s family producers motivates us all.
I will be working closely with Vice President Crowell, our board of directors and staff to ensure a steady and thoughtful transition to the next phase of leadership for NEFU.
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FSMA Proposed Rules Could Stymie New England’s Growers
What’s more than 1,200 pages long, weighs in at least five pounds and could possibly shut you out of New England’s fast-growing local and regional food markets?
Two proposed rules issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Issued in January, the rules are the: 1) Preventive Controls for Human Food, which will regulate farms engaged in even minimal processing or aggregating farm products; and 2) Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption (Produce Standards). The produce rules would impose standards on water used for irrigation, and the use of biological soil amendments including manure and compost. They impose standards for personnel food safety training, equipment and tools, and other practices of specialty crop producers. Three additional sets of rules will be issued, including one that will address how FDA intends to ensure the food safety of imported food.
The New England Farmers Union (NEFU) has been hard at work analyzing these rules and reaching out to New England producers. We are participating in both the New Hampshire Food Safety Task Force and Vermont Food Safety Task Force. We have provided preliminary comments to the Northeast State Departments of Agriculture for an upcoming meeting with FDA and worked with members of Congress to win an extension of the comment period. We have enlisted the aid of a Vermont Law School research and writing class to analyze and comment on key questions of importance to our members.
The rules as proposed will have far-reaching impacts on the size, success and sustainability of farms in New England. They could halt the growth of New England’s local and regional food markets. The rules will drive up the costs of value-added on-farm processing, and fundamentally reshape and lengthen supply chains in New England and the nation. Costs to farmers will be significant: early analysis suggests that compliance with the agricultural water component alone will cost New England farmers relying on river sources for irrigation $13,000 to 15,000. Not only will water-testing requirements be very expensive (the proposed rule recommends five tests per sample site), but the rules are also of questionable scientific value in New England.
After numerous farm organizations, including NEFU and the National Farmers Union, asked that the comment period be extended, FDA announced last week that the May 16, 2013 comment period would be extended by 120 days.
Why should you be concerned about the current proposed rules?
- The rules threaten the development of food hubs and other aggregation, storage and distribution structures that are a fast-growing part of the local and regional food system. Farms or farm facilities that aggregate or sell products of other farms will be subject to the more stringent and more expensive preventive control rules. Food hubs are an important and emerging feature in New England’s regional food system. They enable small farms to capture economies of scale, access institutional and wholesale markets, and address the growing demand for produce from small and mid-size, local farms. Aggregation and minimal processing are common and essential practices for a great number of farms around the country. USDA and the private sector have made significant investments in the development of value-added farm products, food hubs and cooperative marketing structures.
The proposed rule does not define a food hub, and it does not provide clear guidance for the many types of legal structures, ownership models, producer contracts, activities, end users, and settings to be found among food hubs. FDA must clarify these issues and create group compliance standards for food hubs and other aggregators such as producer co-ops and multi-farm CSAs. Without group compliance opportunities, the cost of operating these structures will become too high, and small and mid-scale farms will lose market opportunities.
- The proposed rules shrink the hard-won exemptions and alternative compliance measures for small farms that market primarily direct to consumers, co-ops and restaurants. The rules exempt farms with annual sales of less than $25,000 from compliance and reporting. There is also a qualified exemption for farms that sell direct-to-consumers with average annual monetary sales of less than $500,000. But sales of all human or animal food are included when determining exemption eligibility – sales of milk, maple syrup, potatoes, hay, and silage, as well as produce are all counted. The rule allows FDA to withdraw the qualified exemption without specifying any conduct or criteria for withdrawal. FDA staff on a conference call sponsored by the Produce Safety Alliance indicated that farms not in compliance with the standards imposed by the rule might lose the exemption. Farmers then, run the risk of losing an exemption for failing to comply with a rule from which they are exempt.
- The FDA has sidestepped the preparation of both an Environmental Impact Statement and a Regulatory Impact Statement. These rules will have a significant environmental impact. The rules favor the use of chemical fertilizers over biological soil amendments and encourage chemical treatment of water used for irrigation. The rules will also have a significant impact on farm viability and land use in New England. The rules regarding wildlife intrusion will impact traditional conservation practices and counter incentives to create wildlife habitat on farms. This rule also places a disproportionately high financial and regulatory burden on very small and small business. (FDA acknowledges that FSMA may drive some farms out of business.) It will also stymie growth in one of the fastest growing segments of the specialty crop market; demand for local produce. According to the Office of Management and Budget this rule is subject to Congressional review under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Act.
NEFU is developing web-based materials to help producers submit comments to the FDA. Farmers need to make good use of the extended comment period to learn more and comment. You can comment more than once. See our FSMA alert for more information and to comment.
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Bill Would Support Local Farms, Food and Jobs
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree of Maine and Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio have re-introduced the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act (LFFJA) of 2013. With support, this Act would be included in the five-year farm bills the Senate and House will be developing this year. The LFFJA will expand market opportunities for farmers, create new jobs and increase access to fresh and local fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products for consumers in New England. The New England Farmers Union urges every member of the New England Congressional delegation to co-sponsor this important bill.
LFFJA is a comprehensive approach to supporting local and regional food systems affecting almost every title of the 2013 Farm Bill. The Act would:
- Invest in critical infrastructure to enable farmers and food businesses to aggregate, store and distribute their products;
- Enhance technical assistance and guidance provided by the Food Safety Inspection Service to small and very small meat and poultry processing facilities;
- Renew mandatory farm bill funding for programs left behind in the 2013 Farm Bill extension, including the Value Added Producer Grant Program, the National Organic Certification Cost Share program and the Farmers Market Promotion Program;
- Provide significant resources to low-income seniors and create incentives for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets;
- Allow SNAP beneficiaries to use their benefits to purchase shares in a Community Supported Agriculture farm;
- Allow some small, rural schools to make their own purchases of local food for school lunches instead of participating in USDA commodity food distribution programs;
- Improve crop insurance products available to small and diversified family farms.
Consumer demand for local and regional foods is creating new markets for farmers in New England. This Act helps farmers access these markets and helps consumers of all means obtain local food. Food system infrastructure investments (like those envisioned in the Act) are driving economic growth in agriculture and in our rural and urban communities. The 2013 Farm Bill needs to reflect the importance of local and regional markets and crops to our New England producers and consumers.
Please call your members of Congress and ask them to co-sponsor the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act of 2013. See our LFFJA Action Alert for more information.
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Profile: Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union President
For Roger Johnson, president of National Farmers Union (NFU), the book that describes the organization’s policies serves as his metaphorical bible.
“There isn’t a day I don’t go to the National Farmers Union policy book to guide me,” says Johnson, who works in Washington, D.C., representing family farmers in the national conversation about agricultural policy. With a deep respect for the grass-roots democratic process, Johnson ensures that every position articulated by his office reflects the interests of NFU’s membership. These interests are articulated in NFU’s policy book. Delegates from all 26 NFU state and local chapters convene annually to set policy priorities. Johnson, who was elected president of the National Farmers Union in 2009, implements their priorities.
“An issue comes up,” says Johnson, “And we go to the policy book. It provides the clarity for NFU’s position – whether to sign, or opine or not.”
Johnson grew up in North Dakota on the diversified family farm that his grandfather first homesteaded more than 100 years ago, and which he still owns.
“My dad farmed it, I farmed it and now my nephew farms it.” They grow small grains, row crops and livestock.
And while he grew up on the farm, Johnson grew up in the Farmers Union. He attended Farmers Union youth programs and then worked as a Farmers Union camp counselor during college. He even lived at a Farmers Union Co-op house on the campus of North Dakota State, the land grant university where he earned his degree in agricultural economics.
Growing up, Johnson saw how important the Farmers Union was for family farmers. He says that all the cities across the upper Midwest had “oil companies” where farmers bought all their supplies: tires, oil, feed, everything. Most of these were co-operatives (a co-op is set up to serve the needs of its members), which gave the farmers more bargaining power and leverage when purchasing supplies.
“The grain elevators, the livestock auction markets, the oil companies – these were all cooperatives and many of them had the Farmers Union name,” said Johnson. “They helped the farmers manage in a concentrated marketplace.”
After graduating college, Johnson returned to his family’s farm and joined the New Home Farmers Union. At that time, the Farmers Union was organized down to the local level in North Dakota, and New Home was a township-based chapter. Soon Johnson was elected as a representative to the McLean County Farmers Union. In the 1980s, he joined the board of the Turtle Lake Farmers Union Oil Company and soon was elected its president. (Today, Turtle Lake Oil Co. is an affiliate of Cenex and continues to operate as a co-operative.)
But the 1980s were difficult years for farmers. Johnson worked during the winters as a credit counselor, using his financial skills to help struggling farmers negotiate with banks to prevent foreclosures. Over time, the state program was renamed the Agriculture Mediation Program, and Johnson was asked to run it on a part-time basis. Johnson felt that advocacy work didn’t mix with the mediation work he was doing. But this didn’t mean he stepped away from Farmers Union.
“I never missed a Farmer Union meeting,” says Johnson. “Except the winter of 1997 when a blizzard kept more than half of North Dakota farmers home.”
As president, Roger draws on his farming experience and his history with the Farmers Union. But his ability to focus on issues instead of politics is the hallmark of his success.
Johnson’s advocacy work started early in his career, when he worked with the North Dakota Farmers Union (NDFU) to stop a massive government construction project that involved diverting Mississippi River water from the dry western portion of the state to the wetter eastern portion. Farmers Union broke the story, which led to a decades-long fight.
“That experience really influenced my view of advocacy,” said Johnson. “I learned that advocacy can mean standing up for something in the face of very strong opposition. And I realized the power of the Farmers Union voice.”
Johnson’s signature advocacy issue is corporate farming. With leadership from NDFU, a statute was put on the North Dakota books in 1932 requiring corporations to divest of land holdings. There have been regular challenges to the statue – in 1968 and 1979, but the Farmers Union has stood strong.
“Due to the strength of the Farmers Union network – and our ability to be non-partisan – we have been able to withstand challenges to the corporate farming statute.” To this day, outsider ownership of North Dakota farmland is illegal.
Thanks in part to the strength of the Farmers Union network, Johnson was elected as the North Dakota agriculture commissioner in 1996.
“I was elected as agriculture commissioner as a Democrat in a very Republican state,” says Johnson. This was possible because of the relationships that I had established through my work in Farmers Union.” Johnson was elected agriculture commissioner for four terms. He also served on the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), as chairman of the Rural Development and Financial Security Committee from 2000-2007, and as president from 2007-2008. He played a key role in crafting the 2008 Farm Bill, pressing for provisions that benefit agricultural producers.
In 2009, Johnson was elected the 14th President of NFU. In this role, Johnson is eager to build membership so that there’s a strong voice to guide the organization. The New England chapter, which was chartered during the first year of Roger’s presidency, is a relatively young organization. Even so, Johnson says, New England delegates are influencing the national policy priorities.
“I hope that all of New England’s farmers and fishermen realize the opportunity that they have to influence policy through the New England Famers Union,” says Johnson. With its grass-roots process, NFU has adopted policies brought forth by NEFU delegates related to food safety, local foods and fisheries.
“No organization I have ever seen can legitimately claim the grass-roots heritage that NFU can,” says Johnson. “Grass-roots advocacy is in our DNA.” The grass-roots process creates the policy book that guides Johnson every day. It seems that grass-roots advocacy is in Johnson’s DNA, too.
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Come Celebrate the Tenure of Annie Cheatham
Come celebrate the tenure of Annie Cheatham as Executive Director of the New England Farmers Union.
Sunday, April 28, 5 to 8 pm
Grace Episcopal Church Parish Hall*
14 Spring Street, Amherst MA
Please bring a potluck dish for 6 to 8 people.
Beverages (beer, wine and non-alcoholic drinks) will be provided.
RSVP to Kate Snyder by Wednesday, April 24. Seating is limited so please reserve early.
I/We would like to make a tax-deductible contribution to the NEFU Education Foundation in Annie’s honor.
Thanks for your support!
Please become a member of New England Farmers Union!.
Join easily online
*The church is on the corner of Boltwood Ave. and Spring Street. Parish Hall entrance is on Spring Street. Directions
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Census Forms: It’s Not Too Late
Farmers and ranchers are not missing an opportunity to have their voices heard and their farms represented in the 2012 Census of Agriculture. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), almost 1.5 million Census forms were submitted by farmers, helping ensure communities and agricultural industry have a voice in the future. For producers who missed the February 4 deadline, NASS is alerting them that it’s not too late to be counted.
The deadline for submitting Census forms was February 4, and many producers have responded. However, those who have not responded will receive a second copy of the form in the mail to give them another opportunity. Farmers can return their forms by mail or online by visiting a secure website, www.agcensus.usda.gov. Federal law requires all agricultural producers to participate in the Census and requires NASS to keep all individual information confidential.
Farmers that did not receive a questionnaire in the mail can still sign up to get one by registering at https://www.agcounts.usda.gov/cgi-bin/counts/. They can enter their contact information and NASS will mail them a questionnaire.
If you have questions about the Census or need help filling out your form, visit www.agcensus.usda.gov or call 1-888-4AG-STAT (1-888-424-7828).
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National Farmers Union Hails Recent Prgress in Agriculure Labor Policy
National Farmers Union Applauds USDA Streamlining REAP Application Process
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In the News
Food Rights Hour podcast is about the National Farmers Union’s endorsement of raw milk.
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Tools for Growth
USDA Microloan Program
On January 15, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a new microloan program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) designed to help small and family operations, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers secure loans under $35,000. The new microloan program is aimed at bolstering the progress of producers through their start-up years by providing needed resources and helping to increase equity so that farmers may eventually graduate to commercial credit and expand their operations. The microloan program will also provide a less burdensome, more simplified application process in comparison to traditional farm loans. To learn more and begin the application process, contact your local Farm Service Agency Office.
New England Farmland Finder
This is a new online service that helps farmers and landowners find each other. Farmers looking for land? Land looking for farmers? This farm property clearinghouse is free, simple, up-to-date, and privacy protected. It contains information and resource links to inform and support farm seekers and landowners.
Field Guide to the New American Foodshed
This is a field guide to finance and accessing support resources developed by Farm Credit, Eco Farm, Greenhorns, MOSES, the Wallace Center and many other partners. It was funded by Risk Management at the USDA. Recruiting new farmers is a good way to reduce risk in the US food system.
Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass
Tools to learn about how the USDA and federal partners support local and regional food economies. Explore the map to see what projects are happening near you.
Specialty Crop Grants
The Connecticut Department of Agriculture is requesting concept proposal for projects that solely enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops. Proposals are due by April 30, 2013. Specialty crops are defined by the USDA as fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, tree nuts, maple syrup, honey, horticulture, and nursery crops. Proposed projects must produce measurable out-comes for the specialty crop industry and/or public, must begin after January 1, 2014, and may last up to three years. The maximum award is $75,000. For more information and complete application guidelines, visit the Department of Agriculture’s website, www.ctgrown.gov/grants, or contact Jaime Smith at 860-713-2559 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Food Safety Modernization Act and How It May Impact NH’s Farms and Conservation Efforts in NH, April 26th
Grafton County Conservation District, Plymouth State University Center for Rural Partnerships, UNH Cooperative Extension (UNH CE) Grafton County, New England Farmers Union and Natural Resources Conservation Service will be partnering to present two informational sessions on the Food Safety Modernization Act.
Healthcare without Harm’s CleanMed 2013, Boston, April 24-26.
Advocacy Panel: NEFU and Young Farmer Network, Anawan Grange, Rehoboth, MA, May 2, 6-8:30 pm
Local Food for Schools, Hospitals and Other Institutions, PVGrows, UMass Amherst, MA, May 22, 9 am-1:30 pm
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