Well it’s time to put the food safety regulations back on the table. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is the first major overhaul of our nation’s food safety practices since 1938, and it authorizes new regulations that will affect certain farmers and certain facilities.
FSMA is not yet law. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed FSMA rules last year establishing standards for produce production (Produce Rule), and food safety measures for facilities that process food for people to eat (Preventive Controls Rule).
But there was a lot of concern with the proposed rules. New England Farmers Union (NEFU) was concerned they could be challenging and costly for our region’s producers, effectively halting the recent growth of our local and regional food systems. NEFU encouraged New England’s producers and consumers to ask FDA to change the rules. I also was able to meet with senior FDA officials and explain how the rules would be impact New England agriculture.
After receiving tens of thousands of comments, FDA announced late last year that it will issue a new version of parts of the rules to respond to the comments. That second draft is likely to be released later this summer.
NEFU has been an important organization in helping FDA get these rules right, and we will continue to be engaged throughout the process. I will be in Washington later this month and again after the release of the redraft, meeting with senior FDA officials to insure that the rule meets the needs of New England’s farmers.
I hope that the redraft rules will address our concerns. If not, I will again ask you to join NEFU in providing comments to the FDA.
On another note, you might be interested to learn about the Legal Services Food Hub recently launched by the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF). The lack of affordable legal services is preventing farmers and food entrepreneurs from getting what they need to participate in the local food movement. To address this, CLF has created the Legal Services Food Hub to help limited resource farmers and food entrepreneurs get help with legal issues. CLF will connect them with an attorney who will work on their transactional legal issues for free.
We’ve worked closely with CLF on FSMA, so let’s hope defending farmers against FDA is not a service any of us will need.
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Massachusetts Agriculture Defies National Trends
The 2012 Census of Agriculture has been out for a while, and the National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) has been running the numbers. Gary Keough, who is NASS’ New England Field Office Statistician, recently reported on the many ways that Massachusetts agriculture defies national trends.
What the census “reveals” about Massachusetts agriculture comes as no surprise, but the details are interesting. And Massachusett’s unique agricultural profile highlights that that there’s a good reason that NEFU advocates specifically for New England’s producers. Read more about it here.
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Maine Agriculture is Up!
Recently, Gary Keough of NASS (The National Agricultural Statistics Service) posted a blog about Maine agriculture. He said, “When examining the status of Maine’s agriculture using statistics derived from the 2012 Census of Agriculture, the words ‘up’ and ‘increase’ appear quite often.
Comparing the 2012 to the 2007 Census shows some significant growth for Maine. The number of farms has increased, as has the average farm size, and the land in farms is up eight percent. The total market value of agricultural sales increased 24 percent, the average value of sales per farm increased 23 percent, and the value of crops, including nursery and greenhouse, went up 46 percent.
New England Farmers Union (NEFU) engages in education and advocacy to support the economic viability of producers in Maine – and New England. Compared to the national average, New England farms are smaller, more diversified, more dependent on specialty crops, more likely to sell direct, and more likely to be run by a beginning or female operator. We work to ensure that state, local and federal policies support the specific needs of producers in our region. Read more about it here.
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Family Farming and Rural America
By Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union President
In the United States, farmers are getting older, farms are getting bigger, and the number of farms is decreasing. According the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA), between 2007 and 2012 the United States saw a net decrease of 95,489 farms. The most recent census showed that the average age of a farmer is 57, up from 54 in 1997. This may not be news to some, but it creates real problems in rural America.
The quality of life in rural communities depends on its people. Not long ago, rural communities were sustained by a robust segment of the population actively involved in agriculture. However, due various factors, making a living in agriculture became tough. Farmers sold their land and moved to urban areas where there was more opportunity. Big farms swallowed up smaller farms. With fewer and fewer farmers, rural communities began to suffer. There is now an acute need for new, beginning and transitioning farmers and ranchers to enter the agriculture sector.
Getting into farming isn’t easy. Access to capital, financing and land are major hurdles that potential farmers face. Technical expertise is also often lacking, so a strong support system is needed to fill the gaps. Luckily, the 2014 farm bill provides various incentives to make it easier to get into agriculture
An unlikely place to look for new and beginning farmers is in our nation’s veterans. USDA data shows that although rural Americans make up only 17 percent of the population, it accounts for 44 percent of the military. When soldiers return home from tours abroad, they are looking for a career that gives them a sense of purpose. Since many are from rural communities, farming can provide an excellent way for our men and women in uniform to make a valuable contribution here at home
National Farmers Union (NFU) is doing its part to support beginning, new and transitioning farmers and ranchers. Besides championing policies on Capitol Hill, NFU created and implements the Beginning Farmers Institute (BFI). This is a unique program that develops and encourages agricultural leaders from all backgrounds. Leadership training and farm management skills are taught to promising individuals eager to enter or expand their agricultural operations. NFU is proud to have represented family farmers and ranchers since 1902. We will continue to support policies that encourage new and beginning farmers to enter agriculture.
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New Legal Resource for Farmers and Food Entrepreneurs
Conservation Law Foundation has lanched the Legal Services Food Hub to help limited resource farmers and food entrepreneurs get access to affordable legal resources. Check it out here.
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New England Farmers Union was founded on the principles of education, legislation and co-operation. Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) is one of our affiliate members. This partnership promotes collaboration between consumers and producers in our regional food system and has proven to be an effective way to educate and engage the consumer voice in agricultural policy. The partnership also reinforces each organization’s efforts to promote co-operatives.
NFCA’s Board of Directors recently approved a resolution on The Co-operative Legal Identity, which seeks to protect and promote co-operative business principles, “to ensure the integrity of statutes and use of the co-operative name, and to promote use of the co-operative business model as an effective tool for self-help, poverty reduction, human development, and economic and social sustainability.”
In approving the resolution, which may be downloaded at www.nfca.coop/resolutions, the NFCA is joining with other organizations such as the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) in calling on governments, organizations and individuals to ensure that the Co-operative Identity is reflected in the incorporation and operation of enterprises using the co-operative name.
“For generations, people have used co-ops to meet their needs and shared goals,” said Erbin Crowell, executive director for the NFCA. “With increased interest in co-operative enterprise as a tool for addressing issues of climate change, employment and community development, it has never been more important to promote and protect the unique character of our business model and the meaning of the co-op name in the marketplace.” You can read more about NFCA’s resolution here.
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Read a roundup of July news from the capitol. From National Farmers Union (NFU).
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Resources and Tools for Growth
Check out our resources page, full of programs and services to help producers in our region. If you have other resources you’d like to see listed, please send us an email.
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Please check the calendar on the New England Farmers Union website. We will post information about events where that we will attend, and events that are of interest to our members. Please send along information if you have an event you would like us to post.
NRCS is offering a series of Healthy Soil Webinars throughout the year.
Wholistic Horse Management Workshop, July 19, 10:100 am – 2::00 pm. At Blue Star Equiculture, Palmer MA.
UMass Agriculture Field Day. July 24, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm. UMass Animal and Crop Research Center.
The Farm Between Pollinator Workshop. July 29, 5-7:00 pm, Farm Between, Jeffersonville, VT.
Rhode Island Local Food Fest. August 8, 5-8:00 pm. Castle Hill Inn, Newport, RI.
NOFA Regional Summer Conference, August 8-10. UMass, Amherst.
Save the Date: NEFU Fifth Annual Convention December 12-13, Portland ME. Details coming soon.
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