New England made a good showing at the 112th annual convention of the National Farmers Union, held last month in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
I was honored to serve as your President at the convention along with delegates Beth Hodge and Ned Porter. Our New England contingent was rounded out with NEFU Director of Operations Erika Olson and my favorite NEFU member, Lori Noonan.
Our delegation’s collective expertise — in local and regional food systems development, organics, conservation practices, crop insurance for diversified producers, agricultural labor issues and the impact and implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) — placed us at the forefront during the policy debate.
Remarks made by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack made it clear that New England and our diversified local and regional agriculture will play a big role in shaping the agricultural economy and policy in the coming years.
Sec. Vilsack highlighted programs that will improve opportunities for beginning farmers and ranchers, improve crop insurance for organic and diversified producers, modify certain USDA grant and loan programs to assist farmers with FSMA compliance and expand market opportunities for local and regional food producers.
These programs address the issues that New England Farmers Union brought to the table. In collaboration with our National Farmers Union family and other allies, we worked to include these programs in the farm bill and to ensure passage of the farm bill.
I was one of three candidates running to serve as the Vice President of NFU. By all accounts, we ran a good campaign. It was a tremendous experience. Lori and I met so many more Farmers Union members from across the country than we would have met under “normal” circumstances. Donn Teske, Kansas Farmers Union President, is our new National VP and will do a great job for Farmers Union.
As we look to the future, we want to ensure that New England’s voice continues to be well represented in the National Farmers Union. As we grow our membership, we can seat more delegates at the national convention, which is where NFU sets its policy priorities.
Let’s work together to bring two more delegates to next year’s convention in Witchita, Kansas. To accomplish that goal, each one of us needs to recruit three new members to NEFU. My research shows the number one reason why someone is not a New England Farmers Union member is because they have not been asked! So please reach out to your friends, neighbors and colleagues. Ensure we are heard.
Happy spring. And to my fellow maple producers — here’s hoping we get a couple of big runs before the buds come out!
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Labeling and GMOs: What’s on Farmers’ Minds?
When dealing with an issue as complex as GMOs, there is no one farmer position. It is certainly not the case that all farmers do or do not support labeling, nor even that all farmers do or do not support the use of GMOs. The members of New England Farmers Union (NEFU) have taken a balanced approach to the issue. We represent the broad interests of many farmers within Massachusetts and across New England — conventional and organic, growing many different crops, from commodity crops sold wholesale to specialty crops sold direct. Farmers deserve access to proven farming technologies, including GMOs, without being stigmatized. Consumers also have an equal, if not greater, right to know what is in the food they are consuming.
Let’s face the facts: GMOs are a hot topic, both in the farming community and with consumers. New England agriculture has built a strong market for our products through our direct relationship with our customers – our neighbors. Those neighbors want to know what is in their food so they can make informed decisions about feeding themselves and their families. That is why they buy our products! NEFU supports their right to know, and supports labeling of GMO products.
Last month, the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture passed out of committee H. 813, a GMO labeling bill. The bill must now pass the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Health Care Financing before the full House and Senate can vote on it. Other states in the northeast are considering or have already passed GMO labeling laws. NEFU supports this effort. Similar bills have been offered in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut with varied results.
In other policy news: On March 25, the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers released a proposed rule to clarify protection under the Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands. New England Farmers Union will carefully review the rule to determine its potential impact to our working lands, and just as we did with the Food Safety Modernization Act, we’ll break down that information, share it with you, and ask you to submit a comment. Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has issued proposed regulations addressing plant nutrients for farms. As of this writing we are waiting to here if an extension to the public comments has been given.
By Nathan L’Etoile
New England Farmers Union Legislative Committee Chair
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NEFU Board Member Nathan L’Etoile of Four Star Farms and Rep. Paul Mark at Massachusetts Agriculture Day at the state house
What a long winter! Thankfully, the cold and snowy months make time for farmers to gather, and this winter gave us plenty of opportunity for that. As Director of Membership and Programs for New England Farmers Union (NEFU), I was able to get to two great events in March: the semi-annual Rhode Island Women in Agriculture conference at the University of Rhode Island, and Massachusetts Agriculture Day at the Massachusetts State House. Both events gave me a chance to listen to farmers and their supporters, and to spread the word about how NEFU helps to shape federal, state and local agriculture policy, as well as how we advocate for co-operative enterprise and work on farmer education.
As NEFU President Roger Noonan noted above, our strength comes from our members. He issued a challenge to members, and I’m hoping you will take it to heart: if each of our current members gets just three new members to join, think of how our numbers would swell—and how our influence in the National Farmers Union (NFU) family and on Capitol Hill would continue to grow! Every year, NFU offers incentives for members who recruit new members, and NEFU is working on its own membership recruitment contest. Stay tuned, and stay ahead of the curve by starting right now to recruit a member or two. If you have a friend or family member in mind who cares about family agriculture, all you have to do is say, “Are you a member of New England Farmers Union? I am! You should join.”
By Kate Snyder
Director of Programs and Membership
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April Celebrates Family Farmers’ Role in Clean Energy
Renewable Energy Moves the World in a more Sustainable Direction
By Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union President
Countries around the world are investing heavily in renewable energy. From developed countries in the European Union and the United States to developing countries such as China, India and Brazil, governments understand the importance of promoting renewable energy. After all, it’s really a no-brainer: renewable energy is a win-win for the climate, the economy and farmers worldwide.
Farmers understand that their livelihoods depend on the quality of their land. Unfortunately, climate change is a threat to agriculture in all parts of the world. Unpredictable weather, including increased droughts and floods, and more intense storms will put pressure on agriculture systems. Add to that new risks, such as pests and weeds brought on from changing climates, and you get an agriculture sector that can see a lot of turbulence in the coming years. In the end, climate change is a real threat to global food security, agricultural productivity and farm incomes.
While it is vital to change farming operations to adapt to climate change, farmers and ranchers have a responsibility to be part of the climate solution. Producing renewable energy on farms has tremendous potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change as a result.
The good news is that renewable energy sources are available in rural areas around the world, making farmers key drivers in the move towards renewable energy. In the United States, different areas of the country have specific advantages. The southwest and west have access to many days of strong sunlight that can be used for solar power, while wide swaths of the Midwest have some of the best wind resources in the world. The northeast and southeast are home to vast tracts of biomass resources that can be used for a variety of purposes, including biofuels. The rest of the world can tap into similar sources.
With renewable energy production, not only are farmers helping the planet combat climate change they are also making money in the process and keeping that money in rural areas. Nearly 75 percent of poor people in the world live in rural areas. But, by generating and selling energy, farmers can diversify their revenue stream and increase their incomes. In the United States, there is a tendency to think that there aren’t economic opportunities in rural areas, so young people often look to urban areas for career moves. According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, approximately one million Americans are employed in the renewable energy sector. This is a fast growing industry that will continue to create opportunities for farmers, ranchers and rural Americans.
People all over the world would do well to look towards renewable energy as a way to fight climate change and help the bottom lines of family farmers.
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New Packing and Cold Storage Loan Options
Will Help Region’s Diversified Farms
New England’s small and mid-sized, diversified farms now have funding options for vegetable packing sheds through the U.S. Department of Agriculture under a recently announced the expansion of the Farm Storage and Facility Loan program, which provides low-interest financing to producers. The changes will be important for those who need to upgrade facilities and equipment to comply with FDA’s new food safety rules that go into effect in 2015.
New England Farmers Union was among several organizations addressing the need for the expansion of this loan program.
The enhanced program includes 23 new categories of eligible equipment for fruit and vegetable producers, and makes it easier for farmers and ranchers around the country to finance the equipment they need to grow and expand.
This is part of a broader effort to help small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers, as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced at the National Farmers Union convention in Santa Fe, NM.
Producers with small and mid-sized operations, and specialty crop fruit and vegetable growers, now have access to needed capital for a variety of supplies including sorting bins, wash stations and other food-safety-related equipment. A new more flexible alternative is also provided for determining storage needs for fruit and vegetable producers, and waivers are available on a case-by-case basis for disaster assistance or insurance coverage if available products are not relevant or feasible for a particular producer.
Additionally, Farm Storage and Facility Loans security requirements have been eased for loans between $50,000 and $100,000. Previously, all loans in excess of $50,000 required a promissory note and additional security, such as a lien on real estate. Now loans up to $100,000 can be secured by only a promissory note.
“The Farm Storage and Facility Loan program has helped American farmers and ranchers to finance on-farm storage for almost 13 years,” said Farm Service Agency Administrator (FSA), Juan M. Garcia. “We anticipate these changes will increase the number of individuals who qualify for these loans and help them access new market opportunities.”
The low-interest funds can be used to build or upgrade permanent facilities to store commodities. Eligible commodities include grains, oilseeds, peanuts, pulse crops, hay, honey, renewable biomass commodities, fruits and vegetables. Qualified facilities include grain bins, hay barns and cold storage facilities for fruits and vegetables.
Other new changes to the Farm Storage and Facility Loan program will allow FSA State Committees to subordinate Commodity Credit Corporation’s lien position.
These changes to the program were issued via an official notice to state and county Farm Service Agency offices and are effective immediately.
More than 33,000 loans have been issued for on-farm storage, increasing grain storage capacity by 900 million bushels since May 2000.
More information about tools and resources available to small and mid-sized farmers will be rolled out in the coming months, including information about access to capital, risk management, food safety, and locating market opportunities on USDA’s Small and Mid-Sized Farmer Resources webpage.
Visit www.fsa.usda.gov or an FSA county office to learn more about FSA programs and loans, including the Farm Storage Facility Loan Program
See links to New England’s FSA offices below:
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Deadline Today to Apply for Beginning Farmer Institute
National Farmers Union (NFU) has extended the application deadline for its 2014 Beginning Farmers Institute (BFI) program to today, April 7.
The annual program, now accepting its fourth class of students, is open to individuals who are new to farming, are in the process of transferring an operation from a relative or non-relative to themselves, or are contemplating a career in farming or ranching.
The BFI program helps participants gain insight and practical skills needed by beginning farmers and ranchers, including business plan writing, financial planning, and researching available programs to help starting up and sustaining a successful operation.
Applicants accepted into the 2014 program will attend three separate education sessions. One will be in Washington, D.C., one in Minneapolis, Minn., and a final session culminating at NFU’s annual Convention in March 2015 in Wichita, Kan. Program topics at the education sessions will include business planning, U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, tax and record keeping, estate transfer and marketing.
The Beginning Farmers Institute is supported by the FUI Foundation, Farm Credit, CoBank, CHS Foundation and the NFU Foundation.
Interested applicants can download the 2014 application here. VIsit NFU’s education Facebook page for updates and further information on NFU’s youth and young adult education programs. Applications must be postmarked on or before April 7, 2014.
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Read a roundup of April news from the capitol.
From National Farmers Union.
U.S. Department of Agriculture announces expansion of the Farm Storage and Facility Loan program, which will provide new packing and cold storage loan options for New England’s diversified farms.
Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack announced new programs to connect family farmers with USDA resources.
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Resources and Tools for Growth
Agritourism: Is it Right for You?
This University of Vermont website can help you decide.
ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, is a program of the Center for Appropriate Technology. The site features an “ask the ag expert” online query, workshops, internships, and more.
The Carrot Project
The Carrot Project offers specific programs for loans and related financial technical assistance for farm and food enterprises. Capital or operating loans of $3,000-$75,000, at 4.99-7% interest, are available to farm, forestry and fishery businesses, and to processing, distribution and storage enterprises with any type of local agricultural product.
Extension Training for Agricultural Tourism
Rutgers University’s resource on agritourism can help those who advise farmers assess their readiness for inviting the public to their farm.
Farm Credit East web resources on the Affordable Care Act.
Farm Aid’s Farmer Resource Network
The Farmer Resource Network connects you to Farm Aid’s resource partners and hundreds of organizations providing services, tools and opportunities for family farm profitability and sustainability, as well as immediate support.
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.
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.
This new blog, written by Dr. Rachel Gilker who developed the pasture program at UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture, includes articles about grazing management, pasture health, livestock and more. Check it out!
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.
Vermont Open Farms
A resource for farmers on Agritourism.
WWOOF organizations connect volunteers to organic and sustainable projects.
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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
NRCS Soil Health Webinar: Managing for Soil Health on Dryland – A Farmer’s Perspective. April 8, 2 – 4 pm
National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, April 15-18, Austin, TX
NRCS On-Farm Food Safety and Conservation Webinar, April 15, 3-4 pm
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NEFU in the News
Ned Porter, who is working with NEFU on policy and co-operative issues, is interviewed on New Hampshire Public Radio.
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