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Mark Keating's picture

Farm Bill Breakthrough in Washington

Despite the ongoing budget stalemate, Congress took a huge step towards renewing the Farm Bill over the weekend when the House of Representatives agreed to negotiations with the Senate on a  compromise five year package.  Specifically, the House and Senate appointed their respective members to a Conference Committee which will seek to iron out the differences between the Farm Bills each side has already approved.

There is no minimizing the differences between the House and Senate proposals, especially with regard to funding levels and policy provisions for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  The good news is that, if the SNAP issues can be resolved, there is a viable pathway to agreement on a comprehensive package including desperately needed support for organic, sustainable, local and beginning farmers.  There are clear signs that a majority in both the House and Senate are prepared for significant reforms to the crop insurance and commodity programs at the same time that support for cost-effective organic and alternative initiatives is growing.

Mark Keating's picture

What’s more essential than eating?

One unfortunate misperception helping to sustain the current government shutdown is the assumption that since all “essential” federal employees remain on the job, Washington can meet its “essential” responsibilities. A closer look at USDA’s current capabilities reveals that nothing could be further from the truth and that the shutdown is inflicting immediate and lasting damage.

According to the Rural Advancement Foundation International, 1,423 farmers are waiting for Congress to pass a budget so that they can receive USDA direct farm operating loans that have already been approved for 2013. An additional 2,161 families have deferred their dream of farm ownership as they wait for funding of approved direct farm ownership loans, and an additional 1,005 are waiting on guaranteed ownership loans. No progress can be made on these loans until Congress funds the return of the “non-essential” USDA staffers to complete the paperwork.

Mark Keating's picture

Prospects for a New Farm Bill

 

Paul McCartney wasn’t thinking about renewing the Farm Bill when he penned The Long and Winding Road  yet his masterpiece aptly describes this ongoing process.  The latest hairpin turn came last Friday when the House of Representatives passed a bill for a stand-alone Nutrition Title which cuts $39 billion from domestic food assistance programs over the next decade.  Having passed the balance of the Farm Bill back in July the House now has a complete package which opens the door to a compromise with the Senate on its version.

Mark Keating's picture

Strength through Unity

This week I represented OFRF at the summer meeting of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition alongside beautiful beaches on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.  The meeting also marked NSAC’s twenty-fifth anniversary and the changes our movement has experienced over that time point very favorably towards our future.

In certain regards, the times seem not to have changed at all.  The organization that grew into NSAC was founded during a crisis for America’s family farmers, when government incentives to plant fence row to fence row led to skyrocketing land prices and relegated resource conservation to an afterthought.  These conditions are all too representative of American agriculture today.

Mark Keating's picture

"On the Road Again"

Organic certification requires that farmers open up their entire operation to an annual inspection, and I’m spending a few weeks in Kansas and Colorado as the guy with the clipboard asking all the questions.  The farmers I inspect are as forthcoming with their answers as they are diligent about complying with the standards, since they primarily grow wheat, corn and hay and for many of them the organic price premium is the difference keeping them in agriculture.

Karen Adler's picture

The Climate, it is a-Changin’

Agriculture and, in particular, organic agriculture can be part of the solution to mitigate greenhouse gases through farming practices that build soil fertility, avoid use of synthetic fertilizer and improve carbon sequestration

-- Organic Agriculture and Climate Change Mitigation: A Report of the Round Table of Organic Agriculture and Climate Change

Mark Keating's picture

What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been!

It’s not too often that we discover a new masterpiece by Georgia O’Keeffe, or even an unknown soundboard recording of our favorite musicians.  Reading the journal article “Organic Agriculture in the United States: A 30 Year Retrospective” induced a similarly revelatory and exhilarating experience for me.  Co-authored by Dr. Garth Youngberg and Suzanne DeMuth, the article itself is new, yet it speaks authoritatively and insightfully about the genesis of the organic movement in America and brings into remarkable focus what we have achieved since then.

Maureen Wilmot's picture

Live Long & Prosper… Organically

As I wait to see how Congress will set the future food and farming policies for this country, my attention shifts to the other side of the country where more than 130,000 people were focused on the future of the worlds. Which worlds? I’m not entirely sure.

Karen Adler's picture

Reducing Dead Zone through Organic Practices

The concept of Organic Agriculture moves center stage in the global sustainability debate.
--One Earth, One Future: 2012 Consolidated Annual Report of the IFOAM (Integrated Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) Action Group.

map of the dead zoneDid you hear that the area in the Gulf of Mexico known as the dead zone is soon expected to reach the size of New Jersey?  Due to heavy spring flooding in the Midwest, with a lot more nitrogen-based fertilizer ending up in the Gulf, this year’s dead zone could be the biggest on record. And there are, unfortunately, many other areas in the U.S. and around the world with dead zones created by unsustainable practices.  Dead zone is a term commonly used to describe the results of hypoxia. This dramatic impact of chemical-based agriculture on biodiversity and the environment occurs when agricultural nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus, leach into waterways and wash downstream, accumulating in the waters of an estuary or bay. The decomposition process depletes the oxygen. Marine life flees or dies when oxygen levels get too low for their survival. Bird and animal populations that feed on marine life also shrink as their food sources disappear.

Maureen Wilmot's picture

Summertime Sustainable Solutions

The other week, while the House of Representatives were fumbling around with the farm bill, I had the privilege of joining more than 200 funders who work to create a healthy, safe and secure food and agriculture system in this country. I attended the Sustainable Agriculture Food System Funders annual forum in Providence, Rhode Island – Rethinking, Risk and Resilience. We spent three muggy and dynamic days delving into issues that impact how our food and fiber is grown, distributed and accessed.

We toured a health center that ‘gets’ the connection between healthy food and healthy humans.  It included non-clinical programs such as a fully accessible community garden, on-site farmers’ markets and even bicycles! The waiting room is filled with samples from the on site vegetable garden and healthy recipes.

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