NASS Data Fuel USDA Programs to Help AgricultureWritten by David Knopf
Farmers are unique in that they touch every single American every single day, because we all eat. Ensuring a continuity of agriculture is important to all of us. To take the pulse of U.S. agriculture, we conduct a Census of Agriculture every five years, which gives us a comprehensive analysis of agriculture in America and supplements information from more than 400 other surveys we conduct each year.
Our last census was in 2012, and the resulting data showed a decline in the number of new and beginning farmers compared to the previous census in 2007. On top of that decline, we saw the average age of American farmers trending upward to 58 years old. USDA took these two pieces of information and recognized the need to encourage new and beginning farmers.
One result of analyzing the data and understanding the need to promote new and beginning farmers can be seen in the 2014 Farm Bill. Among other things, it increased the flexibility for USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) to offer financial assistance programs to new farmers. Amanda Robertson, one of FSA’s new beginning farmer regional coordinators works in Kentucky and Tennessee. She informs new and beginning farmers that the bill allows for broader application of disaster relief, disaster assistance, commodity insurance, farm start-up loans and agriculture-based loans, such as cattle loans to help them with start-up costs.
All of these programs have foundations in National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) surveys. We conduct more than 400 surveys annually, in addition to the Census of Agriculture every five years, and every response matters to make sure reliable data are available to administer the programs Amanda mentioned and many others. Long-time experts in the field know how important our data is, too.
“There is nothing better than the Census of Agriculture data to represent the small, limited-resource and minority farmer,” said Dr. Marion Simon, Kentucky State University state specialist for small and part-time farmers. “USDA can target its program delivery by understanding how many and where these farms are located. These data have also helped USDA change programs as new trends emerge. The Census of Agriculture is the only way to know many of these small farms are there.”
NASS employees and our National Association for State Departments of Agriculture enumerators work hard to get timely, accurate and useful data that gives a realistic view of agriculture in America. These surveys ultimately help our farmers in a variety of ways, whether it’s through new and beginning farmer programs, FSA farm payments, crop insurance or agricultural production statistics. We at USDA NASS are working together with producers to keep agriculture in America growing.
Learn more about USDA NASS and other programs by visiting usda.gov.
USDA outlook forum looks at incorporating young farmers into agricultureWritten by Madeline Robinson
Arlington, Va. – “This is a terrific opportunity for us to visit with a number of folks who are working very hard to make agriculture opportunities available to new, beginning and young producers,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack at the 90th Annual USDA Ag Outlook Forum.
The USDA held their 90th Annual Outlook Forum in Arlington, Va. on Feb. 20-21. The forum’s focus was of the changing face of agriculture and the future of young farmers within agriculture.
The forum consisted of four panelists who shared their struggles, trials and errors when they entered the agriculture sector and their advice to young farmers who were thinking about taking the same path.
“I didn’t think that I ever really wanted to be involved in agriculture for the simple fact that I thought it meant solely riding a tractor for 12 to 14 hours a day,” commented Joanna Carraway, co-owner of Carraway Farm Families and recipient of 2013 Tomorrow’s Top Producer Horizon Award.
“I didn’t realize that there was a whole other life out there,” she continued. “Once I got to college, I realized that there is a whole other world that involved agriculture and that what I was doing on the farm was just a small part of it. I realized I could do more.”
“If an individual has the passion and wants to get into farming, the opportunity is there. It’s not impossible to start from scratch,” stated Greg Wegis, president of the Kern County Farm Bureau in California and recipient of National Outstanding Young Farmers of America Award.
Wegis mentioned water and land values are escalating in the nation, and particularly in California, producers are seeing a decrease in the workforce to help with a farm’s crops.
“A lot of land seven years ago was worth $5,000 an acre. Now we’re talking $15,000 an acre and $20,000 an acre to expand,” said Wegis. “We’ve also gotten 50 percent of our water for the last four to five years while we are paying for 100 percent.”
Connecting with consumers
“There are new, emerging ways of connecting with consumers,” said Emily Oakley, interim director of National Young Farmers Coalition.
The National Young Farmers Coalition began four years ago by farmers who were seeking representation and having their voices heard. The coalition is 23,000 members strong across the country with a presence in every state and a total of 21 chapters.
“We work on issues of policy and networking to make young farmers feel connected and technically supported,” said Oakley. “All of us are finding opportunities with consumers who want to know who grows their food and talk to them.”
A major outlet for these young farmers are farmers’ markets, where they can meet consumers who are interested in knowing where their food comes from and connect with agriculture that way.
“This is the direction that we’re hoping to head in as a Young Farmers Coalition to let people know that we’re here. A lot of us are first generation farmers, and we’re finding opportunities in agriculture,” added Oakley.
Oakley also encourages schools to start a Farm-to-School program to incorporate locally- or regionally-sourced fruits and vegetables in meals and to start school gardens.
“Definitely getting someone who has never seen growing food is an opportunity and getting them to grow it themselves, and then eat it, is one of the best ways of getting students interested in food and farming,” explained Oakley.
She added, “It gives them the opportunity to be self-employed and make their own decisions. It’s not just about getting their hands in the dirt.”
“All young farmers, especially first generation farmers, need access to land, capital and training,” explained Oakley. “Land is the single biggest challenge for beginning farmers.”
To help with access to land and financial support, Oakley suggested the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program, Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development program and the Farm Service Agency Microloan program.
Other options for beginning farmers are to place ads of interest to lease land and putting the word on the street of leasing opportunities.
“Even though the young farmers may not own the land they are farming, leasing is an affordable and accessible way for them to enter the agricultural business,” reiterated Oakley. “It also allows them to farm without a mortgage and gain experience to make them more eligible for loans.”
“Access to opportunities for training is the single most important thing for beginning farmers,” said Oakley. “They can go to college and study agriculture, but unless they go to someone else’s farm and learn from somebody who’s been doing this for years, they will not be successful.”
Carraway specified farming is not what is used to be 20 or 30 years ago, and it has become so dynamic financially, to the point where everyday contains a business decision.
Crop insurance and good bookkeeping skills have helped her become profitable and sustainable with her operation.
“We’ve had to utilize crop insurance a lot, unfortunately, and realizing how important it is, especially for beginning farmers who have so much on the line, producers have to have a plan B,” said Carraway.
Producers don’t have to start with something elaborate for their bookkeeping, it can be something very simple like an Excel spreadsheet or QuickBooks – anything that will help monitor the farm’s cash flow and income that is coming in or going out.
“Moving forward, insurance is going to become even more important as prices fall and margins become tighter,” advised Carraway. “We’ve got to become better managers and teach people, especially young people coming in, about the do’s and the don’ts of agriculture.”
USDA releases final planning rule for forests that reflects few changesWritten by Christy Martinez
However, multiple use groups, including public lands grazing, disagree, based on the fact that there was no substantive change in the final rule from the preferred alternative that was released and on which the U.S. Forest Service took comments earlier in 2012.
“We’ve all weighed in from the very beginning – from the time they first wrote the draft rule in early 2011 we submitted our comments and worked to weigh in with our concerns,” says Public Lands Council Executive Director Dustin Van Liew.
“It’s now a final rule, and it didn’t change much from what the draft showed,” says Rick Krause of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “Most of the concerns that were out there still remain.”
Management for wildlife
Van Liew says one of his group’s primary concerns are the provisions for “viability of wildlife species.”
“Through the preferred alternative and the final rule, they continue to rely on the viability of wildlife species as a way to require management on the forests,” he explains. “We’re still very concerned about that because of the litigation it’s brought and the process that it entails. Under statute, we don’t even believe they have the authority to manage for wildlife species, or what they call ‘species of conservation concern.’ That should be left to states.”
Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna agrees, saying the most significant and hardest to deal with will be the issue of providing for all species, in that “species viability” has been expanded from strictly vertebrates to all plants and animals.
“That seems to be inconsistent with the fundamental concept of multiple use that’s supposed to drive forest management, and also to some degree an infringement on the authority of the states, who have the responsibility to deal with wildlife species,” says Magagna.
Van Liew says a perfect example of viability provisions are those that public land grazers have operated under for the last 30 years regarding domestic sheep grazing and the big horn sheep.
“The big horn sheep issue has been dealt with through a rider in the last omnibus appropriations act, which bars any removal of domestic livestock for big horn sheep, but that shows how a non-protected species can have an effect on grazing and other multiple uses,” he says.
Van Liew points out another concern, the requirement to maintain wilderness characteristics.
“This rule includes the requirement to maintain wilderness characteristics where they’re found to exist, which we believe is de facto wilderness,” he states. “If they’re managing it as wilderness, the same restrictions will exist for multiple use that exist under wilderness designations, and under statute only Congress has that authority.”
Van Liew says the Forest Service has been given a lot of deference in court rulings to allow the agency’s opinion to carry weight through guidance, but this final rule takes it a step farther, making guidance a mandatory requirement under all forest plans.
“That reduces their flexibly and requires the implementation of guidance that’s often developed outside of public purview,” says Van Liew. “There’s no opportunity for public comment in that process.”
Problems for practical planning
Magagna adds that another of his concerns is the concept of environmental sustainability.
“That’s such a broad, philosophical thing, and how it will be applied in any given forest process, we don’t know,” he says. “If you take broad concepts like ‘environmental sustainability’ and ‘climate change’ that are not definable, it poses huge problems for practical planning.”
Magagna adds that those concepts also make it easier for forest plans to be challenged by the environmental community.
Along those same lines, Krause says the final rule seems to deemphasize the multiple use concept.
“It creates ecosystem restoration as the guiding principle, which is not a bad thing, but everything has to be brought together,” says Krause. “We can’t say, ‘We’ll do this at the expense of that.’ We think it goes a little far and deemphasizes grazing, timber and other multiple uses.”
Krause mentions another concern – the requirement that decisions be made on the basis of the best science, but he says the rule leaves it up to each plan to choose which science they think is the best.
“It gives the head of the forest a lot of discretion on which science will be used,” he states.
There are eight forests across the West where the final rule will be first implemented when it goes into effect 30 days after being published in the Federal Register.
“I haven’t seen it posted yet, so we see the beginning of May as the earliest the new rule could begin to be implemented,” says Van Liew.
PLC is working on Capitol Hill to see if there’s an ability to protect some of public lands grazers’ interests through the appropriations process, but he says we’ve yet to see the full impact.
“We will have the opportunity to see how this final rule works elsewhere first,” says Magagna. “It will be critical to be involved in local plan development, but we’ll be at a disadvantage because it will be driven by this rule. We can not afford not to continue to look at ways to intervene in the rule through litigation or Congressional action.”
“The agency claims it will make their job more efficient, and the appropriators on Capitol Hill will be interested to see if those efficiencies are there,” says Van Liew.
NEPA requirements for trailing, crossing permits still uncertain
Original rider language in late 2011 allowed flexibility for livestock producers crossing BLM land, saying that they did not need to go through National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis to get their trailing and crossing permits.
“Unfortunately, after the fact we found out the Solicitor was not interpreting the language to be sufficient for agencies to not have to do NEPA,” says Public Lands Council Executive Director Dustin Van Liew of later developments. “We understand that now the BLM is in the process of finalizing guidance to the field on how to proceed, which we understand will be with some level of NEPA for trailing and crossing permits.”
Meanwhile, Van Liew says PLC has not seen any disruption on the ground from ranchers’ perspectives.
“We’re working with Chairman Simpson and the Appropriations Committee to clarify the Congressional intent. It remains a concern, but until we see the final guidance, we’re not sure what the impact will be,” he notes, adding that the BLM has been reaching out to the permittees they know will trail on and cross BLM land, and some preemptive work has been completed ahead of the release of the guidance.
“It’s hard to say what that guidance will be, but I hope from the industry perspective that the agencies would provide flexibility, being that this is a new requirement,” says Van Liew.
Government closure continues impacting agricultureWritten by Saige Albert
After nearly two weeks of being closed, the impact of federal government shutdown continues to affect agriculture producers across the country.
One of the major impacts of the shutdown is the lack of data being released by USDA.
“Livestock producers, packers and end users are trying to adjust now that all of the USDA market reporting they had come to depend upon has stopped,” commented CME Group on Oct. 4.
The result, they continue, is that packers are working closely with producers and customers to establish the parameters of pricing product that in the past was done on a formula basis.
“Price discovery has always been challenging,” added CME Group. “In recent years, however, thanks to congressional mandates and the expansion of USDA’s ability to collect market information, price discovery for many participants became almost costless, sometimes an afterthought.”
Included in the reports that have been postponed are September’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report and production and price summary data.
Other reports that will not be released include the October Crop Report.
The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture notes that market analysts heavily rely on the October Crop Report.uDespite the shutdown of the majority of USDA’s services, the Mandatory Price Reporting Datamart is still operative and available at mpr.datamart.ams.usda.gov.
Though new information is not available on the site, historic data is still accessible through Sept. 27.
In the midst of the closure, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) continues its push to resolve the Farm Bill. Especially in the wake of recent natural disasters, NCBA Executive Director of Government Affairs Kristina Butts noted that the Farm Bill is incredibly important now.
Recent natural disasters, Butts says, such as last year’s droughts, fires, floods and most recently early and destructive snow storms in South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana, have illustrated the need for disaster assistance provisions for farmers and ranchers.
The 2008 Farm Bill, which was temporarily extended, included disaster assistance provisions but only for four years, so producers affected by these recent disasters are left with considerable uncertainty.
Though the shutdown is hampering lobbying efforts of NCBA, they continue to push for their additional goals of border security, labor and immigration reform.
NASDA reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has floated the idea of attaching the Farm Bill to a broader budget discussion.
Despite the shutdown, House Speaker John Boehner (R - Ohio) could appoint conferees to negotiate the House and Senate Farm Bills soon. The Senate is heavily pressuring Boehner to appoint conferees.
In addition to impacts through agriculture, the state of Wyoming required that 233 federally funded employees were placed on furlough, effective Oct. 7.
“It is not easy for me to write today,” Govenor Matt Mead wrote in a letter to those individuals. “I know there has been great uncertainty for you since the federal shutdown began on Tuesday. It is a troubling time, and while I cannot change the situation – only Congress and the President can do that – I do hope the situation is resolved soon.”
Wyoming employs 9,867 individuals and of those, 1,600 positions are funded in whole or in part by federal funds.
The 233 employees immediately impacted are paid with funds not available without a federal budget on Oct. 1. The number of employees subject to furlough may grow if the federal shutdown continues past Oct. 30.
The Departments of Environmental Quality, Family Services, the Military and Parks and Cultural Resources employ the 233 individuals. The furlough impact on each employee will vary depending on the salary percentage of federal funds to other funds, including state general funds.
In a letter to the affected employees, Mead noted that it is a difficult time, and the action was difficult to take. He and his staff explored all options, but found that state and federal law required the furloughs of employees.
“The state cannot pay for all federally funded positions. However, the state is trying to take the best path forward,” Mead wrote.
Mead has authorized employees to use accrued annual leave, if they choose to do so. They are eligible for unemployment insurance.
Saige Albert, managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, compiled this article.
Wyoming declines interstate meat shipmentWritten by Christy Martinez
Although a rule allowing interstate shipment of state-inspected meat has passed the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, Dean Finkenbinder of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture’s Consumer Health Services Division says Wyoming will not be a part of the program.
By participating in the voluntary, cooperative interstate shipment program, select establishments would have the option to ship meat and poultry products, bearing an official USDA mark of inspection, across state lines. Until now, only federally inspected meat and poultry was allowed into interstate commerce.
“Wyoming hasn’t applied for the program, and, to my knowledge, only four states have,” says Finkenbinder. “Wyoming doesn’t plan to apply, mainly because the plant would have to be a federal plant, and we’d have to purchase computers and all the equipment from USDA to make the inspection in that plant, and then there would be a federal employee to oversee all the training and to evaluate the program, and there would also be a federal stamp that would have to be used on the meat product, so it would no longer look like it was coming from a state meat plant.”
To become part of the program, the state would have to apply with the USDA for the interstate meat shipment program, then any interested plant would have to apply through the state, and the state would go to the district office for the region. The state inspector in that plant would then have to go through training for federal enforcement of the Federal Meat Inspection Act, and the plant would then have to meet all the federal standards, and be “the same as,” instead of “at least equal to,” which is the current standard for state meat plants.
“When they say ‘same as,’ that means we have to follow the rules and regulations according to how the feds do it. With the state program the way it is, we have a little leeway. As long as we maintain food safety we don’t have to follow the particular requirement specifically the way it’s stated. With the interstate meat shipment, we wouldn’t be able to do that,” he explains.
Finkenbinder says it’s that cost, equipment and federal oversight that will keep Wyoming out of the program.
“While we do have federal oversight now, it’s not direct, and there isn’t a federal person in our state meat plants,” he explains. “If one went to the federal program, we’d also have to have a separate accounting system for that particular program.”
“Our state inspected meat plants do a really good job, and I think if they would have allowed the state plants to ship interstate as they are now, they would have had a lot more participation in the program,” adds Finkenbinder.