Soda Fire recap!
Thursday, May 26, 2016
EPA, Army Corps of Engineers Violate Law, Oppress Farmers in California and Elsewhere, Farm Bureau Tells Congress
WASHINGTON– The Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers have violated their own regulations and effectively invented new ones in enforcing the Clean Water Act, the American Farm Bureau Federation said today.
Don Parrish, senior director of congressional relations at AFBF, told the Senate Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water and Wildlife that the Army Corps’ novel interpretations of environmental law are threatening the very livelihoods of ordinary, middle-class Americans who happen to farm for a living.
“Based on what we see in California, it is clear that the expansions in jurisdiction over land and water features on the farm are already happening,” Parrish told the subcommittee. “Most ordinary farming activities conducted in areas under jurisdiction will require permits if and when the Corps chooses to demand them. And when they demand permits, delays and costs will mount until most farmers simply give up. Congress needs to step in and give farmers some real certainty so they can plan their farming operations and protect the environment at the same time.”
Parrish’s testimony also included a detailed analysis of recent Army Corps actions by Judy Gallaway, an environmental scientist and California Farm Bureau member who has consulted on numerous discussions between local farmers and the Corps. The Army Corps interprets and executes environmental regulations that are largely determined by the EPA.
Parrish cited numerous examples of EPA and Army Corps mismanagement:
· The Corps has made jurisdictional determinations and tracked farming activities based classified aerial photographs and LIDAR imagery that is not publicly available, even to farmers under investigation.
· Army Corps officials have forced farmers to sign non-disclosure agreements – gag orders, in effect – as part of their enforcement actions.
· One California farmer invested tens of thousands of dollars to map his private property to ensure his farming activity would avoid polluting local watersheds. The Corps, in response, threatened enforcement proceedings over construction of roads and ponds completed years before the farmer owned the property.
· In the Army Corps’ Sacramento district, any plowing through a wetland requires permits that typically costs hundreds of thousands of dollars in engineering fees, even though the Clean Water Act exempts plowing from permitting.
· The Army Corps has issued menacing letters to farmers who have changed from alfalfa hay farming to cattle grazing and back, despite the absence of any law to support their objections.
· The Corps has told farmers to stop working when it merely suspected they were plowing too deep or changing land use. The Corps’ selective enforcement of this interpretation means it can now tell farmers where they may and may not farm, and what they may grow.
· The five-year drought has forced many farmers to temporarily fallow land or change crops based on changes in irrigation and market conditions. Oblivious to such obvious economic distress, the Corps has repeatedly required permits for ordinary plowing necessary to prepare the ground to change crops, further compounding the economic dislocation farmers have felt in the Central Valley.
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
USDA Invests More Than $200 Million in Electric Infrastructure Improvements in Rural States
WASHINGTON - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today celebrated the 80th anniversary of the Rural Electrification Act (REA) and announced funding to build and upgrade rural electric infrastructure in five states.
"Eighty years ago today, President Roosevelt signed the law which charged USDA to provide electric power to rural America," Vilsack said. "Today's investments continue a part of USDA's mission that has brought reliable, safe and affordable electric power to America's farms, ranches and rural communities, improved the quality of life for rural residents, increased farm productivity and made America the breadbasket to the world. Continuing to invest in rural electric infrastructure will help keep our economy strong."
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
USDA Awards $4.5 Million in Rural Community Development Grants; Seeks Applications for Future Projects
WASHINGTON-Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is awarding more than $4 million in grants to 23 organizations to support rural economic development projects. Secretary Vilsack also announced that USDA is seeking applications for the next round of program funding. The awards and the request for applications are being provided through the Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI) program. RCDI helps community-based development organizations, federally recognized Indian tribes and other groups promote economic development in low-income, rural communities.
"The latest Census data show that last year, rural America's population grew at the fastest rate since 2010," Vilsack said. "USDA stands ready to help rural communities create jobs and continue to be a place where people want to raise their families. We have seen time and again that our community investments are most successful when we partner with folks already embedded in the local fabric. These grants will help bring jobs to our rural small towns, with USDA providing funding and technical assistance to help launch business and development projects specifically tailored to the needs of each local and regional area."
RCDI grants are not provided directly to businesses or individuals. Instead, awards are provided to public or non-profit intermediaries that are locally-based and skilled in business development and job creation. Recipients must obtain matching funds, which doubles the impact of the grants. For additional information and application details, see page 32277 of the May 23 Federal Register.
Since 2009, USDA has awarded $39 million to support 206 rural economic development projects financed through the RCDI program. The projects are examples of USDA's support for locally-based development strategies.
Monday, May 23, 2016
Statement from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on the Organic Trade Association Report
WASHINGTON-U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today released a statement on the Organic Trade Association's report that the organic sector posted its largest-ever dollar gain in 2015, with total organic product sales growing by $4.2 billion, reaching $43.3 billion.
"America's organic industry is booming, creating important opportunities for farmers and ranchers and adding to the vibrancy of rural America. Under the Obama Administration, we've made transformative investments to help the organic sector thrive by making certification more attainable, providing more support for organic operations, and expanding international markets. As consumer demand continues to grow, USDA is here to support producers and help them access the hunger for American-grown organic products."
Friday, May 20, 2016
Treasure Valley Farms Explore Solar Power
Melba—Kerry Smith of Melba has a quirk and she doesn't care who knows about it. She can’t wait to open her power bill each month.
Smith and a few hundred other Idaho farmers have gone solar. She loves to watch her power meter run backward, she admits its an obsession.
“I come out and watch my power meter run backward, Any time I turn something on in the house I run out and check it to see if its still running backward,” said Smith.
She’s checking whats known as a net meter and its capable of spinning backward and building up energy credits on the grid when solar conditions peak, creating more power than needed. Auric Solar of Boise recently installed the system and Smith Farm immediately started reaping the benefits.
“This is a 69 panel system and it produces almost 19 kilowatts of energy on a sunny day and its enough to run all the farm and most of the home here,” said Kevin Holmes of Auric Solar.
The interest in solar power across the nation is adding up according to the United States Department of Agriculture. On-line solar power systems have cut carbon pollution by nearly 300 million metric tons this year alone, thats like taking 60 million cars off the road. In 2015 farms, homes and businesses cut nearly $45 billion off power bills.
“I try and keep that meter running backward as much as I can,” said Smith. “I guess the whole point is to become more efficient so we don't have to depend on everyone else.” Smith says she looked into alternative power sources about 3 years ago. “I looked into windmills and hydro because we have running water down on our other place, but where we’re located, solar was the best bet because its more reliable.”
Smith found a firm called Auric Solar through the Better Business Bureau. Auric Solar was founded in Utah and is one of the fastest growing solar companies in Utah and Idaho.
“We’re all about educating clients about solar, once we explain how people buy electricity now and how thats changing, it becomes a no brainer,” said Holmes. “We have cheap electricity here in Idaho, but not for long, power bills are going up 7-15-percent per year.”
The system Auric Solar installed on Smith Farm is warrantied for 25 years and will last 50-60 years. Holmes says in 15 years power rates will triple and he thinks the Smiths will pay the system off in just a few years. “When people can lock in their energy costs, it adds up,” added Holmes.
Kerry Smith says their power bill, both home and farm was cut in half the first month of service.
“It’s a way of saving money, I’d recommend it, in fact my brother is putting a system in.”
Until a few years ago, solar power was too expensive for average Idahoans, because very few had an extra $25,000 to spend on solar panels. But times have changed and the cost of using solar power have dropped. Innovative service agreements and financing now allow people to pay for the power that their rooftop panels produce each month, rather than having to pay upfront for an entire system. Solar power has arrived and its as easy as signing up for cable TV.
Just as important, “net metering” is the industry standard that drives the thriving rooftop industry. Metering gives solar customers credit for all the extra electricity they send back to the grid. California enacted net metering policy 20 years ago and now more than 40 states including Idaho have adopted the metering policies.
Crews can easily and quickly install panels on rooftops or on ground mounts. Once in place, Auric Solar works with Idaho Power and runs the solar panels into the home’s traditional electrical system.
Smith says her potential savings over the next six years will pay for the solar setup with no added expense for maintenance. “It has a 25 year guarantee and Auric Solar maintains it and overall I think it’s a good deal.”
Auric Solar also helps clients work their way through grant applications and affordable finance programs offered through the US Department of Agriculture.
“The USDA is investing $68-million dollars in 540 in solar energy projects this year,” said US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak. He says funding includes loan guarantees and grants for solar energy.
“These funds are being provided through the Rural Energy for America program and what they do is allow farmers and small businesses in rural communities in this country to reduce their cost of energy and they do it by helping build small scale energy renewable energy projects as well as energy efficiency projects,” said Vilsak.
“We have nearly 9-thousand renewable energy projects that the Department has funded since I took this job as Secretary,” added Vilsak. “We are helping to save or create 9.2-billion kilowatt hours of power, thats enough power to take care of 800-thousands homes across the US.”
“For us, the solar panels runs the pump in our well, it waters the cattle and supplies all the power to the house, barn and shop on our 200 acre farm. The panels also powers the welders and coolers we keep out in the shop,” said Smith.
It used to get really expensive in the winter for the Smiths, and the colder it got the more they paid, thats why they went solar.
“In the winter you either chop ice in the water troughs or you heat the tanks. Thats a fixed expense because they need water and you can’t imagine how expensive just watering cattle can be all day, every day. Everything is geared around electricity especially computers, it all adds up and getting more expensive. If we generate our own we have control over that expense and better yet, someone else can buy what we don't use. We can take care of ourselves and we can help someone else,” said Smith.
Smith adds that farmers don't have much income during the winter months, they’re on a fixed budget and says any expense they can cut in half helps them get through the winter months. “We cut our power bill in half and we can depend on that,” she says.
Some farms have taken solar power a step further by actually dedicating acreage to panels and instead of crops and they’re harvesting solar power and leasing the land all year long.
In North Carolina farmer Dawson Singletary saw where he could make more money off a solar crop so he leased his 34-acre farm to a solar power company, he told Bloomberg news that there’s not a single crop that could generate the income that the solar farm produced.
According to Bloomberg, the Strata Solar company is able to produce enough energy from the 21,600 panels installed on Singletary’s farm to power more than 5,000 homes.
As the prices of crops have dropped the past few years, solar companies have offered attractive lease agreements. The going rate ranges from $300 to $700 an acre per year, according to the NC Sustainable Energy Association.
That hasn’t happened yet in Idaho but with current market prices that day could come soon according Auric Solar. Idaho is an attractive solar market because the Gem State has well over 300 sunny days a year and thats literally money in the bank.
Auric Solar says harnessing sun power achieves energy independence and better yet its local, its clean and lessens U.S. dependence on foreign oil. They say Idahoans are finally seeing the first verifiable wave in sustainable home-grown energy.
USDA Releases Results of New Survey on Honey Bee Colony Health
Survey Developed as Part of National Pollinator Research Action Plan Gives New Insight into Losses of Managed Bee Colonies
WASHINGTON–The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) released the results of its first ever Honey Bee Colony Loss survey today. The survey queried more than 20,000 honey beekeepers about the number of colonies, colonies lost, colonies added, and colonies affected by certain stressors and gleans state-level estimates on key honey bee health topics. The survey was developed as part of the " National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators" released last summer, and gleans state-level estimates on key pollinator health topics.
Results from the survey will provide statistically strong baseline information about honey bee losses and can help guide honey bee management decisions in the United States. NASS created the survey questions with input from beekeepers and researchers, and other stakeholders. The results will allow USDA and other federal departments and agencies to create a more unified and complementary approach to implementing the National Strategy, which was unveiled in May 2015.
"Pollinators are essential to the production of food, and in the United States, honey bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion of crops each year, ranging from almonds to zucchinis," said Dr. Ann Bartuska, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics. "This new data will add to USDA's robust scientific body of knowledge on the inventory, movement and death loss of honeybees in the United States."
For this report, NASS surveyed 3,300 beekeeping operations with five or more colonies on a quarterly basis, following their operations throughout the year. In addition, NASS surveyed a sample of 20,000 beekeepers who have less than five colonies annually. Data collected covers the state in which colonies are located, movement of colonies between states, newly added or replaced colonies, number of colonies lost, colonies renovated, and presence of colony stressors and specific signs of illness. The responses allow USDA for the first time to differentiate patterns between small-scale and commercial beekeepers, analyze data on a state-by-state basis, and compare more specific quarterly losses, additions and renovations for larger scale beekeepers.
According to the survey released today, there were 2.59 million or 8% fewer honey bee colonies on January 1, 2016 than the 2.82 million present a year earlier on January 1, 2015 for operations with five or more colonies. New quarterly colony data allow new levels of analysis. For example, there was an 18% loss of colonies in the January-March quarter in 2015 and a 17% loss in the same quarter in 2016. Honey beekeepers with five or more colonies reported Varroa mites as the leading stressor affecting colonies. They also reported more colonies with symptoms of Colony Collapse Disorder lost in the first quarter of 2016 with 113,930 than the 92,250 lost in the same quarter in 2015.
This research complements other information USDA and partners have been collecting for years. For example, in March NASS released its annual report on honey production and prices for 2015. This report, which is used by USDA, producers, economists, agribusiness and others, found that U.S. honey production in 2015 from producers with five or more colonies totaled 157 million pounds, down 12 percent from 2014. There were 2.66 million colonies from which honey was harvested in 2015, down 3 percent from 2014. Honey prices were 209.0 cents per pound, down 4 percent from a record high of 217.3 cents per pound in 2014.
Thursday, May 19, 2016
USDA Forest Service and Partners Gear Up for Significant 2016 Wildfire Season
Current Outlook Underscores Need to Reform Wildfire Funding
WASHINGTON– Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell met today with Forest Service Regional Foresters to discuss preparations for anticipated significant wildland fire potential in 2016. The briefing comes as the 2016 fire season has begun with five times more acres already burned than this time last year, following 2015's record-setting fire season.
"The 2016 wildfire season is off to a worrisome start. Southern California, the Great Basin in Nevada, portions of the southwest, and even Florida and Hawaii are particularly vulnerable this year. In California, more than 40 million trees have died, becoming dry fuel for wildfire," said Vilsack.
"Congress must take action now to ensure that we, and, ultimately the firefighters we ask so much of, have the resources to do the restoration and wildfire prevention work necessary to keep our forests healthy." Forest Service Chief Tidwell underscored the Forest Service's commitment to ensuring the protection of firefighters' lives. Last year, seven members of the Forest Service firefighting team were lost in the line of duty, and 4,500 homes were damaged or destroyed. This year the Forest Service is able to mobilize 10,000 firefighters, 900 engines, 300 helicopters, 21 airtankers, 2 water scoopers and over 30 aerial supervision fixed-wing aircraft. Together with federal, state and local partners, the agency is positioned to respond wherever needed.
"The job of fighting wildfires has become increasingly difficult due to the effects of climate change, chronic droughts and development within Wildland-Urban Interface areas," said Tidwell. "We must do what is necessary to ensure we have the resources to perform restoration and wildfire prevention work essential to keep our forests healthy."
Climate change has led to fire seasons that are, on average, 78 days longer than they were in 1970 and, on average, the number of acres burned each year has doubled since 1980. As a result, the Forest Service's firefighting budget is regularly exhausted before the end of the wildfire season, forcing the Forest Service to abandon critical restoration and capital improvement projects in order to suppress extreme fires.
The cost of the Forest Service's wildfire suppression reached a record $243 million in a one-week period during the height of suppression activity in August 2015. With a record 52 percent of the Forest Service's budget dedicated to fire suppression activities, compared to just 16 percent in 1995, the Forest Service's firefighting budget was exhausted in 2015, forcing USDA to transfer funds away from forest restoration projects that would help reduce the risk of future fires, in order to cover the high cost of battling blazes.
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
USDA Announces $21 Million Available For Bioeconomy Research and Development
WASHINGTON-The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced the availability of $21 million to support the development of regional systems in sustainable bioenergy and biobased products, as well as education and training for the next generation of scientists that will expand availability of renewable, sustainable goods and energy. This funding is available through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill and administered by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
"This announcement marks the Obama Administration's latest investment in the biobased economy, which pumps $369 billion into the U.S. economy each year and supports 4 million jobs in rural and small towns across the United States. Over the course of this Administration, America has more than doubled our renewable energy production, and today we import less than half our oil. We are saving money at the pump, bolstering national security by relying less on foreign oil, and combatting climate change with investments in technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide for cleaner air," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Today's investment into regional production systems and the development of our next generation of scientists will have a direct impact on local economies now and set us up for a brighter, more innovative future."
Established by the 2008 Farm Bill and re-authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill, AFRI is the nation's premier competitive, peer-reviewed grants program for fundamental and applied agricultural sciences. In the seven years since AFRI was established, the program has led to true innovations and ground-breaking discoveries in agriculture to combat childhood obesity, improve and sustain rural economic growth, address water availability issues, increase food production, find new sources of energy, mitigate the impacts of climate variability and enhance resiliency of our food systems, and ensure food safety. This round of funding is offered through the AFRI Sustainable Bioenergy and Bioproducts challenge area, which creates or sustains jobs by enhancing existing food and fiber production systems, boosts ecosystems by reducing greenhouse gases and improving water and habitat quality, and provides renewable energy, chemical, and product options.
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Oregon farmer calls on Congress to help small businesses by streamlining the federal tax code
Portland-Farming and ranching is fraught with uncertainties but taxes shouldn't be one of them, Oregon Farm Bureau member Gayle Goschie recently told the Senate Finance Committee. Testifying on behalf of the Hop Growers of America, Goschie asked lawmakers to help millions of American small businesses by streamlining and simplifying the incredibly complex federal tax code.
"A growing season can turn quickly from an economic gain to an economic loss. A change in the weather, product prices, labor supply or our customers' needs can have an extreme, often unforeseen, impact on our business. Furthermore, the complex and sometimes arbitrary and inequitable nature of our tax laws can impact how we buy equipment, what type of crops we plant and our hiring practices," she explained.
Uncertainty with taxes prevents Goschie and many other farmers and ranchers from investing with confidence in their businesses. "Fixing the present tax code is one of the ways Congress can help ensure that farms like mine are positioned for growth," she said.
She praised Congress for already taking action on some important tax issues, like Section 179 small business expensing. Now that it's permanent, Goschie and her family have been able to invest in renewable energy, as well as water and energy-saving practices on their hops and wine grape farm in Silverton, Oregon.
She hopes Congress will now work on streamlining depreciation schedules. That complicated and time-consuming section of the tax code requires hundreds of purchases to be recorded and tracked independently. In addition, there are inequalities from one industry to the next.
The tax treatment of pre-production costs is also a problem for family farmers, according to Goschie. Preproduction costs are one of a number of expenses associated with developing a vineyard. The general rule under the current law is that all pre-productive costs incurred during the pre-productive period of vines must be capitalized into the cost of the vines. While depreciation on pre-productive costs for vines begins when the vines have produced their first commercially harvestable crop-which takes at least three years-plant and trellis pre-production costs for hops can be written off much sooner-and most crops have no restrictions at all.
"As you can see, the tax code for small business owners, farmers like me, is complicated and difficult to interpret," Goschie said. "Goschie Farms does not have accountants on staff to analyze every decision as it is made or to maneuver each decision to maximize the tax benefits. Our time and efforts are needed in the fields to meet the demands of our customers."
Monday, May 16, 2016
Farm Bureau survey: Farmers want to control their own data
Washington-Farmers and ranchers want to control the information their equipment collects every time it passes through a field, a survey released today by the American Farm Bureau Federation shows. Farmers also believe that creating a cooperative-style central repository for their data is the best way to enhance its security and maximize its value.
"We asked our members what they thought about data, and it is clear that boosting farmer confidence in security and data management will be critical to unlocking the potential this technology holds," said AFBF President Zippy Duvall. "This survey also shows that we are on the right track with various ag group initiatives designed to improve data integration and promote transparency about how the data is collected and used."
AFBF is a founding member of the Ag Data Coalition, an organization created by several leading agricultural groups and companies to help farmers better store and manage their information in a central location. The ADC will establish a co-op-style repository for agricultural data, with farmers having a governing role over the group.
Duvall said that is consistent with survey findings that 71 percent of respondents said they are interested in having access to the kind of data bank that ADC is developing, while 82 percent say it is important that farmers have a voice in the ag data co-op.
Survey respondents also ranked vendor transparency high among their priorities. Farm Bureau and other groups recently introduced a tool, the Ag Data Transparency Evaluator, to explain in plain English the convoluted details often found in data contracts with agricultural hardware and software providers.
The survey, meanwhile, revealed a high level of misunderstanding among respondents regarding data details in their contracts. When asked whether they knew if their contracts indicated they owned or controlled their own data, 55 percent of those surveyed said they did not know. Twelve percent said the contracts did not indicate control or ownership, and only 33 percent said their contracts specifically indicated that growers owned or controlled the data they generate.
When asked whether contract details about sharing data with a third party, business partner or affiliate required approval of the grower, only 32 percent said they did. Fifty-four percent were unsure and 14 percent said prior approval from a grower was not required for data sharing.
The survey also revealed other issues that must be addressed to help promote farmer acceptance, noting the following:
• Seventy-seven percent are concerned about which entities can access their farm data and whether it could be used for regulatory purposes;
• Sixty-seven percent said they will consider how outside parties use and treat their data when deciding which technology or service provider to use;
• Sixty-six percent believe farmers should share in the potential financial benefits from the use of their data beyond the direct value they may realize on their farm;
• Sixty-one percent are worried that companies could use their data to influence market decisions; and
• Fifty-nine percent were confused whether current agreements or contracts allowed technology or service providers to use their data to market other services, equipment or inputs back to them.
This year's poll follows a 2014 survey that led to the development and publication of a set of Thirteen Principles on Data Privacy and Security that same year. Thirty-eight different agricultural companies and farm groups have signed on to the principles, to date.
Since then, Duvall said Farm Bureau has focused its efforts on "bringing life" to the principles. Farm Bureau's work to date has primarily centered on three major projects:
• Creation of the Ag Data Transparency Evaluator;
• Development of a cooperative data repository by the Ag Data Coalition; and
• Additional education for farmers and ranchers on issues pertaining to data technology.
Friday, May 13, 2016
Farmers hopeful e-approval system will speed up H-2A processing
Washington– With farmers across the country losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in crops as they wait for workers held up by a significant visa backlog,Farm Bureau is pleased to see the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and the State Department launching a new online approval platform today that will hopefully expedite H-2A processing.
“Without workers in place to plant, tend and harvest, crops are going to waste while bureaucratic paperwork keeps piling up,” according to American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall, who noted that it was Farm Bureau that raised the flag on this major breakdown in our food-growing system in hopes that agencies would find an immediate solution.
“We believe USCIS and DOS are taking an important step to bring the H-2A processing system into the 21st century,” Duvall said. “However, farmers across the country are still experiencing delays due to this backlog that spans multiple agencies. We will continue to work with congressional leaders and the agencies to ensure farmers get workers by their date of need.”
Thursday, May 12, 2016
Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Announces Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry Results, Additional $72.3 Million Soil Health Investment to Support Paris Agreement
WASHINGTON–Today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack shared the first results of USDA's Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry, one year after he unveiled the plan at Michigan State University. In addition to providing specific goals and results of the many actions that USDA is taking to help farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners respond to and help mitigate climate change, Vilsack announced a new $72.3 million investment to boost carbon storage in healthy soils during a speech on climate at the Center for America Progress in Washington, DC.
"American farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners are global leaders in conserving rural America's natural resources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions," said Vilsack. "With today's announcements, USDA is providing the necessary tools and resources called for under the President's Climate Action Plan so producers and landowners can successfully create economic opportunity and provide the food, fiber and energy needs of a growing global population."
On April 23, 2015, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack announced USDA's 10 Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture, a comprehensive set of voluntary programs and initiatives that is expected to reduce net emissions and enhance carbon sequestration by over 120 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent by 2025 - about two percent of economy-wide emissions. The ten "building blocks" span a range of technologies and practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase carbon storage, and generate clean renewable energy. USDA also supports global food security through in-country capacity building, basic and applied research, and support for improved market information, statistics and analysis.
Today's " USDA Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry Implementation Plan and Progress Report" catalogues the progress made over the past year and provides new details on the Department's framework for helping farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners respond to climate change.
Wednesday, May 11, 2016
WASHINGTON – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today awarded 26 grants to help rural small businesses and agricultural producers across rural America conserve energy and develop renewable energy systems, ultimately reducing their carbon footprint, lowering overhead costs and helping to create jobs. The grants are made possible through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which helps farms and small businesses right-size their energy systems and helps with the installation costs for renewable energy equipment.
"Helping thousands of rural small businesses, farmers and ranchers shift away from fossil-based energy by installing renewable energy systems and energy efficiency solutions has been one of the most important components of USDA's climate mitigation investments," Vilsack said. "Nationwide, Americans are lowering their carbon footprint and energy bills by being more energy efficient and switching to renewable energy, and USDA investments make more of these options available. The Rural Energy for America Program also helps businesses create jobs in their communities through the development and installation of energy efficiency and generation projects. These benefits ripple across the nation as we work toward energy independence and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change."
Thanks to USDA investments in renewable energy projects of all sizes, rural Americans are saving more than 10.4 billion kWh – enough energy to power more than 959,000 American homes annually. USDA has invested $38 billion in electric loans and more than $1 billion for smart grid technologies since 2009, helping build more than 185,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines serving approximately 5 million rural customers annually. Today, more than 2,200 USDA wind and solar renewable electricity generation projects power more than 130,000 homes annually.
REAP provides grants and loan guarantees for renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvements, grants for energy audits, and grants for renewable energy planning and development to service providers who work with farmers and rural small businesses.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
USDA, DOE Partner to Invest $10 Million in Green Energy Research
WASHINGTON–The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)'s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Department of Energy (DOE) today announced the joint investment of $10 million towards research that will drive more efficient biofuels production and agricultural feedstock improvements.
These awards were made through the Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI), authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, and are part of the Obama Administration's All-of-the-Above Energy Strategy to enhance U.S. energy security, reduce America's reliance on imported oil and leverage our domestic energy supply, while also supporting rural economies. This strategy has helped to transform the United States economy into a global leader in renewable energy and an aggressive champion of greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions through practical, science-based solutions.
"Advancements in bioenergy research will help protect our national energy security, reduce pollution, and bolster our energy supply," said Cathie Woteki, Under Secretary for USDA's Research, Education & Economics mission area. "Producing more renewable and biobased energy can also revitalize rural communities with a new economic market and provide farmers a profitable and sustainable investment through on-farm energy resources."
The Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) is a joint program run by NIFA and DOE to develop economically and environmentally sustainable sources of biomass and increase the availability of renewable fuels and biobased products, helping to replace the need for gasoline and diesel in vehicles, and diversify our nation's energy choices.
Monday, May 9, 2016
Idaho FSA: USDA Announces Conservation Reserve Program Results
More Than 800,000 Acres Selected Through Highly Competitive Application Rounds
Boise--USDA announced the enrollment of more than 800,000 acres in the Conservation Reserve Program. Through CRP, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) helps farmers offset the costs of restoring, enhancing and protecting certain grasses, shrubs and trees that improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and strengthen wildlife habitat. Farmers’ and ranchers’ participation in CRP continues to provide numerous benefits to our nation, including helping reduce emissions of harmful greenhouse gases and providing resiliency to future weather changes.
A nationwide acreage limit was established for this program in the 2014 Farm Bill, capping the total number of acres that may be enrolled at 24 million for fiscal years 2017 and 2018. At the same time, USDA has experienced a record demand from farmers and ranchers interested in participating in the voluntary program. As of March 2016, 23.8 million acres were enrolled in CRP, with 1.7 million acres set to expire this fall.
Over three million acres have been offered for enrollment this year across the three main categories within CRP, with USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) receiving over 26,000 offers to enroll more than 1.8 million acres during the general enrollment period, and over 4,600 offers to enroll more than one million acres in the new CRP Grasslands program. Coming off a record-setting 2015 continuous enrollment of over 860,000 acres, more than 364,000 acres already have been accepted for 2016 in the CRP continuous enrollment, triple the pace of last year.
FSA will accept 411,000 acres in general enrollment, the most competitive selection in the history of the program, with the acreage providing record high conservation benefits. USDA selected offers by weighing environmental factors plus cost, including wildlife enhancement, water quality, soil erosion, enduring benefits, and air quality.
The results of the first-ever enrollment period for CRP Grasslands, FSA will also accept 101,000 acres in the program, providing participants with financial assistance for establishing approved grasses, trees and shrubs on pasture and rangeland that can continue to be grazed. More than 70 percent of these acres are diverse native grasslands under threat of conversion, and more than 97 percent of the acres have a new, veteran or underserved farmer or rancher as a primary producer. FSA continues to accept CRP Grasslands offers and will conduct another ranking period later this year.
Participants in CRP establish long-term, resource-conserving plant species, such as approved grasses or trees (known as “covers”) to control soil erosion, improve water quality and develop wildlife habitat on marginally productive agricultural lands. In return, FSA provides participants with rental payments and cost-share assistance. Contract duration is between 10 and 15 years.
Friday, May 6, 2016
RECORD HIGH APRIL MELT DECREASES SNOWPACKS ACROSS IDAHO
BOISE–The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has just released the fifth water supply outlook report for the 2016 water year. What a difference a month makes. Near normal snowpack covered the majority of Idaho, and the NRCS monitoring region, at the beginning of April. The beginning of May, however, tells a much different story. Snow across much of the state has melted at a record high rate during April.
Reservoirs and lakes remain in good shape across Idaho and are capturing this year’s snowmelt runoff to store and put to use as we enter the dry summer months.
April precipitation across the state covered the extremes: from well-below to well-above average depending on location. Most areas received below average monthly precipitation. The lowest precipitation amounts occurred in the Snake River headwaters above Jackson Lake, while Idaho’s southern border from the Owyhee to the Raft basin received from 112% to 150% of normal.
“Precipitation amounts received since the start of the water year on October 1, 2015 remains encouraging with the whole state reporting 92% of average or better,” said Ron Abramovich, water supply specialist with NRCS. “However, those areas with deficits are worth watching and may not improve much as we move into our dry summer months.”
Streamflow forecasts reflect the early melt, early runoff and dry April by shifting forecasts down a notch and are now 70 to 90% of average across most of the state. The exceptions are the high desert streams south of the Snake River from the Bruneau to Oakley Reservoir inflow which are forecast at 100 to 125% of average.
“One of the key variables to watch now is nighttime air temperatures,” said Abramovich. “If they dip below freezing which will slow down melting of the pack. But, if daytime temperatures approach near record highs, there is still enough snow to generate additional streamflow increases across much of the state.”
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
USDA Awards $16 Million for Research into Sustainable Crop and Livestock Production MethodsWASHINGTON– The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today awarded $16.5 million in grants to support research into methods for boosting agriculture productivity and ensuring food security in the face of pests, diseases and a changing climate. In addition, USDA announced that it is seeking applications for the next round of projects, which will focus on pollinator health and plant and animal phonemics.
The grants are made available through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), administered by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Established by the 2008 Farm Bill and re-authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill, AFRI is the nation's premier, peer-reviewed competitive grants program for fundamental and applied agricultural sciences. In the seven years since AFRI was established, the program has led to true innovations and ground-breaking discoveries in agriculture to combat childhood obesity, improve and sustain rural economic growth, address water availability issues, increase food production, find new sources of energy, mitigate the impacts of climate variability and enhance resiliency of our food systems, and ensure food safety.
"In the face of diminishing land and water resources and increasingly variable climatic conditions, food production must increase to meet the demands of a world population projected to pass 9 billion by 2050," said Vilsack. "Funding in research to respond to these challenges should be considered as an investment in our nation's future, an investment which will pay big dividends in the years to come."
The awards and available funding announced today fall into the AFRI Food Security Challenge Area, which funds projects that increase agricultural productivity and the availability and accessibility of safe, nutritious food. Fiscal year 2015 projects receiving support today focus on agriculture production systems, breeding and genomics of crops and livestock, and a national strategy for sustainable crop and livestock production. Since 2010, NIFA has awarded more than $219 million to the AFRI Food Security Challenge Area.
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Simpson Opposes Onerous Rule from Department of Labor
Congressman cosponsors legislation to block DOL from implementing job-killing rule
Washington, D.C. – Idaho Congressman Simpson is a cosponsor of H.R. 4773, the Protecting Workplace Advancement and Opportunity Act, which blocks a U.S. Department of Labor rule to significantly increase the salary threshold for exemption from federal overtime pay requirements for managerial, professional or administrative positions.
Currently under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), salaried employees who earn $23,660 or less are eligible for overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours per week. In its final rule, the U.S. Department of Labor rule is expected to increase the income eligibility threshold to workers who make less than $47,000 a year.
“I am not necessarily opposed to increasing the salary threshold for exempt positions, but I am concerned that a sudden 99% increase will be too burdensome for nonprofits, academic institutions, and small businesses in Idaho” Simpson said. “The rule could create unintended consequences such as reduced hours and benefits for employees as businesses would be required to immediately absorb new labor costs. Furthermore, this federal salary threshold does not take into account regional differences in wages and cost of living, which could put Idaho businesses at a disadvantage.”
H.R. 4773 would block the current proposed regulation from taking effect and require the U.S. Department of Labor to perform further analysis of the impact that the changes to overtime regulations will have on small businesses, nonprofits, and institutes of higher education; as well as the impact on employment and employee benefit structures for exempt and nonexempt employees, before proceeding with its rule.
H.R. 4773 is under consideration by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.