Monday, June 27, 2016

Just in

USDA, Interior Announce More Than $47 Million in Investments for Water Conservation, Energy Efficiency, Drought Response & Agriculture Operations Across the West

BRIGHTON–The U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Interior today announced more than $47 million in investments to help water districts and producers on private working lands better conserve water resources. The funds include $15 million in USDA funds and $32.6 million from the Bureau of Reclamation for local projects to improve water and energy efficiency and provide a strengthened federal response to ongoing and potential drought across 13 states in the West.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Reclamation Commissioner Estevan Lopez announced the funding in Brighton, Colo. The Bureau of Reclamation funding will support 76 local projects through the Department of the Interior's WaterSMART program. Funding from USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) will support on-farm water delivery system improvements through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program, in tandem with the 76 Interior-funded projects. Vilsack and Lopez were joined by a local water authority and landowner who spoke about the importance of the federal funding in the cost share program.
"By working with communities and producers to more wisely manage the water they have, we help ensure that this and future generations will have sufficient supplies of clean water for drinking, agriculture, economic activities, recreation, and ecosystem health," said Secretary Vilsack. "As drought continues across the west, our farmers and ranchers are stepping up to the plate to partner with communities and strengthen efficiency to better conserve our water supply."
"Water and energy efficiency are intricately linked," Commissioner López said. "When we conserve water, we also conserve the energy it takes to move it. One way we can achieve these efficiencies is to bring federal resources to the table for local projects that focus on saving water. This program represents one more way we're focusing resources on projects to provide resiliency in the face of drought." 
Interior's funding is made available through competitive grant programs, which are part of the WaterSMART sustainable water initiative. The grants and selection process are managed by Interior's Bureau of Reclamation, which is the nation's largest wholesale water supplier, providing one in five western farmers with irrigation water for 10 million acres of farmland and potable water to more than 31 million Americans across 17 western states.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Just in

Statement by AFBF President Zippy Duvall on Introduction of GMO Labeling Legislation in the Senate

WASHINGTON--“There are no – and never have been any– documented health risks from genetically engineered food in the marketplace. The American Farm Bureau Federation continues to oppose mandatory food labels that are not necessary for health or safety reasons. We also oppose a patchwork of state-by-state labeling rules. We are reviewing this legislative proposal, and over the next few days will determine how it fits with our policy. We will also assess its impact on farmers' abilities to use modern agricultural technology to produce more, high-quality food.

“We appreciate Chairman Roberts’ diligence in taking action prior to the Vermont law’s going into effect. This deal clearly seeks to prevent a 50-state mismatched quilt of differing labeling standards. But the mandatory feature holds significant potential to contribute to confusion and unnecessary alarm. Regardless of the outcome, we continue to believe a national, voluntary standard remains the best approach. Our board will deliver a decision soon.” 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Save the Range

Farm Bureau Asks Congress to Save Rangelands, Control Wild Horse and Burro Population

WASHINGTON– Congress must act quickly to keep fast-growing herds of feral horses and burros from further damaging the environment of the western United States, the American Farm Bureau Federation said today. At current rates, AFBF said, their already excessive numbers will double in a mere four years. Callie Hendrickson, chair of AFBF’s Federal Lands Issue Advisory Committee, testified before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands. Hendrickson also serves as executive director of the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts in Rio Blanco County, Colorado. 
“The rangeland of the West has its share of unique natural resource challenges, not least of which is the burden it carries of an overpopulation of wild horses and burros,” Hendrickson said. “This overabundance is critically damaging the ecology of western rangelands with severe, long-term consequences for the native plant and animal life that call it home.”
Even though law requires it, the Bureau of Land Management has neither the money nor the ability to fairly balance wild horse and burro populations so that other wildlife, livestock and vegetation can thrive. Ranchers face rapidly shrinking grazing allotments while continuing to pay for the allotments they once had lest they lose them – if and when the grazing lands recover from severe overgrazing by feral horses and burros. 

“Populations of wild horses and burros have been allowed to grow at a rate that in many places exceeds six times their authorized management level,” Hendrickson told the subcommittee. “This situation has not only led to widespread degradation of western rangelands, but has also had devastating effects on the health of the animals themselves who often face dehydration, starvation and death … The need for congressional intervention cannot be overstated.”

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

First drought declarations of 2016

USDA Designates 4 Counties in Idaho as Primary Natural Disaster Areas With Assistance to Producers in Surrounding States
WASHINGTON—The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has designated Canyon, Owyhee, Payette and Washington counties in Idaho as primary natural disaster areas due to damages and losses caused by a recent drought.

“Our hearts go out to those Idaho farmers and ranchers affected by recent natural disasters,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “President Obama and I are committed to ensuring that agriculture remains a bright spot in our nation’s economy by sustaining the successes of America’s farmers, ranchers, and rural communities through these difficult times. We’re also telling Idaho producers that USDA stands with you and your communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt your livelihood.”
Farmers and ranchers in Ada, Adams, Elmore, Gem and Twin Falls counties in Idaho also qualify for natural disaster assistance because their counties are contiguous.
Farmers and ranchers in Elko and Humboldt counties in Nevada, and in Baker and Malheur counties in Oregon, also qualify for natural disaster assistance because their counties are contiguous.
All counties listed above were designated natural disaster areas on May 25, 2016, making all qualified farm operators in the designated areas eligible for low interest emergency (EM) loans from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), provided eligibility requirements are met. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for loans to help cover part of their actual losses. FSA will consider each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability. FSA has a variety of programs, in addition to the EM loan program, to help eligible farmers recover from adversity.
Other FSA programs that can provide assistance, but do not require a disaster declaration, include the Emergency Conservation Program; Livestock Forage Disaster Program; Livestock Indemnity Program; Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program; and the Tree Assistance Program. Interested farmers may contact their local USDA Service Centers for further information on eligibility requirements and application procedures for these and other programs. Additional information is also available online at

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Rural Economic Development
Emmett--Titus Gilliam owner of Reclaimed Lumber Products located in Nampa and Emmett explains the process of reclaiming old wood from barns and fences and making new products out of the old lumber.

Everything from sliding track doors, cabinets, wall paneling and even furniture is made from old wood that would have been burned or hauled to the landfill.  More on Titus and his business of recycling old barn wood into repurposed products next week on our Facebook and YouTube channels.

Just in

House-passed bill streamlines deadlines for ozone standards

Washington-Providing for a balance between environmental stewardship and economic and employment growth, the House last week passed the Farm Bureau-supported Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2016 (H.R. 4775). The measure would ensure reasonable implementation of the 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone, streamline the air permitting process, and institute other reforms to federal air quality standards. 
"Stringent ozone standards could place serious restrictions on farmers, increasing input costs for things like electricity, fuel, fertilizer and equipment," American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall wrote in a letter urging House lawmakers to approve the bill. "Further, as ozone standards are ratcheted down closer to levels that exist naturally, more farmers will be forced to abide by restrictions on equipment use and land management, making it more expensive to operate." 
Since 1980, ozone levels have decreased by 33 percent, and that downward trend will continue as states implement the 2008 ozone standards. In 2015, EPA released a new set of standards. Faced with the possibility of having to meet two ozone standards at once, states, along with business and industry, are worried about the potential negative impacts on economic development and job creation. Equally as important as these concerns is the fact that EPA projects that most of the U.S. will meet the 2015 ozone standard of 70 parts per billion by 2025, simply implementing current standards, like the 2008 ozone standards. 
The Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2016 would alleviate these concerns and duplicative standards by harmonizing the deadlines for the 2015 ozone standards; requiring that the 2015 ozone standards would not apply to new air permits completed before final nonattainment designations; and changing the review period for NAAQS from five to 10 years. In addition, the bill would provide that when establishing or revising a NAAQS, the EPA administrator may consider technological feasibility as a secondary consideration; require the EPA administrator to publish concurrently implementing guidance and regulations when establishing or revising NAAQS; and require the EPA administrator to request advice on the adverse public health, welfare, social, economic, or energy effects from the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee before establishing or revising NAAQS. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Simpson Op Ed

Why the Interior Appropriations Bill is Important to Idaho

By Congressman Mike Simpson

Washington--“As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I have an important duty to carefully scrutinize the roughly one-third of the federal budget known as discretionary spending. Earlier this week, the House Interior and Environment Appropriations bill for FY17 was marked up before the full House Appropriations Committee.  As vice-chair of the subcommittee that oversees these agencies, I have a unique opportunity to influence federal policies that directly impact Idaho.  This appropriations bill allocates spending to land management agencies and conducts oversight on policies ranging from grazing on public lands, recreation, and maintenance of our National Parks.  During the appropriations process, ensuring that our tax dollars are used effectively and to the benefit of Idaho is a priority.  I want to share with you some of the great benefits to Idaho contained within this most recent appropriations bill.  

“Among the important items passed in this bill is funding for Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT), a crucial program that compensates rural Idaho communities for federal land owned within the state.  One way to look at PILT is to compare it to a property tax on federal lands requiring the government to pay its part for the land it owns so that rural communities have necessary funding for their key local programs.  PILT directly benefits local government spending for firefighters and police, public education, roads and bridges, and other basic infrastructure needs.     

“The bill also addressed the issue of sage-grouse and the related land management plans proposed by the Bureau of Land Management.  Last year we witnessed a victory for western states when the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that sage-grouse does not warrant a listing as an endangered species.  While a step in the right direction, this created uncertainty for many people in Idaho who were left wondering how these management plans would impact their livelihood.  That is why the Interior bill included language that prevents future listing of sage-grouse and also a prohibition against further changes to resource management plans that are deemed inconsistent with state management plans.  This language would allow the state management plans - which were carefully crafted in coordination with the Department of the Interior - to be implemented.

“I was also pleased to see the inclusion of full funding for wildfire suppression efforts.  I have long advocated for treating catastrophic wildfires as we would any other natural disaster, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes.  However, until those important reforms are made, we must ensure we have the proper funding to protect our precious lands and provide agencies access to the tools necessary to effectively mitigate and reduce the impact of destructive wildfires.  This funding is necessary to combat the catastrophic wildfires we have unfortunately become accustomed to each summer.   

“The Interior Appropriations bill for FY17 also included language that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from expanding its jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act by changing the definition of “navigable waters” to “Waters of the United States.” In Idaho, water is life, and I don’t intend to sit back and watch the EPA take control of state waters, leaving Idaho farmers, ranchers, and landowners at the mercy of federal regulations. The bill also targets several other overreaching EPA rules and cuts their funding for regulatory programs 21 percent below President Obama’s request.

“Overall this bill is good for Idaho.  I am honored to be your representative in Congress and I consider it a privilege to sit on subcommittees that are important to Idaho. I have a responsibility to you, as your representative and a fellow Idahoan, to ensure that our tax dollars are used carefully and federal agencies avoid unnecessary waste.  This latest House Interior and Environment Appropriations bill is an example of compromise and careful allocation of funds that ensures the federal government meets its obligations to taxpayers throughout Idaho and the United States.”  

Friday, June 17, 2016

Just in

Forest Service Makes it Easier for Visitors to Enjoy National Forests and Grasslands

Announces Steps to streamline Permitting Process
WASHINGTON–Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell today announced steps to make it easier for outfitters, guides, schools, non-profits and other partners to take groups out to enjoy outdoor activities on national forests and grasslands. By streamlining the approach to special-use permitting for national forests and grasslands, our natural resources will be even more accessible to Americans.
"Our national forests and grasslands connect people to nature where they live, providing sustainable recreation opportunities for all Americans," Vilsack said. "The experience of enjoying these lands draws people closer to our vast natural resources and strengthens our connection to what our country has to offer. Today, we are taking steps to make it even easier for people to enjoy our public lands and reap the benefits of our forests, rivers and mountains."
More than 160 million people visit national forest and grasslands annually. The vast majority of families and individual visitors do not need a permit to enjoy outdoor activities in the national forest system. 
Forest Service recreation special use permits provide organized access for service providers who take groups of people to national forests and grasslands to experience outdoor recreation, while allowing the Forest Service to manage visitor volume in specific locations and protect resources. Partners and service providers often create opportunities for new visitors, youth, underserved communities, minority visitors and others to experience the great outdoors on our public lands.
"Today, more than ever, people come to know and value places on national forests and grasslands through personal outdoor experiences," said Chief Tidwell. "By modernizing and streamlining our permit processes, we are strengthening our ties to all Americans and their connection to the land. Working with our partners, the Forest Service is connecting citizens with experiences in nature that truly change people's lives."
Outdoor recreation on these public lands also contributes more than $13 billion dollars to the national economy and supports over 205,000 jobs annually. Predominantly based in rural communities, these jobs strengthen local economies through the many small businesses that benefit from proximity to national forests, including more than 5,000 outfitters and guide businesses. The Forest Service currently administers more than 23,000 recreation special use permits a year.
The Forest Service's streamlined approach to special-use permitting will be implemented over time. Ongoing user feedback will help the agency continually evaluate and adjust to provide the best possible customer service. Steps being taken include:
  • Streamlining the process to receive or renew a recreation special use permit, making
  •  it simpler and faster through the use of existing agency authorities.
  • Increasing staff capacity and the consistency of the permit process across the country by developing new standardized training programs and exploring new staffing strategies.
  • Encouraging managers to take greater advantage of allowable waivers when a special use permit is not required, for example, where a proposed use would have only nominal
  •  impact on lands, resources, and programs or operations. 
  • Investing in technology to improve business tools and data that support recreation special uses, including an electronic permit application process.
"The steps announced today will improve access for groups and help us better meet the needs of the families, friends and individuals who made 160 million fun, memory-making visits to learn and play in our national forests last year," said Vilsack, "But, we still need Congress to take action now to ensure these opportunities continue to be available by passing a real budget fix that stops the chronic drain on Forest Service resources that comes from the growing costs of fighting wildfire."
In a recent report on the cost of fire suppression, the Forest Service reported that money available for recreation, heritage and wilderness is down 15 percent, while dollars for roads, facilities and deferred maintenance are down 46, 68 and 95 percent respectively. Non-fire-related staff has also been cut by 39 percent since 1998. The cost of fire preparedness and suppression activities has grown from 16 percent of the Forest Service's total budget to more than 52 percent over the last two decades. That shift has come at the expense of programs and staff in other critical activities, including the staff that administers permits. A fire funding solution that stems or reverses the reduction of resources for recreation programs is urgently needed. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Just in from Capitol Hill

Simpson Votes Against Costly Energy Regulations and Tax Hikes

Washington - Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson voted in favor of two resolutions which voice the House of Representatives disapproval for two of President Obama’s proposed energy initiatives. The first, H.Con.Res. 89, would express the sense of Congress that a carbon tax would be detrimental to the United States economy. The second, H.Con.Res. 112, would express the sense of Congress opposing the President’s proposed $10 tax on every barrel of oil. Both passed the House on Friday.

“The President continues to double down on regulations and tax hikes that would be harmful to our economy,” said Simpson. “Whether it is the unrealistic cap and trade system or raising taxes on energy sources Americans use every day, these policies drive up costs in nearly every aspect of our lives. The resolutions considered today send a message to the President that these policies are bad for our economy.”

The President’s fiscal year 2017 budget request proposed a $10.25 tax increase on every barrel of oil. Public reports estimate that consumers could see a 25 cent increase per gallon of gasoline if this proposal were enacted. 

“Instead of the President’s initiatives, I support using technology, incentives, and innovation to move our economy to sustainable, independent energy sources.  That means we need to look at an all of the above energy strategy and approach it in a common sense, thoughtful way.  Unfortunately, burdensome regulations and tax hikes don’t accomplish that.”

H.Con.Res. 89 and H.Con.Res. 112 both passed by bipartisan votes of 237-163 and 253-144.

Earlier this week, the House also voted on legislation that responds to states and local agencies concerned with implementing ozone standards. Congressman Simpson supported passage of H.R. 4775, the Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2016, which would set reasonable implementation dates for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ozone standards. Under current EPA standards, states would be forced to comply with two separate standards which would leave 33 states and 241 counties in violation of the standards. H.R. 4775 gives states until 2025 to comply. The bill passed the House by a bipartisan vote of 234-177.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

SPARC Conference

"We got to get outside our fence rows, we need to all participate in policy. We got to come together, educate lawmakers about farming and our policy. We've become complacent and we got to be as committed as our fathers and grandfathers.  Said Zippy Duval American Farm Bureau President at the SPARC Conference in Salt Lake City

Monday, June 13, 2016

Just in

Simpson Votes Against Costly Energy Regulations and Tax Hikes

Washington - Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson voted in favor of two resolutions which voice the House of Representatives disapproval for two of President Obama’s proposed energy initiatives. The first, H.Con.Res. 89, would express the sense of Congress that a carbon tax would be detrimental to the United States economy. The second, H.Con.Res. 112, would express the sense of Congress opposing the President’s proposed $10 tax on every barrel of oil. Both passed the House on Friday.

“The President continues to double down on regulations and tax hikes that would be harmful to our economy,” said Simpson. “Whether it is the unrealistic cap and trade system or raising taxes on energy sources Americans use every day, these policies drive up costs in nearly every aspect of our lives. The resolutions considered today send a message to the President that these policies are bad for our economy.”

The President’s fiscal year 2017 budget request proposed a $10.25 tax increase on every barrel of oil. Public reports estimate that consumers could see a 25 cent increase per gallon of gasoline if this proposal were enacted. 

“Instead of the President’s initiatives, I support using technology, incentives, and innovation to move our economy to sustainable, independent energy sources.  That means we need to look at an all of the above energy strategy and approach it in a common sense, thoughtful way.  Unfortunately, burdensome regulations and tax hikes don’t accomplish that.”

H.Con.Res. 89 and H.Con.Res. 112 both passed by bipartisan votes of 237-163 and 253-144.

Earlier this week, the House also voted on legislation that responds to states and local agencies concerned with implementing ozone standards. Congressman Simpson supported passage of H.R. 4775, the Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2016, which would set reasonable implementation dates for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ozone standards. Under current EPA standards, states would be forced to comply with two separate standards which would leave 33 states and 241 counties in violation of the standards. H.R. 4775 gives states until 2025 to comply. The bill passed the House by a bipartisan vote of 234-177.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Just in

USDA Releases Results of New Survey on Honey Bee Colony Health

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 productionThis is an external link or third-party site outside of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website. 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.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Why I Farm...

Beck’s Why I Farm Movement Hits the Road
College graduate embarks on 50-state trip to tell the story of agriculture
Atlanta – When Natalina Sents moved the gold tassel on her graduation cap to become an Iowa State University graduate, she wasn’t headed for a full-time job. She was embarking on the journey of a lifetime. Partnering with Beck’s, the largest family-owned retail seed company in the United States, Sents is setting out on the Why I Farm Roadtrip – a year-long, 50 state tour documenting agriculture’s diversity and revealing the untold stories of America’s farmers.

“Farmers are the backbone of our nation,” said Scott Beck, president of Beck’s. “As agriculture continues to be scrutinized, it’s important we tell their story of faith, fortitude and passion. When Natalina approached us with the idea to travel the country interviewing farmers, her dream matched our mission to honor the American farmer. By taking the Why I Farm Movement on the road, we’re able to give even more farmers a voice.”
Partnering with Beck’s, the largest family-owned retail seed company in the United States, Natalina Sents is setting out on the Why I Farm Roadtrip – a year-long, 50 state tour documenting agriculture’s diversity and revealing the untold stories of America’s farmers.

Whether traveling by car, plane or train, Sents will spend approximately one week in each state gathering real stories from real farmers who not only open their homes, but their hearts. The Why I Farm Roadtrip began on May 15 in Sents’ home state of Iowa. Over the past three weeks, she has visited farms in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland. Sents will be sharing these stories on the Why I Farm social media accounts and blog.

“From the moment I learned about Beck’s Why I Farm Movement, I became inspired to tell the story of agriculture,” said Sents, a Columbus Junction, Iowa native. “With their help, I get to live my dream of traveling the country, interviewing farmers, and chronicling their lives on the Why I Farm Roadtrip.”
Since 2013, Beck’s Why I Farm Movement has honored 21 farmers by bringing to life their heartfelt stories through powerful video. Reaching more than 3.8 million people, the Why I Farm Movement has gained fans and followers from across the globe.

“I tell people all the time, I run a maternity ward for pigs. Being a mom, I think that you can relate, and kind of feel, more of what the sows need. I was raised in the city, so when I got to the farm I wanted to do everything. I drove tractors, loaded hogs, power-washed, and drove the feed truck. The farrowing house was probably the last place I went. But immediately, I just fell in love. When I first started doing this, my mother-in- law was in the farrowing house. She was the one that really taught me what to do.” - Erin Brenneman of Brenneman Pork,Wellman, Iowa shares her “Why I Farm” story on Beck’s Why I Farm Roadtrip

“When it comes to agriculture across the nation, there is so much to see and do,” stated Elaine Bristol, program coordinator for Michigan GROWN, Michigan GREAT. “The Why I Farm Roadtrip really intrigued me because it’s going to feature that diversity.”

To follow Beck’s Why I Farm Roadtrip, visit ,, and, as well as @WhyIFarm on Instagram and Snapchat. To submit a story idea, please email

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Just in

USDA Expands Access to Capital for Rural Businesses

BLOOMINGTON–USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service Administrator Sam Rikkers today unveiled new rules to expand access to capital for rural businesses.
"Access to capital is one of the most important needs for businesses," Rikkers said. "USDA is partnering with the Treasury Department and other agencies to ensure that rural businesses have the resources they need to prosper and grow. The regulatory changes I am announcing today will help businesses expand their operations and create jobs."
The changes, published in today's  Federal Register, make it easier for rural businesses to qualify for loans in USDA's  Business & Industry (B&I) Guaranteed Loan Program.
They allow businesses to use the  New Markets Tax Credit as a form of equity, and allow, for the first time, employees of a business to qualify for loan guarantees to purchase stock in a business by forming an Employee Stock Ownership Plan or worker cooperative.
Other improvements include:
  • New, loan application scoring criteria, including priority for loans to businesses that will create quality jobs, such 
  • as those with health care benefits;
  • Reduced paperwork requirements to refinance loans;
  • Strengthened eligibility criteria for non-regulated lenders (such as privately owned finance companies) to participate
  •  in the B&I program; 
  • Expanded loan eligibility, including in urban areas, for projects that process, distribute, aggregate, store and/or market locally or regionally produced foods.
The stock ownership provisions are modeled after rural cooperative businesses. Co-ops have been economic development partners with USDA for decades. A January 2016  USDA report indicated that cooperatives earned $6.5 billion in net income and generated $246.7 billion in total revenue in 2014.
For a complete overview of the new rules, see page 35984 of the June 3, 2016  Federal Register.
USDA awarded more than 3,500 Business & Industry program loans totaling $9.7 billion between 2009 and 2015 to help rural businesses create or retain jobs. One of these loans – for $1.8 million in 2013 – helped White Rock Specialties, LLC buy equipment and convert an old school in Mosca, Colo., into a potato packing facility. White Rock has a large supply of potato growers in the San Luis Valley and focuses on locally grown organic specialty potatoes.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Just in

USDA Awards Funds to Expand, Accelerate Wood Energy and Wood Products Markets in 19 States

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WASHINGTON-The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell today announced over $8.5 million to expand and accelerate technologies and strategies that promote the use of wood in commercial construction, heat and power generation, and other wood product innovations that also benefit forest health. Federal funds will leverage more than $18 million in investments from 42 business, university, nonprofit and Tribal partners in 19 states, for a total investment of $27 million.
"We are looking for opportunities to reduce forest restoration costs and create more jobs through strong forest products markets," said Chief Tidwell. "This funding supports improving forest health on the National Forest System lands and other forested lands and promotes the economic and environmental wellbeing of rural communities."
The awarded funds will stimulate the use of hazardous fuels from National Forest System lands and other forested lands to promote forest health while simultaneously generating rural jobs. This year, 77 proposals were received for the Forest Service's Wood Innovations grant program, highlighting the expanding interest and use of wood as a renewable energy source and as an innovative building material.
Healthy markets for forest products help the nation's forests mitigate some of the impacts of climate change. Research has demonstrated that wood products from responsibly managed forests outperform other building materials in measures of greenhouse gas intensity, air and water pollution and other environmental impacts. Responsibly-sourced forest products also provide income for private landowners that keep their land forested and supports needed investments in forest management to provide clean water, wildlife habitat, and other resources millions of Americans depend upon.
Today's announcement supports USDA's Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry-a comprehensive effort to provide America's farmers, ranchers and forest landowners with the tools and resources they need to combat climate change. Through this work, USDA expects to reduce net emissions and enhance carbon sequestration in soils and forests by over 120 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year by 2025-the equivalent of taking 25 million cars off the road or offsetting the emissions produced by powering nearly 11 million homes each year.
Over the course of this Administration, USDA has invested nearly $1 billion through grants, loans, and loan guarantees to support over 230 wood energy projects across the country to reduce reliance on costly fossil fuels, support rural economic growth and advance forest restoration. In September 2015, in partnership with the Softwood Lumber Board and the Binational Softwood Lumber Council, USDA announced the winners of the .  The competition was held to support a resilient rural wood products industry, promote forest restoration and retention, and foster sustainability in the built environment. USDA is leading the way in demonstrating the innovative uses of wood and other bio-based products that reduce emissions and increase carbon storage.
- See more at:

Friday, June 3, 2016

USDA Forest Service and Partners Gear Up for Significant 2016 Wildfire Season

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.
Last December Vilsack told members of Congress that he will not authorize transfers from restoration and resilience funding this fire season. Instead, Vilsack has directed the Forest Service to use funds as they were intended. For example, restoration work through programs like the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program and implementation of the , are reducing the size and severity of wildfires. USDA, the U.S. Department of the Interior and other partners are working with at-risk communities to promote community and homeowner involvement in mitigating wildfire risk, reducing hazardous fuels and accomplishing treatments that increase forest health and resilience.
"We keep setting records we don't want to see beat. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, over the last 10 years we've seen 16 of the most historically significant wildfires on record," said Vilsack. "Only focused prevention and forest restoration work can help us turn the corner, so I have directed the Forest Service to aggressively use the funding provided in the 2016 Fiscal Year budget to support forest management, restoration, research, and partnership work to help get ahead of the severe wildfire problem and to focus on providing other services that the American public expects from the Forest Service."
Even a so-called normal year is far worse than it used to be. On average, wildfires burn twice as much land area each year as they did 40 years ago and the threat continues to increase.
Over the last two years, $237 million has been permanently shifted from the Forest Service non-fire budget forcing the department to abandon critical restoration and capital improvement projects in order to suppress extreme fires. This loss in funds to firefighting took place before a single fire broke out in 2016.
For the first time in its 111-year history, over half of the Forest Service's 2015 budget was designated to fight wildfires, compared to just 16 percent in 1995. 2015 was the most expensive fire season in the department's history, costing more than $2.6 billion on fire alone.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Legal victory

Farm Bureau Hails Supreme Court Victory: Farmers and Ranchers May Sue to Stop Clean Water Regulation of Ordinary Farmland
WASHINGTON– A unanimous Supreme Court today ruled landowners may challenge the federal government whenever the Army Corps of Engineers tries improperly to regulate land with regulations designed to protect water.
Landowners have attempted many times to challenge Corps rulings known as jurisdictional determinations, but the government successfully argued that those determinations were not “final agency actions” and the lawsuits were dismissed. Now, when the Corps asserts jurisdiction over low spots that look more like land than water, it will have to do so with the knowledge that its jurisdictional determination can be tested in court. 
“Today’s decision removes a huge roadblock that has prevented landowners from obtaining relief from the courts when the Corps illegally claims their land is federally regulated water,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall said. “Now, farmers and ranchers can have their day in court when the government tells them they cannot plow a field or improve a ditch without a federal permit.”
AFBF filed amicus curiae briefs in the lower court and the Supreme Court in support of the plaintiffs who were represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation. The case was titled United States Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes Co., Inc.
Today’s ruling builds on another unanimous ruling, Sackett v. EPA. The Court today recognized that once the Corps finds that a landscape feature is a “water of the United States,” there are immediate and often dire legal consequences to the landowner. A farmer can continue a farming activity that results in an unlawful discharge and face an enforcement action with civil fines up to $37,500 a day per discharge, or even criminal penalties. Or, the farmer can spend tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars seeking federal Clean Water Act permits over several years only to have the permit ultimately denied. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Homegrown energy

USDA Announces More Than $8 Million in Payments to Support the Production of Advanced Biofuel

 WASHINGTON– Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $8.8 million to boost the production of advanced biofuels and sustain jobs at renewable energy facilities in 39 states.

USDA continues to lead the way in promotion of advanced biofuel production, from implementing the revised Farm Billbio-refinery program to the launching of the Green Fleet with the Department of the Navy and developing the Biogas Opportunities Roadmap, which outlines voluntary strategies to overcome barriers to expansion and development of a robust biogas industry within the United States.

"Advanced biofuels expand America's energy options and increase our sources of homegrown, renewable energy," Vilsack said. "These payments not only help to spur biofuel production, but also protect the environment and help create jobs by building a renewable energy economy in rural areas."

The funding is being provided through USDA's Advanced Biofuel Payment Program, which was established in the 2008 Farm Bill. Payments are made to biofuels producers based on the amount of advanced biofuels produced from renewable biomass, other than corn kernel starch. Examples of eligible feedstocks include crop residue, food and yard waste, vegetable oil, and animal fat.

Through this program to date, USDA has made $308 million in payments to 382 producers in 47 states and territories. These payments have produced enough biofuel to provide more than 391 billion kilowatt hours of electric energy. Secretary Vilsack has recognized the biobased economy as one of the pillars that strengthen rural communities.

Through the Advanced Biofuel Payment Program and other USDA programs, USDA is working to support the research, investment and infrastructure necessary to build a strong biofuels industry that creates jobs and broadens the range of feedstocks used to produce renewable fuel.

Over the course of this Administration, USDA has invested $332 million to accelerate research on renewable energy ranging from genomic research on bioenergy feedstock crops, to development of biofuel conversion processes and costs/benefit estimates of renewable energy production. In January, Secretary Vilsack joined Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus to launch the Great Green Fleet, and witnessed destroyer USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110) being replenished with advanced biofuel made from waste beef fat. Aviation biofuels, like those used by the Navy, are creating new markets for energy created from agricultural waste products.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Just in

USDA Unveils New Improvement to Streamline Crop Reporting

Update Lets Farmers and Ranchers Report Common Acreage Information Once
WASHINGTON–U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced that farmers and ranchers filing crop acreage reports with the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and participating insurance providers approved by the Risk Management Agency (RMA) now can provide the common information from their acreage reports at one office and the information will be electronically shared with the other location. 
This new process is part of the USDA Acreage Crop Reporting Streamlining Initiative (ACRSI). This interagency collaboration also includes participating private crop insurance agents and insurance companies, all working to streamline the information collected from farmers and ranchers who participate in USDA programs.
"If you file your report at one location, the data that's important to both FSA and RMA will be securely and electronically shared with the other location," said FSA Administrator Val Dolcini. "This will avoid redundant and duplicative reporting, and we expect this to save farmers and ranchers time."
"Accuracy in crop reporting is a key component for crop insurance, because an error in this information can affect premiums or claims. This is going to greatly improve efficiencies and reduce mistakes," said RMA Administrator Brandon Willis.
Since 2009, USDA has been working to streamline the crop reporting process for agricultural producers, who have expressed concerns with providing the same basic common information for multiple locations. In 2013, USDA consolidated the deadlines to 15 dates for submitting these reports, down from the previous 54 dates at RMA and 17 dates for FSA. USDA representatives believe farmers and ranchers will experience a notable improvement in the coming weeks as they approach the peak season for crop reporting later this summer. 
More than 93 percent of all annual reported acres to FSA and RMA now are eligible for the common data reporting, and USDA is exploring adding more crops. Producers must still visit both locations to validate and sign acreage reports, complete maps or provide program-specific information. The common data from the first-filed acreage report will now be available to pre-populate and accelerate completion of the second report. Plans are underway at USDA to continue building upon the framework with additional efficiencies at a future date. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Just in

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.