Friday, July 29, 2016

Just in

Forest Service Updates Safety Policy for Saw Use

WASHINGTON- The U.S. Forest Service today finalized a policy(link is external) that will provide for nationally consistent training, evaluation and certification requirements for the use of chain saws and crosscut saws on National Forest System lands. The new policy governs the use of saws by Forest Service and other governmental employees, volunteers, training consultants and cooperators on lands managed by the Forest Service.
“This policy ensures that our employees, our volunteers and our partners will consistently have the best knowledge available and, in the end, be safer when using saws in National Forests,” said Leslie Weldon, deputy chief for the Forest Service’s National Forest System. “The change also means that if sawyers are certified in one region, they are eligible to work in any of our regions.”
Since the 1970s, the agency’s nine regions developed regional policies on the use of chain saws and crosscut saws. Sawyers covered by those policies often maintained trails on national forests and grasslands, helped fight wildfires and worked in wilderness areas where cross cut saws are required. Employees, cooperators and volunteers who worked in more than one region had to comply with multiple regional policies and certifications obtained in one region but not always honored in another.
Under the new national directive:
  • Current sawyer certifications will remain valid until they expire.
  • Cooperators have one year, until July 19, 2017, to meet the new requirements.
  • Sawyers must comply with U.S. Department of Labor minimum age requirements, which limit use of chainsaws to those who are at least 18 years of age and use of crosscut saws to those who are at least 16 years of age.
  • Partner organizations, like the Pacific Crest Trail Association and the Back Country Horsemen of America, may develop their own training and certification programs that meet the requirements in the final directive.
  • Like Forest Service and other governmental employees, cooperators, volunteers and training consultants, Forest Service contractors are subject to applicable federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements governing the use of saws. However, contractors are not subject to the final saw directive because the Agency does not believe it is necessary or appropriate to track their training and certification as sawyers given their role and responsibilities as federal contractors.
More information about the policy is online.
The mission of the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 30 percent of the nation’s surface drinking water to cities and rural communities and approximately 66 million Americans rely on drinking water that originated from the National Forest System.  The agency also has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 900 million forested acres within the U.S., of which over 130 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Just in

USDA Begins Second Year of National Project to Quantify Effects of Agricultural Conservation 

WASHINGTON– The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service is contacting 25,000 farmers and ranchers now through August to take part in a national survey that will more accurately measure the environmental benefits associated with implementation and installation of conservation practices on agricultural land.

The results of the National Resources Inventory Conservation Effects Assessment Project (NRI-CEAP) survey will help further develop the science-based solutions for managing the agricultural landscape to improve environmental quality.

 “The survey gives farmers and ranchers the power to provide a more complete and accurate picture of the conservation practices on their operations,” said NASS Administrator Hubert Hamer. “If contacted, I encourage farmers and ranchers to participate. Their collective responses can directly benefit themselves and all producers by helping leaders focus on what producers need to install conservation practices that are best for their operations environmentally and financially.”

The results of the survey will demonstrate the work of America’s farmers to conserve natural resources while producing the food, fuel and fiber the world requires, participating farmers and ranchers support our cause for continued science-based conservation programs that protect natural resources while supporting farm-related jobs.

Survey results will guide USDA conservation policy and program development and help conservationists, farmers and ranchers more efficiently and effectively conserve natural resources. In addition to helping determine the effectiveness of existing conservation practices, NRI-CEAP analysis provides estimates of resources farmers may need to further protect the soil, water and related resources. Additional information about CEAP is available at the Conservation Effects Assessment Project survey web page. NASS conducts the NRI-CEAP survey under a cooperative agreement with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

NRI-CEAP results help determine not only the effectiveness of existing conservation practices but also what resources farmers may need to further protect the soil, water and related resources in selected watersheds and to document on-farm conservation accomplishments. For example, a recent CEAP report for the Western Lake Erie Basin shows voluntary conservation is making significant headway in reducing nutrient and sediment loss from farms and that there is opportunity to improve conservation management across the basin with no single conservation solution meeting the needs of every field and farm.

That report informed the development of the new Western Lake Erie Basin Initiative, which helps support farmers’ efforts to improve water quality in the region. The NRI-CEAP survey will be conducted in two parts. In the first survey, which is shorter, NASS will determine eligibility for the more in-depth survey that will take place between October 2016 and February 2017. The privacy of all respondents is safeguarded, ensuring that no individual operation or producer can be identified, as required by Federal law.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Just in

USDA Seeks Applications for Funding to Help Develop Advanced Biofuels and Biobased Products

WASHINGTON–Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking applications for funding to help support the development of advanced biofuels, renewable chemicals and biobased products. 
"The bioeconomy is a catalyst for economic development in rural America, creating new jobs and providing new markets for farmers and ranchers," Vilsack said. "Investing in the businesses and technologies that support the production of biofuels and biobased products is not only good for farm incomes. The whole economy benefits from a more balanced, diversified and consumer-friendly energy portfolio, less dependence on foreign oil and reduced carbon emissions."
Funding is being provided through the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program, formerly known as the Biorefinery Assistance Program. Congress established the program in 2008 to encourage the development of biofuels that use renewable feedstocks. The 2014 Farm Bill expanded the program to include renewable chemicals and biobased product manufacturing. The program now provides loan guarantees of up to $250 million to develop, construct and retrofit commercial-scale biorefineries and to develop renewable chemicals and biobased product manufacturing facilities.
USDA has provided $844 million in loan commitments to 10 businesses in the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program since the start of the Obama administration. Companies receiving these commitments are projected to produce 159 million gallons of advanced biofuels.
In 2011, under this program, USDA provided Sapphire Energy a $54.5 million loan guarantee to build a refined algal oil commercial facility. Sapphire's "Green Crude Farm" in Columbus, N.M., is an example of how USDA funding and partnerships with the private sector are helping to support the development of biorefineries. 
The plant opened in May 2012 and is producing renewable algal oil that can be further refined to replace petroleum-derived diesel and jet fuel. According to the company, more than 600 jobs were created during the first phase of construction at the facility and 30 full-time employees currently operate the plant. After Sapphire received additional equity from private investors, it repaid the remaining balance on its USDA-backed loan in 2013.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Just in

Idaho Producers Reminded of Nearing Deadline to Submit Nominations for Farm Service Agency County Committees
BOISE— The U.S. Department of Agriculture Idaho Farm Service Agency Executive Director, Mark Samson, today reminded farmers, ranchers and other agricultural producers that they have until Aug. 1, 2016, to nominate eligible candidates to serve on local FSA county committees.
"The August 1 deadline to submit nominations is quickly approaching,” said Samson.
"If you’ve been considering nominating a candidate or nominating yourself to serve on your local county committee, I encourage you to go to your county office right now to submit that nomination form. I especially encourage the nomination of beginning farmers and ranchers, as well as women and minorities. This is your opportunity to have a say in how federal programs are delivered in your county.”
FSA county committees help local farmers through their decisions on commodity price support loans, conservation programs and disaster programs, and by working closely with county executive directors.
To be eligible to hold office as a county committee member, individuals must participate or cooperate in a program administered by FSA, be eligible to vote in a county committee election and live in a local administrative area where they are running. A complete list of eligibility requirements, more information and nomination forms are available at
All nominees must sign the nomination form FSA-669A. All nomination forms for the 2016 election must be postmarked or received in the local USDA Service Center by close of business on Aug. 1, 2016. Ballots will be mailed to eligible voters by Nov. 7 and are due back to the local USDA Service Centers on Dec. 5. The newly elected county committee members will take office Jan. 1, 2017.
Since 2009, USDA has worked to strengthen and support American agriculture, an industry that supports one in 11 American jobs, provides American consumers with more than 80 percent of the food we consume, ensures that Americans spend less of their paychecks at the grocery store than most people in other countries, and supports markets for homegrown renewable energy and materials. USDA has also provided $5.6 billion in disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; expanded risk management tools with products like Whole Farm Revenue Protection; and helped farm businesses grow with $36 billion in farm credit. The Department has engaged its resources to support a strong next generation of farmers and ranchers by improving access to land and capital; building new markets and market opportunities; and extending new conservation opportunities. USDA has developed new markets for rural-made products, including more than 2,500 biobased products through USDA's BioPreferred program; and invested $64 billion in infrastructure and community facilities to help improve the quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit

Monday, July 25, 2016

Presidents OP-ED

Farmers & ranchers are strongest when we stand together
By AFBF President Zippy Duval

Washington-Neighbors helping neighbors is a cornerstone on which Farm Bureau was founded. It's how we get things done. The more I travel across this land, the more I'm convinced we all need to understand the issues our fellow farmers and ranchers are facing, whether ten miles down the road or thousands of miles across the country.

 The challenges facing agriculture are very much like a diverse ecosystem, but when you take a closer look, you'll find that most American farmers are all tackling one common invasive species: a federal system that too often lacks respect for individual property rights, economic competitiveness and fairness in general.

From the Waters of the U.S. rulemaking and the Endangered Species Act, to public lands and water rights-the federal government continues to slap burdensome regulations on farmers without considering what it takes to keep an agricultural business up and running. As your AFBF president, I want to see firsthand what you're facing on your farms and ranches, so I can tell your stories to our lawmakers on Capitol Hill and to farmers in other regions.

On my recent travels through the West, I saw the impact of regulatory overreach. I saw how public lands are withering under federal constraints and mismanagement. Ranchers are being trampled by federal agencies that want to drive them off public lands their families have used-and helped care for-for generations. Overpopulation of wild horses and burros is just one example of how the government is serving neither man nor beast out West. Instead of the public image of strong, wild horses galloping free, with beautiful manes flying in the air, most of these animals barely survive.

Dehydrated and starving, they have devastated the landscape and local ecosystems through severe overgrazing. The Bureau of Land Management by law must control the excess population or give ranchers the license they need to help mitigate the problem. BLM has done neither. Time and again farmers and ranchers have used their ingenuity and tireless work ethic to preserve natural resources and build up local communities. But when agriculture is pushed out, natural resources often go to waste.

Western forests have suffered crushing losses from the destructive mountain pine beetle. Yet federal agencies have allowed nature to run its course, wiping out millions of acres of Western trees, rather than working with local farmers and businesses to establish best practices to stop the pests, reduce fuel for wildfires and preserve forests and local timber industries. The result is bare mountainsides and depressed rural economies where businesses have been forced to pull out. Farmers and ranchers use good business sense to conserve natural resources, but when we're driven out, who's left to care for these lands that were meant to be a source of national pride? The challenges facing agriculture are significant, but not insurmountable. Our Farm Bureau strength comes through when we reach across regions to help our neighbors from all walks of agriculture.

Our Creator, in many passages throughout the Bible, instructs us to love our neighbors and treat them as we want to be treated. When Southerners needed support in their efforts to strengthen the safety net for cotton growers, farmers from across the country united behind their neighbors in the South. One of my proudest moments as a Farm Bureau member was when voting delegates from other regions were debating cotton policy at the AFBF Annual Convention last January and said, in effect, we stand for all of agriculture-we must help each other.

 Through my travels and conversations with farmers and ranchers in every region, I hope to raise awareness of regional challenges, such as the Western problems I have seen recently, and give Farm Bureau members more examples of how they can help their neighbors and stand united for all of agriculture.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Just in

USDA to Help 821 Rural Small Businesses Boost Renewable Energy Use, Save on Energy Costs 

WASHINGTON–Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced funding for 821 projects across the nation that will help rural small businesses and agricultural producers reduce energy usage and costs in their operations. The funding is available through the  Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) and will be used to make energy efficiency improvements and install renewable energy systems. 
"Since 2009, the Rural Energy for America Program has helped roughly 15,000 small businesses and farms save enough energy to power about 730,000 homes and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than five million metric tons annually," Vilsack said. "These investments in clean energy are good for the environment, are good for each business's bottom line and they support the broader rural economy by encouraging the production of renewable energy sources." 
USDA is providing $43.2 million in loan guarantees and $11.6 million in grants through REAP for  projectsin every state, as well as in the Virgin Islands, the Western Pacific and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Funding of each award announced today is contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of the loan or grant agreement. 
Delaney's Landscape Center, a family-owned business providing plants and landscaping services in Polson, Mont., has been selected to receive a $10,298 REAP grant to install a geothermal renewable energy system to heat its greenhouse. The system is expected to save the business nearly $2,000 per year and generate more than 15,000 kWh of energy. The project also supports USDA's  StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity by investing in a high-poverty area.
The Sundry Store, Inc., another family-owned business, providing home improvement tools and household items, is receiving a $15,565 REAP grant to replace its fluorescent- and incandescent-based lighting system with a light-emitting diode (LED) system. The new system is expected to save the Etowah, Tenn., business $13,676 annually and reduce energy usage by 136,766 kWh annually. That is enough energy to power 13 homes. 
From 2009 to date, REAP has helped finance more than 11,000 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that have reduced energy costs for roughly 15,000 rural businesses. During this period, USDA has provided more than $373 million in grants and almost $481 million in loan guarantees to agricultural producers and rural small business owners. When operational, these projects will generate or save almost 9 million megawatt hours – enough to power more than 730,000 homes and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more 5 million metric tons in carbon dioxide each year. That is the equivalent of removing more than 1.1 million cars from our roads.
The Rural Energy for America Program also helps businesses create jobs, helps farmers and rural businesses reduce their carbon footprint, and helps the country move closer to energy independence.
Congress created the REAP program in the 2002 Farm Bill. Because of the program's success, Congress reauthorized it in the 2014 Farm Bill with guaranteed funding of at least $50 million annually for the duration of the five-year Farm Bill. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Summer Presidents meeting

Summer Presidents Meeting meets in Pocatello

Pocatello--The Idaho Farm Bureau's Annual Summer Presidents meeting is underway in Pocatello. The Farm Bureau leadership group has met every summer since 1939 to discuss issues, markets and organizational housekeeping.

"This is a great opportunity to bring our counties together, talk about issues, build unity to strengthen agriculture and move forward," said IFBF President Bryan Searle of Shelly. "We're happy with the primaries, many of our candidates are on the ballot but doesn't mean they're running unopposed we're not falling asleep. We're gearing up for the general election, Agri-Pac has met again and they're behind our candidates."

Market prices are a big concern this year with flat or below level prices across the board, despite good growing conditions.

"Bean prices overall are down this year," said Magic Valley producer Rick Brune. "Wheat and barley are in a free fall and thats tough, but yields look good."

President Searle says things are not much better in the Idaho Falls area.

"Markets are extremely tough, we're still moving some of last years crop and having a hard time doing it. The market has softened the last two months, it looked like things would change, but we're $3.00 below production costs right now. We're hoping things cleans out before harvest, but the crops look good, Grain prices are at record lows, we're seeing all those issues. Hay prices, well you can't even sell it, if you do because its low."

Market analyst Clark Johnston will address the meeting this morning and address marketing strategies come harvest time.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Just in

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 18, 2016 – For farmers and ranchers, immigration reform must balance agriculture’s need for a dependable supply of agricultural labor with enhanced security at our nation’s border. A new video produced by the American Farm Bureau Federation highlights those issues, but with political debate ramping up and no practical solutions on the horizon, farmers say important areas of U.S. food production are at risk.

Farmers and ranchers know that you cannot address immigration reform without tackling the issue of border security, said AFBF President Zippy Duvall, who recently saw the delicate balance between the two issues during a tour of agriculture and border security efforts in Arizona.

Across the nation, farmers and ranchers are experiencing a labor crisis. Reliable and skilled farm workers are harder to come by with each harvest season. And, without an efficient and legal way for a dependable supply of farm workers to enter the country, more U.S. crops are being left to rot in the field. That means consumers will be less able to enjoy American-grown products, according to the video.

“Our country’s going need to make up its mind. We’re either going to import our agricultural labor or we’ll have to import our food. Most Americans would opt for food grown on our own soil by American farmers. To keep that option viable, we must act soon,” Duvall said.

Farmers and ranchers from all regions are ready for Congress to act on immigration reform, but as Duvall points out in the video, it is important to remember some key American principles.

“When we fix immigration reform, we need to remember what America really is: It’s a melting pot,” Duvall said. “All of us come from another culture. We came, or our ancestors did, looking to work hard and build a better life for our families.”

In addition to Duvall, the video features Arizona Farm Bureau President Kevin Rogers, Arizona pecan grower Nan Walden, Arizona vegetable grower John Boelts and Arizona cattle rancher Dan Bell.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Just in

Wheat-focused Public-Private Collaboration Paying Off for UI

MOSCOW – he University of Idaho’s pioneering agreement with Limagrain Cereal Seeds, which forged links between the two in marketing and developing wheat varieties, will return $75,000 to the university this year, said Frank Curtis, the company’s executive vice president.

That is at least a five-fold increase in royalties earned during the initial three months featuring UI varieties during company’s first marketing season with UI.

“This year I will be able to send a check for $75,000 and next year is going to be at least double that,” Curtis said. Based in Fort Collins, Colorado, he spoke during the July 6 Parker Farm Field Day sponsored by the company and College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

Last year, Limagrain began marketing six UI-developed varieties. They include three new Clearfield Plus soft white winter wheat varieties developed through conventional plant breeding methods to include resistance to imidazolinone.

Of those varieties, UI Magic CL+, UI Castle CL+, and UI Palouse CL+, Magic appears best positioned to take off in the marketplace.

“It looks like it will have a really important place,” Curtis said. “We just need some positive harvest results and then we’ll have a success on our hands. It’s still in the test plots but it looks good and so I’m confident.”

Limagrain also markets UI/WSU Huffman, a soft white winter wheat; UI Stone, a soft white spring wheat; and UI Platinum, a hard white spring wheat.

LCS is the U.S. subsidiary of Europe-based Limagrain, one of the world’s largest seed companies. The company and university in 2012 first signed a three-year cooperative agreement. A new three-year pact is in its first year.

Curtis’s remarks followed a talk by CALS Dean Michael Parrella about the importance of recruiting more students and increasing research to generate more revenues.

To make money selling wheat seed, Curtis said, requires getting the right people and technical excellence to create wheat varieties that make money for growers.

Developing intellectual property based on wheat breeding and reaping financial rewards from that research is likewise critical, he added. So is access to germplasm, genetic material that is the foundation of plant breeding efforts.

“I think that is one of the huge strengths of the collaboration between the university and Limagrain Cereal Seeds,” Curtis said.

“We have access to probably more wheat germplasm from around the world than any other plant breeder in the market today, not all, in fact very little, of that is going to be adapted to Northwest conditions,” Curtis said of Limagrain.

The university’s strength is that its wheat breeding program is decades old and its germplasm is well adapted to the region, Curtis said.

The challenge is collecting money from the varieties that result.

“Intellectual property and value capture in the agricultural markets in the U.S., particularly in the wheat market, is not strong,” Curtis said. “So the American seed industry needs to do something not only to attract growers but also to find a way to get money in and to capture the intrinsic value of that intellectual property.”

The future solution will be offering patented traits that flour millers or other end users will pay farmers more money to grow, Curtis said. Working with Colorado State University and the Wheat Research Foundation there, Limagrain will be the world’s first plant breeder to produce patented traits within protected varieties.

The trait’s marketplace value will enable a stewardship system that requires growers to buy new seed each year rather than saving their own. And that in turn will allow the seed company to collect the value of its intellectual property.

Curtis said he expects the first varieties with patented traits to hit the market there in two years. Similar traits could be included in varieties adapted for Idaho and the Northwest within five years.

“As we try to push on to higher levels, the work that we are doing is paying dividends,” Curtis said. “We are very proud to be putting significant sums back into the public sector.”

The UI-Limagrain collaboration offers another significant advantage, Curtis said. UI access to the company’s extensive wheat breeding program allowed the college to shift from hiring a wheat breeder for northern Idaho to adding a wheat molecular geneticist to its faculty.

That hiring of molecular geneticist Daolin Fu serves growers’ needs to exploit market interest in specific traits and expands teaching and research opportunities at the university, he said.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Just in

White House Rural Council Announces Assistance to Grow Small Business Exports

Made In Rural America Workshops to Help Overcome Export Hurdles
WASHINGTON- The White House Rural Council, today announced a workshop series to provide targeted assistance for rural small businesses working to grow demand through international sales. The announcement was made by WHRC Chair Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Deputy Postmaster General Ronald A. Stroman.
"Strong rural communities are key to a stronger America," said Vilsack. "USDA continuously seeks opportunities for U.S. agricultural producers to expand overseas markets that contribute to a positive U.S. trade balance, create jobs, and boost economic growth. Through the Administration's Made in Rural America Export and Investment Initiative, USDA is working to help farmers, ranchers and rural businesses access federal export programs, connect with new customers and markets abroad, and bring new opportunity to rural America."
"Global customers are more accessible than ever to rural American companies and their workers, and these workshops are a critical venue to provide businesses with the practical information they need to capitalize on trade opportunities," said Pritzker. "The Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration has specialists in more than 105 locations nationwide and in 75 markets around the globe that stand ready to collaborate with export-ready rural businesses of all sizes to increase revenues, expand, innovate, and support well-paying jobs in their communities."
"We are proud to offer international shipping expertise and hands on know-how in support of the Made in Rural America Export and Investment initiative. At sixty workshops around the country, local Postmasters will demonstrate how to use online tools for easier mailing prep and educate attendees on global shipping options. Our goal is to make expanding into foreign markets easier than ever imagined for rural entrepreneurs and businesses," said Stroman.
The free series includes at least 60 Made in Rural America small business export workshops hosted by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) in 24 states July 26 to Aug. 31, 2016. Partners including the U.S. Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration, USDA Rural Business Service, the Appalachian Regional Commission, Delta Regional Authority, National Association of Counties and others will also provide local and regional expertise in international shipping and mailing, international marketing assistance, rural business development and related topics.
To find a Made in Rural American workshop in your area visit is an external link or third-party site outside of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website. and click your state. The site will be updated as details for each workshop becomes available and additional workshops are added.
Online tools designed for rural businesses interested in international exports include and

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Just in

Statement of AFBF President Zippy Duvall on Passage of GMO Disclosure Legislation in the House

WASHINGTON – “Today’s House passage of GMO disclosure legislation means we now begin the work of putting in place a uniform, national labeling system that will provide balanced, accurate information to consumers. Genetically engineered crops have a decades-long track record of safety and benefits for agricultural productivity and our environment. This legislation helps to continue those benefits by avoiding the confusion of differing and potentially misleading labeling standards from state to state. The next stop is the president’s desk. We are pleased that Congress has moved quickly to finish the job.”

Just in

USDA Awards More than $26 Million for Affordable Farmworker Housing

WASHINGTON-The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced today $26 million to help provide safe and sanitary housing for farmworkers in nine affordable rental communities in four states. The funding will support 439 rental units in California, Florida, Kansas and Texas. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will make the announcement later today during an address to the League of United Latin American Citizens' (LULAC) 87th annual national convention.
"American agriculture is grateful to the individuals working in the fields, day-in and day-out, to grow and harvest the food we eat," Vilsack said. "Since 2009, USDA has invested $268 million to build or repair more than 2,000 affordable homes for farmworkers nationwide. USDA, under the Obama Administration, is proud of its efforts to help ensure farmworkers and their families have safe, adequate housing. Every year, agricultural workers who are immigrants come to the United States for the opportunity to work, pay taxes and fully contribute to this country's economy, many with a dream of someday becoming American citizens. America's farmers, ranchers and the businesses supporting our rural communities depend on these hardworking individuals to ensure we remain a productive, food-secure nation. That is why we need comprehensive immigration reform today - because a food-secure nation with a thriving, growing economy is a more secure nation."
Today's funding is provided through the  Farm Labor Housing Loan and Grant program. It will help qualified organizations develop housing for farmworkers, make housing repairs and provide household furnishings.
One of the nine recipients, the Homestead Housing Authority in Homestead, Fla., is receiving $3 million - $1.5 million in loans and $1.5 million in grants - to build 20 affordable townhomes in its Redlands Center. This will add to its portfolio of 333 housing units, all of which are funded through USDA Rural Development. In Ulysses, Kan., 18 units will be developed by Builders Development Corporation using $2.8 million in USDA loans and grants.
The Farm Labor Housing Loan and Grant program continues to help improve the quality of life for America's farmworkers.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Just in

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Just in

Farm labor shortage vexes farmers

peach-smallWashington - A new video produced by the American Farm Bureau Federation shines a spotlight on the frustrations of the nation's farmers in finding workers to harvest their crops. While the video highlights peach production in Georgia, it also outlines the scope of the farm labor problem across the U.S. 
Hiring a seasonal skilled workforce to bring crops in from the fields to America's tables has proved to be difficult if not impossible for farmers. That's why many farmers rely heavily on a program called H-2A, through which the federal government grants foreign nationals short-term visas to help harvest crops. 
"This is a serious issue for farmers across America," said AFBF President Zippy Duvall. "If you have a crop that's ready and your harvest window is narrow and your workers show up late - you're going to lose your crop." 
"We're going to have to make a choice," Duvall added. "We either have to import our labor - workers to harvest our crops - or we'll have to import our food." 
An informal survey of state Farm Bureaus revealed that farmers in at least 22 states using the H-2A program have been affected by administrative delays that have caused workers to arrive days and even weeks late - leading to a variety of fruits, vegetables and other crops rotting in the field. 
The situation is dire for Georgia peach farmer Robert Dickey. He and numerous other farmers have found there's simply too much red tape, too much paperwork and too many delays associated with the H-2A program. 
"It could cost us our farm in one season," Dickey said. 
Farm Bureau is calling for Congress to pass responsible immigration reform that provides farmers access to a legal and stable workforce. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Just in

Dairy Producers Can Enroll Today to Protect Milk Production Margins
Boise—The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) in Idaho today announced that dairy producers could begin enrolling for 2017 coverage in the Margin Protection Program for Dairy (MPP-Dairy) starting July 1. The voluntary program, established by the 2014 Farm Bill, provides financial assistance to participating dairy producers when the margin – the difference between the price of milk and feed costs – falls below the coverage level selected by the producer. 
The Margin Protection Program gives participating dairy producers the flexibility to select coverage levels best suited for their operation. Enrollment began July 1 and ends on Sept. 30, 2016, for coverage in calendar year 2017. Participating farmers will remain in the program through 2018 and pay a minimum $100 administrative fee each year. Producers have the option of selecting a different coverage level during open enrollment each year.   
USDA has a web tool to help producers determine the level of coverage under the Margin Protection Program that will provide them with the strongest safety net under a variety of conditions. The online resource, available, allows dairy farmers to quickly and easily combine unique operation data and other key variables to calculate their coverage needs based on price projections. Producers can also review historical data or estimate future coverage needs, based on data projections. The secure site can be accessed via computer, Smartphone or tablet 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
To complete enrollment, producers must make coverage elections during the enrollment period and pay the annual $100 administrative fee that provides basic catastrophic protection that covers 90 percent of milk production at a $4 margin coverage level. For additional premiums, operations can protect 25 to 90 percent of production history with margin coverage levels from $4.50 to $8, in 50 cent increments. Once enrolled, dairy operations are required to participate through 2018 by making coverage elections each year. Producers can mail the appropriate form to the producer’s administrative county FSA office, along with applicable fees without necessitating a trip to the local FSA office. If electing higher coverage for 2017, dairy producers can either pay the premium in full at the time of enrollment or pay 100 percent of the premium by Sept. 1, 2017. Premium fees may be paid directly to FSA or producers can work with their milk handlers to remit premiums on their behalf.
Also beginning July 1, 2016, FSA will begin accepting applications for intergenerational transfers, allowing program participants who added an adult child, grandchild or spouse to the operation during calendar year 2014 or 2015, or between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2016, to increase production history by the new cows bought into the operation by the new family members. For intergenerational transfers occurring on or after July 1, 2016, notification to FSA must be made within 60 days of purchasing the additional cows.
Dairy operations enrolling in the new program must meet conservation compliance provisions and cannot participate in the Livestock Gross Margin Dairy Insurance Program.

Friday, July 8, 2016

The great farm frontier

Farmers Want Control of their Data

Washington—Swarms of drones this growing season will take to the skies over US farmland collecting countless terabytes of  data.  

Not only is that farm information priceless, its confidential and controversial. 

On Capitol Hill earlier this year Congressmen met with farmers to iron out a solution to the ‘big data’ issue. Farm testimony revealed that the data issue is bigger than the transition from draft horses to farm machinery.

“Think of it this way, a single farm not only harvests an astonishing amount of food but just as much information, both of which are extremely valuable in the marketplace,” said former Idaho Palouse wheat farmer Robert Blair. Blair is now Vice President of a company called Measure, the Drone as a Service Company. “Think of the commodity market information and the value of that data in aggregate and it’s a key piece of the puzzle. Compile that data and you can see trends. We’re talking production agriculture, there’s machinery data, chemical and crop information and all that can be benchmarked, profiled and its huge.”

In the old days farmers compiled crop information to memory, wrote it on calendars or on back of envelopes without thinking of it as data or consciously analyzing it. They felt the soil, eyed the plants and kept a close eye on the weather then figured out what needed to be done on a day to day basis. 

Things have changed drastically, today’s farmer feeds 150 people compared to 72 in the 1970s.  Thanks to data analysis, that number is expected to double by 2050 as the world’s population grows while farmland is disappearing.

At this moment crop information is pouring in from satellites, drones, computers and smart phones. Data analysts use the information gathered the past 10 decades on the farm. They then look at all the acreage in Idaho then all 50 states and end up harvesting a virtual mountain of information, its data farmers need to stay in the game.

That information increases productivity, determines how much fertilizer farmers will need to deliver a crop and how much more crop can be produced in the next decade. But farmers no longer have the resources to handle ‘big data’ even large corporations struggle with the weight and responsibility of the coming revolution.

The American Farm Bureau Federation is addressing the big data problems and just released a survey favoring the creation of a cooperative-style central repository for their data. They think having their own data clouds is the best way to secure their information 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." 
The last few years it was just machinery information that was gathered, but now a plethora of companies are gathering everything byte of information and that’s bringing data into a different realm. Farmers fear that some data will be used maliciously, by market competitors, activists, foreign governments, even neighboring farms.

“Growers not only want all this information but they also want to control and own their data,” added Robert Blair. “They don't want to see it going other places especially where they don’t have control. In my drone company, the growers own and control their data, we don't share with third parties unless we have written approval.”

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. 

Farmers and Ag representatives taking the survey ranked vendor transparency high among their priorities. Farm Bureau and other groups recently introduced an additional tool called the Ag Data Transparency Evaluator to explain data in plain English breaking down convoluted details found in data contracts with Ag hardware and software providers.

“Right now companies collect a lot of data and most of it is benign but it still comes down to how its processed. Who do they sell it to? Agriculture is being attacked daily by activist groups, foreign competitors, at what point in time do they get hold of it and release subsidy information, yields, pesticide application, for me,thats the scary part. Only 10 percent of farmers today are using this aggregate information, that will double every year for decades, the Ag Data Coalition is a good start,” said Blair.

The AFBF survey 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. 

"This indicates a higher level of clarity and transparency is needed to secure grower confidence," Duvall said. "One of the topics I hear most about from farmers on the data issue is having a clear understanding about the details of 'Terms and Conditions' and 'Privacy Policy' documents we all sign when buying new electronics. You shouldn't have to hire an attorney before you are comfortable signing a contract with an Ag technology company and that goes a long way in helping farmers better understand the contracts before they sign on the dotted line.

Oklahoma professor Shanon Ferrell says farmer owned cloud co-ops are a great idea because farmers are very uneasy about access of their information.

“I think the EPA lawsuit from a couple of years ago had and impact. Thats where we saw a lot of information from livestock operations that were made public put out there for all to see. It’s still hurting us today. Then there was the  disclosure of Farm Subsides by the Environmental Working Group, that led to farmers having caution about the release of information along with recent stories of groups hacking government IT systems, we need the co-op clouds,” said Ferrell.

The AFBF 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 builds a foundation, an action plan that 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. The first of which was the Creation of the Ag Data Transparency Evaluator; the development of a cooperative data repository by the Ag Data Coalition and additional education for farmers and ranchers on issues pertaining to data technology.

The information gathered by tractors, harvesters, aerial drones can bring in as much cash as crop. For farmers the data can be used to improve efficiency, simplify paperwork that adds up to more time and more money. Data also enables better food safety, affordability, better land stewardship and efficient use of irrigation water.

“It’s no surprise that the digital bread crumbs we leave behind is highly sought after information when we shop, bank, go online and do our research,” said Matt Bechdol for the Ag Data Coalition. “Universities need to do better research, manufacturers need it to build better farm equipment and input providers need it to produce cutting-edge seed and crop boosting technologies.”

This means determining ownership of this emerging resource and it’s the most important question that must be addressed as we enter the era of data-driven agriculture.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Just in from Capitol Hill

Farm Bureau urges quick action on Senate GMO labeling bill

Washington-Farm Bureau is asking lawmakers in the Senate to quickly pass a bipartisan bill that establishes federal pre-emption of state-by-state mandatory GMO labeling laws so the House can follow suit and get the measure to the president for his signature.

Having approved cloture on Wednesday with five more votes than the 60 needed, senators are expected to approve the bill by Friday. "The legislation is not perfect, but it does take critical steps to prevent a confusing 50-state patchwork of laws disclosing the presence of entirely harmless ingredients," American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said in a statement.

After analyzing the bill, Farm Bureau determined that while it's not ideal, the legislation correctly puts the federal government in the driver's seat in important areas such as protecting interstate commerce and new crop development techniques. "There is no public health or scientific justification for the bill's mandatory disclosure provisions, but the national uniformity established by this bill is paramount," Duvall said previously.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Just in

Crop Insurance Gives Farmers More Planting Flexibility

Insurance Changes Expand Farm Safety Net for Double Cropping
WASHINGTON–Acting Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Michael Scuse today announced that the federal crop insurance program will provide additional flexibility to farmers. The modifications center on the practice of growing two crops on the same field at different times of the year, which is known as double cropping.
"We are constantly looking for ways to meet the needs of our farmers and seek out their feedback so we can best provide them with the tools and resources they need to grow and support their operations," Scuse said. "After receiving input from a number of stakeholders, we made these changes to the federal crop insurance program to provide greater flexibility and better reflect current agricultural practices."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Risk Management Agency worked to provide additional flexibility requested by farmers. Double cropping requirements are revised to adequately recognize changes in growing farm operations or for added land. This change will address both land added to an operation, and account for multiple crop rotations. These changes will be in effective for the 2017 crop year for most crops, starting with winter wheat.

Congress considers Farm Bill this week

Washington--House Ag Chairman Mike Conaway finally get the House farm bill to the Senate this week, but it all depends on House Republic...