Category Archives: Farm Policy

Local farmers express concerns, wishes for next farm bill

Newark Advocate, Sydney Murray, 9/5/2017

NEWARK – Representatives from U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office have been traveling the state to talk to Ohioans about the 2018 Farm Bill.

Last Wednesday, the group stopped in Licking County and about 15 people showed up to The Ohio State University Newark Extension office to discuss the bill and their thoughts and concerns about the future of agriculture.

Jon McCracken, with Brown’s Washington office, said it is expected the bill will pass out of committee in late winter or early spring.

He said conservation remains a top priority and there is a continued interest in helping smaller producers reach different markets.

According to a release from Brown’s office, one in seven Ohioans is employed in agriculture and food production.

Those at the table brought up a myriad of concerns.

Knox County resident Jazz Glastra said her organization received a rural business development grant to do a feasibility study for a food hub.

The hub will be aggregating local produce and redistributing it to restaurants and institutions.

“It’s a great program that has really benefited this organization,” Glastra said.

She said she feels good about the project, but is concerned about the small pot of money available to people in the state.

“There’s more than six or seven people in the state of Ohio who have cool ideas that will, like, spark small businesses and development in rural areas,” Glastra said.

Glastra said rural communities need small businesses and economic development.

Mike Laughlin, with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, said he believes there needs to be more research on transition farming from one generation to the next..

He said he would also like to see more help for new farmers to deal with problems they encounter and developing new farming skills.

McCracken said this issue has come up a lot at other roundtable discussions.

“It’s a hard business even in good times,” McCracken said.

He said with high land prices, it can be hard for people to get their foot in the door unless they inherit, or marry into, land.

Franklin County resident Matt Hildreth said a few different things concerned him, including how energy is produced and used locally, healthcare in rural areas, and opioids.

McCracken said the bill touches all three in various ways.

McCracken said because opiods are a problem in both rural and urban communities, there is a real role for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be more proactive in terms of opioids.

Hildreth said he was also concerned about connections between communities.

He said he knows people who are part-time farmers who use a side job as another source of income, but he said some small towns have changed so much that getting people to live in those communities and the opportunity for the “side hustle” has gone away.

As another source of connectivity, many in the meeting expressed the need and importance of getting broadband internet to rural communities.

“Broadband is kind of a necessity of modern life, I think,” McCracken said.

McCracken said helping connect small communities can also help make sure the rural communities can attract the next generation and get people to come back home.

Crop insurance reforms must protect farm safety net while also supporting new farmers: Amalie Lipstreu

The Plain Dealer, Amalie Lipstreu 6/28/2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In case you were living under a rock, the Trump administration has released its 2018 budget proposal.

According to President Donald Trump’s plan, farmers in the crop insurance program would still be able to count on the federal government to pay up to $40,000 of their crop insurance bill — after which they would be cut off.

This would save taxpayers $16.2 billion over a decade.

This is a difficult time for Ohio farmers. Farm products are selling low while the cost of inputs and property taxes are on the rise. Farming is never easy and is just shy of impossible when dealing with the vagaries of weather and wildly fluctuating market uncertainties. But we have deemed farming a pretty critical endeavor — as we depend on it for our survival.

Northeast Ohio farmers markets in Tremont and Shaker Square are featuring wine samples this year. The region’s farmers market population is holding strong.

For some farmers, crop insurance provides the stability to “weather” not just the weather but also the economic challenges they face.

As we head into negotiations for the next Farm Bill, crop insurance will loom large, as the historical average cost of the program is more than $6 billion per year.

According to a 2015 report by the Congressional Research Service, the mix of policies translated into the government paying an average 62 percent of the insurance policy on each farm in 2014 — no matter how large or profitable.

But as we look at changes necessary for the program, it is critically important that we think about the farmers that will be impacted, including beginning farmers.

We face a crisis and opportunity ahead.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, nearly 100 million acres of farmland is expected to change hands as the next farm bill is implemented.

How do we want to see that land utilized? Is the “highest and best use” another strip mall or subdivision, or is there value in ensuring our food security by making sure that young farmers are able to grow food for their communities?

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association surveyed its farmers in 2016 and found that access to land and credit are the biggest business challenges. This is especially true for beginning farmers.

While land costs can fluctuate year to year, the long-term trend is one of increasing prices. As they seek to access farmland, these next-generation farmers face competition from not just real estate developers but also from existing farmers with history, capital and assets.

Because the crop insurance program provides subsidies to the biggest producers, these large commodity farms can outcompete younger farmers for land purchase or rent, making it nearly impossible for them to access land.

Quite often, these “new” farmers are interested in farming sustainably, protecting clean water and building healthy soil so they are less reliant on outside chemical inputs. Utilizing techniques such as long-term and diverse crop rotations, they build soil organic matter and reduce the potential for runoff.

These are the kind of practices we are incentivizing  to prevent the algal blooms that turn the water toxic.

As we minimize the unintended effects on beginning farmers, we also have an opportunity to link crop insurance subsidies to good conservation practices such as those mentioned above. It is common sense that linking financial support for crop insurance to reducing risk (and, potentially, crop insurance payouts) and improved environmental sustainability is a win-win for farmers, taxpayers and our communities.

We can protect the critical farm safety net — and at least some of the 100 million acres that will change hands in the next five to six years — while at the same time getting out of the way of beginning farmers and protecting our land and water.

Now is the time to improve the crop insurance program to better serve all farmers, and all citizens.

Guide Highlights Food, Farm Issues for Ohio Candidates

By Mary Kuhlman, 10/6/16, Ohio Public News Service

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The future of food and farming in America affects every Ohioan, and it’s an issue that advocates of sustainable agriculture maintain should be a higher priority for those running for office in November.

Amalie Lipstreu, policy program coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) says state and federal policies shape local food systems, and sustainable farming policies benefit public health, economies and the environment.

She contends it would be wise for candidates to pay attention.

“Clearly, food and farming issues have not risen to the top of the presidential race,” she concedes. “But we’re working to make sure state and federal candidates know what Ohioans think.

“It is an important issue. It’s kind of an ultimate sustainability issue.”

OEFFA’s “Food and Farming Questions for Candidates” guide contains key policy points and background information for voters as they attend debates, forums and other pre-election events.

The guide, along with responses from candidates who answered the group’s online survey, are available at oeffa.org.

Lipstreu says the guide covers major issues related to sustainable agriculture and farming in Ohio.

“Whether it’s investment in local and regional food systems, whether it’s looking at the impact of fracking and wastewater injection wells, climate change, federal crop insurance, or even the issue of algal blooms and water quality,” she explains.

Lipstreu hopes elected leaders learn to see the potential for sustainable agriculture, and she encourages Ohioans to be informed and engaged.

“This election is a real window of opportunity for voters to ask questions, make informed decisions and get to know the candidates who may be their future leaders,” she states.

Besides a new president, Ohio voters will select 16 U.S. House seats and one U.S. senator. At the state level, there are 99 House seats and 16 Senate seats up for grabs.

Ohio Group: Food Labeling Shouldn’t be Controversial

By Mary Kuhlman, Ohio News Service, 3/7/16

COLUMBUS, Ohio – While the issue of genetic engineering is controversial, some Ohio groups say giving people honest information about the foods they consume should not be.

Last week, the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee approved its version of what opponents call the DARK Act, which stands for Deny Americans the Right to Know.

It essentially would block any mandatory labeling of food that contains genetically modified ingredients.

Amalie Lipstreu, policy program coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, argues the bill denies consumers information about the food they eat and feed their families.

“Any legislation that codifies voluntary labeling fails to respond to the will of the American people, who reiterated in numerous surveys that they want this information,” she states.

Those in favor of the measure say mandatory food labeling would be expensive for both businesses and consumers.

The legislation introduced by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) also would call for the Department of Agriculture to promote the benefits of agricultural biotechnology.

Lipstreu contends that would create an uneven playing field that would hinder organic farming practices.

Lipstreu explains that consumers are concerned about the use of pesticides, and want to know more about the nutritional value of the food they purchase. She says these opinions are reflected by changes in the marketplace.

“As they become more educated, they can see some of the negative effects of the corporate industrial food system and have been increasing their purchase of food that is organic, local, and sustainably grown,” she points out.

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association is among food and farm policy groups pledging to fight the DARK Act. And Lipstreu is hopeful Ohio’s congressional leaders do not succumb to pressure.

“We hope as this bill advances to the full Senate, Sens. (Sherrod) Brown and (Rob) Portman do not support that bill,” she says. “There are options to find common ground and to advance some legislation that truly reflects the will of the American people. ”

Brown is on the Senate Agriculture Committee and did not support the bill in committee.

Ohio activists planning National Day of Action on Tuesday

Akron Beacon Journal

11-13-15

By Bob Downing

From a Friday press release:

Groups Join Together to Call for a Halt of Toxic Fracking Waste and Man-made Earthquakes in a National Day of Action on Tuesday, November 17, 2015
      Youngstown, Ohio, November 12, 2015 – Groups of concerned citizens from several states are joining together to call for a halt of toxic fracking waste and related man-made earthquakes in a November 17, 2015 event titled, “Freedom From Toxic Fracking Waste and Earthquakes: A National Day of Action.”
     On Tuesday, November 17, 2015, a national coalition of local coordinators and groups will hold rallies or actions throughout the day to shine light on the numerous problems associated with toxic, radioactive fracking waste and its “disposal,” including its links to earthquakes, spills, and leaks. Groups have been communicating with each other to raise public awareness and to call for positive public action to protect their family’s health, safety, and well-being from the onslaught of fracking waste injection and disposal wells or other fracking-related infrastructure or processes, including dumping fracking waste on landfills.The high risks to water, air, and land and pollution due to toxic fracking waste are unacceptable.
     The coalition says there is no good or safe solution to the ever growing problem of the constant production of millions of gallons or tons of toxic fracking waste. Where will it all go? They say that injection or disposal wells are being drilled next to homes or in rural or residential areas that should not be heavy industrial toxic waste sites. As evidenced by numerous news reports and other documentation, there is damage to family homes or other structures because of fracking or injection well-related earthquakes. One Oklahoma woman is suing due to injuries she said she experienced during an injection well-related earthquake. The man-made earthquake situation is getting worse, not better.
      “The truth about fracking waste, injection wells, and earthquakes is showing itself everywhere. The unfolding of this truth can’t be stopped even if the oil and gas industry, some officials, and their allies want to put their heads in the sand or try to deny or minimize the real unacceptable impacts to people and their air, water, land, and property values and their quality and way of life.  There is no good solution to what to do with, or where to put, unprecedented, massive amounts of toxic fracking waste fluids or solids. There is no safe way to dispose of it. Since the public is suffering and being negatively impacted by current practices, the creation of the waste must stop,” said Teresa Mills of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), founded by Lois Gibbs of Love Canal renown.
      The November 17th National Day of Action is being coordinated by Buckeye Forest Council (BFC), The Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), Faith Communities Together for a Sustainable Future (FaCT), Frackfree America National Coalition (FANC), Network for Oil & Gas Accountability & Protection, (NEOGAP) and the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA).
     Coordinators say there is still time for more individuals or groups to get involved in the events planned for November 17, 2015, by contacting Frackfree America National Coalition at: 234-201-8007 or by e-mail at frackfreeamerica@gmail.com.

Ohioans Join Call to End Waste, Quakes Tied to Fracking

Public News Service

11/17/15

By Mary Kuhlman

Organic farmer Mardy Townsend of Ashtabula County is worried about the effects of fracking waste on the environment, as well as her crops. Courtesy: Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.

Organic farmer Mardy Townsend of Ashtabula County is worried about the effects of fracking waste on the environment, as well as her crops. Courtesy: Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.

WINDSOR, Ohio – From spills to earthquakes, environmental and agriculture groups say hydraulic fracturing poses serious threats to land, water and public health.

Ohio is one of several states taking part in a National Day of Action today, calling for an end to fracking waste and fracking-related earthquakes.

Mardy Townsend owns Marshy Meadows Farm in Ashtabula County, where there are 15 active fracking waste injection wells. A board member of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, she says a similar well was behind a series of earthquakes in the area in 1986.

“That is a real concern for us, because the Perry Nuclear Power Plant is less than 20 miles away from my home and my farm,” she says. “It is one of the few areas in Ohio that has been known to already have seismic activity.”

There are over 180 injection wells in Ohio receiving fracking waste from Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and state officials linked a string of quakes near Youngstown in 2011 to a wastewater injection well. Industry groups, such as Energy from Shale, argue that hydraulic fracturing is safe, and a boon to the economy – if regulated properly.

To coincide with the national event, Ashtabula County Water Watch is launching a campaign to increase awareness among residents about the dangers of fracking waste. Townsend says what is known as “brine” is toxic, radioactive and largely unregulated.

“The concerns have to do with the possible environmental contamination,” she says. “The other concerns that the people in this county have about brine is that it is being spread as dust control on the dirt roads.”

Townsend adds that very few people benefit from the claimed benefits of fracking, while the rest are left exposed to environmental problems, including possible water and soil contamination.

“I do know of an organic farmer who is surrounded by both frack pads and compressor stations, and I don’t know how long he’s going to be able to hold on,” she says. “Stewardship of the earth is one of the reasons we’re organic farmers, and fracking does not lead to good stewardship of the earth.”

Rallies are being held in over a dozen Ohio counties, as well as in Cincinnati and Columbus.

 

A Time For Speaking Out: Farmers, Ranchers Are Increasingly Being Recruited For Advocacy Roles

Press & Dakotan

10/30/15

By Rita Brhel, P&D Correspondent

Farmers and ranchers, as a whole, tend to like quiet lives. They’re not much into politics and would rather leave the lobbying to farm organizations like the South Dakota Farm Bureau or Nebraska Cattlemen.

But increasingly, agricultural producers are being called into advocacy to protect their way of living and doing business. Those who refuse threaten to have their rights taken away by lawmakers who aren’t educated on how their decisions can affect citizens who are involved in agriculture.

“When most people think of influencing regulation, they really think of lobbying,” said Amalie Lipstreu, policy program coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association in Columbus, Ohio, during a farmer advocacy training webinar held in September.

But she said advocacy is just as vital to shaping agricultural policies.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport,” Lipstreu said.

Advocacy is the active promotion of a cause or principle, she explained. Unlike lobbying, advocacy does not have to involve confrontation or conflict, though it does include actions that lead to a specific goal.

There are a variety of advocacy strategies, from talking one-on-one with politicians, testifying in state legislature and litigation to educating community groups, hosting speakers or independent film showings, and writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper. Advocacy also includes attending rallies, blogging or even just being on the regulations team of a local Natural Resource District or another agency. Just about any activity that is done to promote a certain cause is included in advocacy, Lipstreu said.

With today’s media-saturated age, law- and policy-makers — not to mention any reader, listener or viewer of messages online or through traditional media outlets – are bombarded with communications advocating for one thing or another.

“While advocacy is getting louder, it’s not necessarily getting more effective,” Lipstreu said, who recommended that farmers interested in advocacy have the most sway with lawmakers simply by making phone calls or sending personal emails to lawmakers.

“Personal stories are the single, most effective tactic,” she added. “Personal stories, plus why the issue matters to you.”

Politicians respond best to people they have a relationship with, Lipstreu said, so she also suggests advocates take the time to not only thoroughly research the issue they want to promote, whether that be boycotting the construction of a pipeline or protecting crop subsidies, but also to research what issues are important to their state lawmakers.

“Don’t call about broad issues. Call about specific legislation,” she said, adding that as few as 10 calls on a certain angle of an issue can change a lawmaker’s stance.

It’s not unusual for farmers to be intimidated by making a phone call, but hearing a voice gives more meaning to a story than reading it in an email, Lipstreu said.

To give an overview of a typical phone call to a lawmaker’s office, Lipstreu introduced Jazz Glastra, a college intern who worked with Lipstreu over the summer. Glastra said that one of the lawmaker’s aides typically answer the phone. The person calling in needs to remember to give the aide his or her name, residence, any relevant association affiliations and the reason for the call, citing a specific piece of legislation, before giving a personal story and a statement as to why that lawmaker should care about your story.

“This doesn’t have to be an intimidating experience,” Glastra said, though she did admit that the first couple of phone calls do feel awkward.

The aide who takes the phone call is generally able to help the caller through the process. The aide will take notes as the caller talks, before thanking the caller and hanging up the phone.

Other tips from Glastra included writing down talking points and being prepared to give an introduction in a voicemail, with the caller’s name and phone number, so that his or her story can be told when the aide calls back.

“The more you make those calls, the more you interact, the easier,” Lipstreu said.

No matter what, farmer advocacy is becoming an ever-increasing need in agriculture to ensure that farmers – who are in the minority of the total U.S. population – are able to keep their rights as to how to do their business.

“We have so many pressing issues around agriculture and food policy right now,” Lipstreu said.

Advice offered on effective advocacy

COLUMBUS, OH

When trying to influence a legislator or a federal or state agency, one heart-felt personal letter is likely to be more effective than the signature of 1,000 persons on a form letter.

That advice was given by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s (OEFFA) policy program coordinator Amalie Lipstreu during a webinar titled “Advocacy: What, Why, and How.” She commented that although “advocacy is getting louder, it is also less effective.”

“You don’t have to go to Washington, DC or your state capitol to be effective,” Lipstreu said. She noted that merely signing an online petition is easy to do but this is seldom likely to make a difference.

Take advantage of organized lobby days, develop relationships with legislators, research a topic properly and demonstrate one’s scale or interest in an existing problem, Lipstreu suggested. Organize or attend rallies because they tend to attract media attention.

An often overlooked avenue of advocacy is providing input when federal agencies have a formal comment period on the development of regulations. She said legislation could be needed to deal with violators or actions which are causing harm.

Letter writing hints

When writing that letter or making a phone call to a legislator, be sure to research any existing stance of the legislator on the topic, try to make some connection with what the legislator views as a priority, and be very specific on the policy or pending legislation, Lipstreu said. In some cases, as few as 10 calls can make a difference on legislation.

In addition, take advantage of any opportunity to meet the legislator in one’s home district, Lipstreu stressed. When making the contact, point out that “you are a constituent” of the legislator, “identify any organization memberships that you have” and “tell your story” on why the legislator should act in a certain way, she stated.

Writing letters to the editor can also be effective, Lipstreu said. She noted that the OEFFA’s website has a page with guidelines on how to write such a letter.

Importance of advocacy

As farmers, gardeners, and educators — the groups who make up most of the membership of the OEFFA — it is important both from a historical perspective and on pending current relevant issues to engage in advocacy for one’s beliefs, Lipstreu emphasized.

Lipstreu cited the effectiveness of advocacy in creating the national organic production certification program 35 years ago. She said advocacy also includes trying to get large institutions to make corrections in existing practices or policies and that advocacy does not necessarily result in conflict or confrontation.

Advocacy also applies to arranging community meetings or forums that lead to setting goals and setting strategies on ways to approach problems. She also suggested that advocacy should not take the form of a partisan political stance.

Topics for advocacy

In Ohio and other states, some of the current topics suited for advocacy are frac sand mining, the labeling of foods for genetically modified organisms, crop insurance, and local food policy councils, Lipstreu said. She noted that Ohio already has more such councils than any other state — due in part to advocacy by OEFFA members.

“More general topics that are appropriate for advocacy include the economy, the environment, biotechnology, and the effect of legislation on local communities”, Lipstreu said. She can be contacted at Amalie@oeffa.org.

What’s in a Label? You May Not Know with DARK Act

Ohio Public News Service

By Mary Kuhlman, 9/16/15

Opponents say the DARK Act could undermine businesses such as Snowville Creamery in Ohio that sell non-GMO products. Courtesy of Snowville Creamery
.
COLUMBUS, Ohio – With preservatives, flavorings and other unpronounceable ingredients, making sense of food labels is difficult enough. Opponents say the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act could create even more confusion. They refer to it as the Deny Americans the Right to Know, or DARK Act.

The legislation would allow foods made with genetically modified organisms to be labeled as natural and allow some GMO foods to be labeled as non-GMO.

Warren Taylor, who produces non-GMO milk at Snowville Creamery in central Ohio, said the act would take away people’s right to know what they’re eating.

“The cheapest commodity jug milk at a grocery store can be now labeled non-GMO milk,” he said. “Every egg sold in America can be labeled non-GMO eggs, regardless of the fact that those animals are all being fed GMO feed.”

The bill also would ban states from regulating food labeling, which supporters say would stop a patchwork of conflicting laws. While it would set up a voluntary national labeling system, Taylor argued that most companies that actually use GMO foods are not going to advertise it.

The legislation passed in the U.S. House with only two Ohio lawmakers voting against it. The Senate could introduce the measure soon.

Taylor contended that the bill undermines existing businesses like his that sell non-GMO products. For the past eight years, he said, Snowville Creamery has been breaking even, and recently received a game-changing offer that would have paid the company a premium for its non-GMO milk – but the deal didn’t last because of the labeling act.

“The day the DARK Act passed the House of Representatives, a week later, they called me from the cheese plant and rescinded their offer because all cheese in America became non-GMO, according to the DARK Act, if it passes the Senate this month,” he said. “Snowville Creamery is like a cat hanging on a wall right now.”

There are global economic concerns, Taylor said. At least 35 countries have laws that impose labeling or import restrictions on GMO foods. Taylor said America’s non-GMO producers will suffer without proper labeling.

“The purpose of the DARK Act is to not give the American people the GMO labeling that every other industrialized democracy and Russia and China have,” he said, “but rather to assure that the American people will never be able to make an informed choice.”

A poll this year found that 87 percent of Ohioans surveyed support the labeling of genetically engineered foods.

Details of the legislation, HR 1599, are online at congress.gov. The poll is at policy.oeffa.org.

Tyson meats to end antibiotic use by 2017: What it means

By Debbi Snook, The Plain Dealer, 4/29/15

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Antibiotic use in farm animals got a big push out of the poultry barn this week. Tyson Foods announced it intends to stop feeding human-grade antibiotics to its broiler chickens by 2017.

While antibiotic use once made chickens cheaper to raise by increasing their growth rate, it has also been suspected of creating antibiotic resistance in humans.

The Washington Post reports that antibiotic-resistant infections cause at least 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths a year, more deaths than cause by drug overdoses, cars or firearm assaults.” Antibiotic resistant infections are a global health concern,” said a statement from Donnie Smith, president and chief executive officer of Tyson Foods.

“We’re confident our meat and poultry products are safe, but want to do our part to responsibly reduce human antibiotics on the farm so these medicines can continue working when they’re needed to treat illness.”

Smith said the company’s antibiotic use is down 80 percent from a few years ago, following an industry wide trend. Perdue eliminated antibiotic use a year ago and, last month, McDonald’s has pledged to do the same within two years.

But Tyson is the country’s largest producer of chicken.

“This is huge,” critic Gail Hansen, told National Public Radio. Hansen is a member of Pew Charitable Trust’s Antibiotic Resistance Project, which is developing a certification project with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for antibiotic-free chicken.Tyson also announced plans to study and possibly reduce antibiotic use in its cattle, hog and turkey farms.

Lauren Ketcham, communications chief for the Columbus-based Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, called the Tyson decision encouraging, but not a huge guarantee.

“Given that Tyson is only voluntarily targeting antibiotics used in human medicine — and even then some with exceptions — consumers wanting to avoid eating chicken treated with antibiotics should continue to look for the organic label as the gold standard,” she said in an email.

Medina County meat-animal farmer Jason Bindel said he also worries about the farm use of antibiotics that are not used in human medicine.

“Some animal drugs were not human tested so you have no idea of bad side effects,” he wrote by email. “Animal grade drugs are usually the same formula but sometimes may have additives that are not FDA approved for human use so could be harmful due to allergic reactions.