Archive for November, 2011

Long-running experiment shows organic farming is profitable

Monday, November 28th, 2011
November 15, 2011
Greenfield, Iowa
Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

Organic crop systems can provide similar yields and much higher economic returns than a conventional corn-soybean rotation, according to thirteen years of data from a side-by-side comparison at Iowa State University’s Neely-Kinyon Research and Demonstration Farm.

The Long-Term Agroecological Research Experiment (LTAR) began in 1998 with support from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. The LTAR is one of the longest running replicated comparisons in the country. Kathleen Delate, professor in ISU Agronomy and Horticulture, leads the project.

“The transitioning years are the hardest years,” Delate said, explaining that the project was originally designed to help farmers make the shift into an organic system. To sell a product as organic, the crop must be raised on land that has received no synthetic chemicals for three years prior to harvest.

The LTAR experiment shows that organic crops can remain competitive with conventional crops even during the three-year transition. Averaged over 13 years, yields of organic corn, soybean and oats have been equivalent to or slightly greater than their conventional counterparts. Likewise, a 12-year average for alfalfa and an 8-year average for winter wheat also show no significant difference between organic yields and the Adair County average.

Organic crops fetch a premium price on the market and eliminate the need for expensive inputs like herbicides and synthetic fertilizers. As a result, they are far more profitable than conventional crops. Craig Chase, interim leader of the Leopold Center’s Marketing and Food Systems Initiative and extension farm management specialist, calculated the returns to management—that is, the money left over for family living after deducting labor, land and production costs—for both systems. He based his calculations on actual LTAR data from 1998 to 2004, as well as scenarios modeled with enterprise budgets.

Both methods gave the same result: On average, organic systems return roughly $200 per acre more than conventional crops.

In addition to its profitability, organic agriculture helps build healthy soils. While conventional LTAR plots receive synthetic herbicides, pesticides and fertilizer, organic plots receive only local, manure-based amendments. Total nitrogen increased by 33 percent in the organic plots, and researchers measured higher concentrations of carbon, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium and calcium. The results suggest that organic farming can foster greater efficiency in nutrient use and higher potential for sequestrating carbon.  

Delate said they use “a whole suite of practices to manage weeds” in the organic plots, including timely tillage and longer crop rotations. Allelopathic chemicals from rye and alfalfa help keep weed populations under control, as does growing an alfalfa cover crop in winter, which provided cover for beneficial insects and animals.

“I think there’s a strong future for organic agriculture,” Delate said.  “My phone is ringing off the hook. The interest hasn’t waned.”

When Delate became Iowa State’s first specialist in organic agriculture in 1997, the Leopold Center provided start-up funds to develop a program and set up LTAR research plots. The Center has provided annual operating funds for LTAR and, in 2010, the work was moved to a competitive grant in the Leopold Center’s Cross-Cutting Initiative.

LTAR’s findings concur with recently published results from the Rodale Institute’s 30-year Farming Systems Trial in Pennsylvania. The Rodale Institute also concluded that organic systems can provide similar yields and greater profits. In addition, they calculated that organic crops required 45 percent less energy, and contributed significantly less to greenhouse gas emissions. Organic corn proved especially profitable during drought years, when its yields jumped up to 31 percent higher than conventional.

Download a brochure about the LTAR project at http://www.leopold.iastate.edu/pubs-and-papers/2011-11-ltar-experiment.  

Read the Rodale Institute report at http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/fst30years.

Ohio’s Sustainable Agriculture Community Weighs in on Farm Bill

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

November 14, 2011

The Honorable Rob Portman
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Portman:

We the undersigned eight farm and food organizations from Ohio are writing to urge you, as a member of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, to take a leadership role by modifying the farm bill proposal you will receive very soon from the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees.  Enough has surfaced about that package to believe that while it certainly has some important positive features, it remains seriously flawed and poor public policy in several fundamental ways.  We implore you to help set it right.

As you know, the farm bill normally is a year or year and a half long process fashioned through extensive hearings, markups, and floor consideration.  Due to the unique process being used this year to potentially pre-empt normal consideration of the bill in 2012, your current consideration of the farm bill as a Joint Select Committee is the one and only opportunity to amend and revise the five-year farm bill proposal sent to you.  Thus it rests in the Joint Select Committee’s hands, and your collective hands alone, to rectify the major problems with the bill that will be sent to you for your consideration.

In our view, the farm bill – which is the primary federal policy mechanism to establish this country’s food policy and also plays a major role in the nation’s conservation policy and rural development efforts – is extremely important legislation that would benefit from more complete and more public consideration.  We recognize, however, that the major decisions on farm and food policy for the next five years must be set by you and the other eleven Joint Select Committee members in the course of just the next five days.  Hence we have joined together at this critical moment to provide you with our top recommendations for the needed fixes to the proposed farm bill, based on our best available information.

First, we urge you to amend the farm bill to place real caps on the amount of taxpayer-provided production subsidies any one farm can receive on an annual basis. Sadly, based on the best information we have, the bill being sent to you does not do that.  It leaves in place current loopholes that allow the nation’s largest farms to collect hundreds of thousands and in some cases even millions of dollars a year in subsidies.  The bill being sent to you does reportedly include an “adjusted gross income” eligibility measure that would prevent individuals with adjusted gross income of over $1 million ($2 million for married couples) from qualifying, but this measure, while supportable, is largely ineffective.  We need actual limits on actual payments and they need to apply to all program crops, without exception.  We urge you to include the language sent to the Joint Select Committee by Senators Grassley and Johnson.  Their proposal to set hard caps, with no loopholes, is good for family farmers, is good public policy, and saves real dollars that can be reinvested in local farm and food and beginning farmer programs.  Without the Grassley-Johnson language, there is no reform of the out-of-control subsidy system, period, regardless of any other bells and whistles the bill’s promoters may point to in an attempt to convince you and the public they have provided a measure of reform.

Second, we urge you to amend the farm bill to require all farms receiving commodity or crop insurance taxpayer-provided subsidies to comply with soil erosion and wetland protection requirements. Forcing the taxpayer to subsidize the destruction of the basis of our long-term food security – the soil — and the draining of ecologically-critical wetlands is indefensible.  Yet, according to our best information, the bill to be presented to you does not tie “conservation compliance” requirements to crop insurance nor does it apply conservation compliance to all of the land that is eroding at unsustainable rates within the commodity subsidy program.  Adding insult to injury, the bill presented to you reportedly also does not end commodity and crop insurance subsidies to those who would destroy native grasslands for the purpose of bringing them into crop production at public expense.  The so-called “sodsaver” protection should be added to the bill to ensure the taxpayer is not being forced to subsidize the destruction of our remaining native grasslands.  Adding “conservation compliance” and “sodsaver” to both the commodity and crop insurance titles of the farm bill is a simple, straightforward fix that will help protect the environment and our future food security.

Third, we urge you to include the important policies from the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act and the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act which are not included in the bill that will be presented to you. We are thankful the leaders of the authorizing committees plan to include a few small pieces of these two important farm bill “marker” bills, but we cannot stress enough that this is the farm bill, our only chance in the next five years to enact reforms to support the next generation of American farmers and to foster job-creating local farm and food efforts.  There is real opportunity in agriculture today, and we believe it is possible to reverse the steady aging of American agriculture and also to create greater rural prosperity and improve access to healthy food, but only if we act with the smart policies incorporated in these two bills, introduced by Senator Tom Harkin and Senator Sherrod Brown, respectively.  Ohio agriculture would benefit enormously by the adoption of these two bills by the Joint Select Committee.  We therefore urge you to add these two critical bills to the farm bill section of your overall package.  Failure to act would mean no progress on these critical issues until the 2017 Farm Bill.  If we want to improve economic opportunity and job creation in the food and agricultural sector in Ohio and around the country, we cannot wait.   The task has fallen to you and we urge you to take up the charge.

Finally, we urge you to resist any attempts to increase the size of the proposed cuts to conservation and nutrition. Farm conservation support has been cut disproportionately relative to production subsidies.  We do not believe that is fair, and want to be sure the cuts are not deepened.  We also do not believe food assistance for low-income people should be cut and certainly should not be cut any more than proposed by the Agriculture Committee leaders.

Thank you for your careful consideration of our views.  We hope to be in direct dialogue with your office on these urgent matters in the next few days.

Sincerely,

Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association (OEFFA)
MacKenzie Bailey
Policy Program Coordinator
Ohio Farmers Union
Roger Wise
President
Local Matters
Noreen Warnock
Director of Public Policy and Community Relations
Ohio Environmental Council
Joe Logan
Director of Agriculture
Rural Action
Tom Redfern
Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator
Slow Food Columbus
Bear Braumoeller
Chair, Chapter Board
Slow Food Cincinnati
Matt Anthony
President
EcoLakewood
Tom Bullock, Lakewood City Councilman
Co-Chair

Groups Call for Federal Farm Bill that Balances Federal Budget with America’s Needs

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Groups urge Ohio Senator Portman and Congressional Super Committee to adopt fiscally sound Farm Bill that serves needs of America’s farmers, hungry families, organic producers, and soil and water resources

(Columbus, OH) – The Ohio Farmers Union, Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, and Ohio Environmental Council are teaming up to urge bold changes to federal agriculture policy.

Their goal is to reform the Federal Farm Bill with a fiscally sound plan to:

  • Grow America’s agricultural production.
  • Sustain the basic nutritional needs of the millions of Americans who continue to struggle to put food on the table during the Great Recession.
  • Nurture America’s emerging sector of organic and sustainable agriculture producers.
  • Conserve America’s precious soil and water resources.

The U.S. Farm Bill is an outgrowth of the 1930s Dust Bowl and Great Depression. The Farm Bill originally was designed to accomplish three goals:

  1. Help struggling farmers stay on their land.
  2. Promote conservation of precious soil and water resources.
  3. Help care for the nutrition needs of Americans left jobless by the Great Depression.

Eight decades following its creation, the Federal Farm Bill has changed dramatically, as has the face of American agriculture. Today, only 2 percent of Americans actively farm, but their amazing productivity is reliant upon a complex global system of finite supply inputs and an energy-intensive, world-wide distribution network.

The coalition wants Congress and the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction-the so-called “Super Committee”-to refocus federal agriculture policy and funding toward four basic objectives:

  1. Retarget federal farm support toward an efficient safety net for family farmers, rather than multi-national agribusinesses and processors. Corporate agribusinesses have grown to control a larger share of the food dollar than do family farmers. This has led to a dramatic reduction in the farmer’s share of the food dollar and precipitated a major exodus of families farming enterprises. Congress can reform this by strengthening the competition title of the Farm Bill, and by enacting rule changes such as the new proposed GIPSA rule (Grain Inspectors Packers and Stockyards Act).
  2. Broaden and strengthen basic nutrition programs to meet this basic and growing need. As the Great Recession continues to eat away at the ability of millions of Americans to put food on their table, emergency food providers are witnessing ever increasing demand. Compounding the issue of hunger in America is the lack of full-scale grocers, creating food deserts in many U.S. cities. Congress can address this by assuring sufficient funding to Nutrition programs during these extraordinarily challenging times.
  3. Focus more on sustainable agricultural practices, including organic produce, meat, and dairy products. By extending risk management eligibility to organic farmers, America could expand the number of farmers on the land, while more efficiently recycling nutrients and preserve and protect traditional rural communities and limited natural resources.
  4. Refocus on delivering more effective soil and water conservation to the American landscape. Dust storms have reappeared in the Southwest and many waterways are impaired by nutrient and sediment pollution from farm runoff. Linking conservation compliance to federal crop insurance programs will foster stewardship while protecting farmers.

Roger Wise of the Ohio Farmers’ Union says, “We are at a time in our history when agriculture is at a crossroads. Will we continue down the path of a vertically integrated corporate production that threatens our rural communities and food safety, or will we do all we can to assure family farmers are the source for our food, fiber, and fuel in a sustainable way?”

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, Executive Director of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks continues, “We urge Senator Portman and members of the Super Committee to reject the U.S. House Agriculture Committee’s recommendations to cut nutrition assistance programs as part of deficit reduction. At a time when a record one in six Ohioans are facing hunger and millions of workers have lost their jobs, their homes, and have seen their families’ economic security slip away, any cuts to these vital programs would be devastating and should be rejected. Hungry Americans cannot wait while Congress debates.”

“We urge the Congress to protect the policies and programs essential to the growing local and organic farming sector” said MacKenzie Bailey from the Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association, “by supporting conservation and organic funding some of the financial burden of small family farms will be lifted and sustainable agriculture practices will be incentivized, helping to improve public health, protect our environment and strengthen local and regional economies.

Finally, Joe Logan, Director of Agricultural Programs for the Ohio Environmental Council, states, “As Congress and the Super Committee consider how to manage the federal budget deficit, while ‘promoting the general welfare’ and ‘preserving the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity,’ we urge Senator Portman to consider options from outside the DC lobbying community. Fiscally and environmentally sound reforms are available to improve the economy, bolster agriculture, and conserve our soil and water resources.”

-end-

Farmers Visit DC to Advocate for the Local Food Bill

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Blog
November 5th, 2011

(Note: Last week two Ohio farmers and OEFFA members flew to D.C. to speak with key legislators about Farm Bill policy changes and program funding. Kip Kummerle from The Grassland Graze and Ron Meyer from Strawberry Hill Farm met with staff from four different legislative offices to advocate for programs like the Grassland Reserve Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, EQIP, Organic Cost-Share reimbursement and more. They met with staff from Senator Sherrod Brown, Senator Rob Portman, Congressman Bob Gibbs, and Congresswoman Jean Schmidt’s offices. Take a look below for more details from NSAC, who sponsored the event:)

On November 3rd, 50 farmers and local food advocates from across the country traveled to Washington DC to meet with their Congressional members to advocate for the recently introduced Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act.

NSAC hosted the Local Farm and Food “Fly-in” at a critical juncture for agriculture policy, as the 2012 Farm Bill is in the process of potentially being rewritten a year ahead of schedule so it can be included in the Super Committee’s deficit reduction plan.  The goal of this “marker bill” is for the policy provisions to be included in the finalized Farm Bill.

The farmers and advocates for local and regional food systems conducted  79 meetings with their Senators and Representatives on Capitol Hill all in the span of one eventful day!  In the morning, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1), who introduced the bill into Congress on November 1 along with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), spoke to fly-in participants about the importance of the bill.  She noted that the development of local food systems is not a partisan issue; Members on both sides of the aisle have constituents that can benefit from stimulating farm income and job creation through the growing consumer demand for local and regional foods.

Fly-in participants with Rep. Pingree
A packed room listens to Rep. Pingree

Afterwards, the participants spoke with their Members of Congress and staff members about the economic, social, and environmental benefits of local and regional food systems and about how their farms and local communities would benefit from the provisions included in the bill.

“I found the staff members we spoke with generally receptive and supportive of the ideas behind local food issues, wanting to support local economies through building local food systems.  I’m hopeful that we’ll continue to get a good response from Washington.  As a first experience advocating in the halls of power in Washington, I found the experience educational.  I plan to make further contact with Washington to make my voice heard, and I encourage others with similar concerns about local food to contact their Members of Congress.” -Ron Meyer, Strawberry Hill Farm, Fresno, OH

“It’s a great opportunity to meet with lawmakers face to face to proactively advocate for sustainable agriculture, and we are incredibly grateful to NSAC for providing us with the chance to do so.  We were able to clarify and explain the particular needs that a farm like ours has, such as making a real case for a shift in funding within farm revenue insurance priorities.  Even in this chaotic farm bill process, we’re sowing the seeds for more sensible, sustainable farm policies that will produce better food for the future.” -Jack Hedin, Featherstone Farm, Rushford, MN

A special thank you to the following NSAC member organizations for their assistance with fly-in outreach and participation: Delta Land and Community, Union of Concerned Scientists, Illinois Stewardship Alliance, Future Harvest, Land Stewardship Project, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Center for Rural Affairs, Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, Fay-Penn Economic Development Council, the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, and Farmers Market Coalition.

Special thanks also to the following other organizations that helped in making the day a success: Environmental Working Group, Wholesome Wave, National Organic Coalition, National Family Farm Coalition, Community Food Security Coalition, National Farmers Union, Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association of Delaware, Urban Growers Community Farm, Good Earth Food Alliance, Slow Food Boston, Slow Food Nebraska, New England Farmers Union, Northeast States Association for Agricultural Stewardship, Snap Gardens, Feed the Forces, Piedmont Grown, and The Food Trust.  A big thank you goes out to all of the wonderful participants!

Fly-in participants talk strategy before their hill meetings
Fly-in participants with Rep. Gibson (R-NY-20)

Local and Regional Farm and Food Bill Introduced in Congress

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011
November 1st, 2011
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
November 1, 2011
Contact:
Helen Dombalis, Ferd Hoefner, 202-547-5754

Washington, D.C. November 1, 2011 – Today Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Representative Chellie Pingree of Maine and 35 original co-sponsors introduced the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act (S. 1773, H.R. 3286), a comprehensive bill intended for inclusion in the 2012 Farm Bill.  The legislation helps farmers and ranchers by addressing production, aggregation, processing, marketing, and distribution needs to access growing local and regional food markets.  The bill also assists consumers by improving access to healthy food.  The measure provides secure farm bill funding for critically important programs that support family farms, expand new farming opportunities, create rural jobs, and invest in the local food and agriculture economy.

“We applaud Senator Brown and Congresswoman Pingree for introducing this legislation,” said Helen Dombalis, a Policy Associate with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.  “The Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act revises and expands existing federal farm programs to ensure that they effectively foster local and regional food system development.  The bill invests in communities – when consumers are connected to and invested in where their food comes from and agricultural producers meet this demand, local economies reap the benefits.”

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and its 40 member groups were closely involved in the development of the bill.  Among the many other groups endorsing the measure are the National Farmers Union, National Organic Coalition, Community Food Security Coalition, American Farmland Trust, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and National Farm to School Network.

The Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act includes provisions that cut across ten titles of the Farm Bill, including proposals that address conservation, credit, nutrition, rural development, research and extension, food safety, livestock, and crop insurance.  Some of the specific proposals within the bill include:

Whole Farm Revenue Insurance

The bill will authorize USDA’s Risk Management Agency to develop a Whole Farm Adjusted Revenue Risk Management insurance product that is available in all states and all counties and is relevant to all diversified operations including but not limited to specialty crops and mixed grain-livestock or dairy operations, contract producers, and organic and conventional farms.  Additionally, the legislation directs USDA to offer the product at the same buy-up coverage levels as other policies, include a strong crop diversification bonus, and account for all the costs involved in getting a crop to market.

Commenting on the utility of the legislation, Jack Hedin of Featherstone Farm in Rushford, MN points out: “One of the greatest challenges that a diversified, fresh market truck farm like my own faces, as it scales up to meet burgeoning demand, is the lack of affordable, appropriately designed crop insurance like the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act envisions.  This kind of insurance would be a huge help to the growth of the local and regional food industry.”

Local Marketing Promotion Program

The legislation will establish $30 million a year in mandatory farm bill direct funding for what is now the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP).  The newly refashioned Local Marketing Promotion Program will do everything FMPP does, but also will provide grants to scale up local and regional food enterprises, including processing, distribution, aggregation, storage, and marketing.  Fifty percent of funding will go to direct marketing, with the remaining 50 percent to scaling up food systems, and no less than 10 percent of total funding will contribute towards strengthening statewide, regional, and national market development networks.

Explains Stacy Miller, Executive Director of the Farmers Market Coalition: “This legislation makes existing programs more effective.  The Farmers Market Promotion Program, which has proven exceptionally efficient at using small grants to build capacity of young farmers markets and helping them leverage other sources of support for long-term sustainability, is continued and expanded by this important new bill.  It has our strong support.”

School Meals

The bill will improve institutional access to local and regional foods through a series of provisions regarding school meal procurement.  For example, through a “local food credit program,” originally championed by Representative Pingree in her Eat Local Foods Act introduced earlier this year, School Food Authorities could opt to use up to 15 percent of their school lunch commodity dollars for making purchases of foods in their own communities, from their own farmers and ranchers, instead of through USDA’s nationalized commodity food program.

Highlighting the systemic benefits of this approach, Illinois Stewardship Alliance Policy Coordinator Wes King notes, “Whether you are looking at it from the perspective of the small or mid-sized family farmer who is interested in accessing new markets or the parent who is concerned about the health of his or her child, this bill makes it easier for schools to purchase fresh, healthy food from local farmers and is a win-win for everyone involved.”

Rural Development

Funding for Rural Development programs has declined significantly in recent agriculture appropriation bills, and these programs are at risk during the farm bill reauthorization.  The Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act boosts rural investment by increasing the Business & Industry Loan funding set-aside for local and regionally produced agriculture products and food enterprises from five to ten percent.  The legislation will also provide authority for specific types of local and regional food system funding under Rural Business Opportunity Grants (RBOG), Rural Business Enterprise Grants (RBEG), and Community Facility Grants and Loans.

Says Dave Runsten, Policy Director of Community Alliance with Family Farmers in Arcata, CA: “We have worked with various Rural Development programs such as RBOG, RBEG, and Value-Added Producer Grants that are oriented toward job creation in rural areas.  This bill makes adjustment to these programs to make them as useful as possible.  We applaud the focus on recreating the local food infrastructure, a critical need all across the country.”

Specialty Crop Block Grant Program

Within the Specialty Crop Block Grant program, the bill proposes an annual allocation for local and regional specialty crop market development.  Although the program is already in place to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops, which include fruits, vegetables, and tree nuts, there is no explicit focus on specialty crops marketed in their local and regional areas.  This legislation would change that.

Jennifer Fike, Executive Director of the Food System Economic Partnership in Ann Arbor, MI spells out the significance of the program provisions in the legislation: “As the second most agriculturally diverse state in the nation, Michigan produces a vast array of specialty crops and ranks number four in the number of farmers markets.  The state’s economy, however, has suffered dramatically over the past decade due to the decline in the manufacturing sector.  The Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act will increase economic development opportunities for farmers in Michigan and drive our agricultural economy.  We have seen an increase in the formation of cooperatives and an interest in farmers seeking to work together to increase sales opportunities.  This important piece of legislation will allow Michigan farmers to more effectively market the bounty that we produce and will grow jobs in agriculture.”

National Organic Certification Cost Share Program

The bill will also be beneficial to organic producers.  The legislation includes a provision to renew funding for the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP) to assist producers with the regulatory costs of entering into organic production.  Explains Liana Hoodes, Director of the National Organic Coalition: “NOCCSP is the only program that assists organic farmers with their cost of certification.  This is especially important to encourage small and medium-size organic farms to transition to organic in order to meet the growing consumer demand and to maintain a diversity in scale of organic operations.”

For more information on the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act, visit NSAC’s website.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities.

BROWN INTRODUCES BILL TO EXPAND MARKETS FOR FARMERS AND INCREASE ACCESS TO LOCAL FOODS

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

Legislation Would Boost Ohio’s Rural Economy, Improve Consumer Access to Healthy, Fresh Foods

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME) introduced legislation today to support family farms, expand farming businesses, create rural jobs, and invest in local and regional food economies. The Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act is a comprehensive package of reforms that would help Ohio farmers and ranchers by addressing production, aggregation, marketing and distribution needs.  The bill would also prioritize consumer access to healthy, fresh food with support for technology and direct sales.

“Linking Ohio producers with Ohio consumers is common sense. By increasing access to fresh, local foods, we can expand markets for Ohio’s agricultural producers while creating jobs and strengthening our economy,” Brown said.

“Making it easier for farmers to sell food locally and easier for consumers to buy it translates directly into a more healthy economy and more jobs in our communities,” Pingree said.  “Consumers want to be able to buy fresh, healthy food that doesn’t have to travel half way around the world to get to them, we just need to create a farm policy in this country that makes it easier for them to do that.”

Right now, for each dollar that consumers spend on food, less than $0.16 goes back to the farmer. Supporting opportunities for farmers to sell their products directly to consumers or through shorter local supply chains means that more of a consumers’ dollar stays on the farm, where it is invested in local jobs and supplies and helps the local economy.

A recent study shows that if northeast Ohio’s residents and businesses spent 25 percent of their food dollars on local farms and businesses, 27,500 new jobs could be created while increasing economic output by $4.2 billion and generating $126 million in local and state taxes.

The Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Act includes provisions that would:

· Improve crop insurance products available to small and diversified family farms.

· Eliminate existing penalties for production of fruits and vegetables on land previously dedicated to row-crops.

· Invest in critical infrastructure that would enable farmers and food-businesses to aggregate, store and distribute their products.

· Increase food safety training and technical assistance resources for small and mid-sized farming operations as well as to small slaughterhouses.

· Reduce barriers to institutional purchasing, better linking Ohio farms with Ohio schools, hospitals, and other institutions.

· Enable SNAP recipients to purchase fresh, Ohio-grown food by helping farmers and direct sales markets acquire the technology necessary to accept electronic benefits.

A summary of the bill can be found here.

Senate cosponsors of the bill include Sens. Robert P. Casey (D-PA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD), and Jon Tester (D-MT). House cosponsors include U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), David Cicilline (RI-1), Joe Courtney (CT-2), Peter DeFazio (OR-4), Keith Ellison (MN-5), Raul M. Grijalva (AZ-7), Janice Hahn (CA-36), Brian Higgins (NY-27), Rush Holt (NJ-12), Marcy Kaptur (OH-9), Ron Kind (WI-3), Dennis J. Kucinich (OH-10), Barbara Lee (CA-9), Ben Ray Lujan (NM-3), Ed Markey (MA-7), Jim McGovern (MA-3), Mike Michaud (ME-20), Gwen Moore (WI-4), Jim Moran (VA-8), Jerrold Nadler (NY-8), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-at large), John W. Olver (MA-1), Laura Richardson (CA-37), Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (MP) Northern Mariana Islands, Jan Schakowsky (IL-9), Louise M. Slaughter (NY-28), Peter Welch (VT- at large), and Lynn Woolsey (CA-6).

###

Press release provided by the office of Senator Brown

Ohio Farmers Fly-In to DC to Talk About Protecting Local Farms

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011
November 3, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Some Ohio farmers are flying to Washington today to talk to policymakers about the importance of protecting local and organic family farms.

Congressional agriculture committee members are drafting language for the 2012 Farm Bill to send to the so-called “super committee” this week. MacKenzie Bailey, policy coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, says the bill typically takes an entire year to write, but legislators are crafting it in just two weeks.

“This is the fastest food and farm bill decision-making process in history. And here in Ohio it’s essential that we protect programs that contribute to the success of local and organic family farmers.”

In the past few weeks, advocacy groups have been submitting their suggestions to lawmakers for the farm bill, and Bailey says her association is supportive of a bill introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, this week. The Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act would prioritize consumer access to healthy, fresh food and help Ohio farmers by addressing production, aggregation, marketing and distribution needs.

Local and organic farmers rely on programs funded through the farm bill, such as the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program. Ron Meyer, from Strawberry Hill Farm in Coshocton County, says that program eases the financial burden organic farmers annually incur to maintain certification.

“Organic certification is expensive, so it’s very helpful to us to get some of that money back. And it encourages us to continue producing food organically, which helps to produce a healthy environment.”

Meyer supports Brown’s legislation because it strengthens Ohio’s local farming economy.

“Those are systems that promote food that is good for us, that’s good for the planet and is good for farmers to produce. The bill also will help to strengthen local and regional food systems.”

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service – OH

ODA and Organic Trade Association reach agreement over milk labeling

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011
By Kristy Foster
Farm and Dairy
11/7/11

COLUMBUS — A three-year court battle over milk labeling has ended in an agreement between the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the Organic Trade Association.

Agreement

The agreement means that Ohio milk produced without the use of recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST) no longer needs to carry a disclaimer along with the label advertising its absence.

According to Ohio Department of Agriculture Communications Director Andy Ware, the department agreed to withdraw the 2008 labeling rule if opponents dropped a claim seeking $1.3 million in legal fees garnered from the court proceedings.

“The department felt it was best to come to an agreement. It was in the best interest of agriculture and taxpayers,” said Ware.

Ends the rule

The agreement ends the rule that required milk marketed as “rbST-free” include a label disclaimer stating that the Food and Drug Administration says there’s no significant difference between milk produced by cows given the hormone and cows that aren’t.

RbST, or recombinant bovine somatatropin, is a synthetic growth hormone used to stimulate milk production in dairy cattle. The bovine somatotropin hormone is also present naturally in cattle. Recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST) is sometimes also called recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbGH).

Expensive

The Organic Trade Association contended the rule made it costly to produce labels and market the milk.

“This agreement is a victory for consumer choice and transparency,” said Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association Executive Director Carol Goland. “Now, farmers and processors in Ohio will be able to accurately label their milk rbGH-free, and consumers will be able to use this information when they purchase dairy products.”

Goes beyond Ohio

Goland said the ramifications of the case go beyond Ohio. She thinks that a precedent has been set nationally and it will stop cases like this from moving forward in other states.

The agreement follows a Sept. 30, 2010, U.S. Court of Appeals 6th Circuit decision striking down significant parts of the pending rule created by the ODA to prohibit labeling dairy products as “rbGH-free.”

Consumers Win Right to Know What’s in Their Milk

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 1, 2011
Contact: Carol Goland, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, (614) 421-2022 (o), (740) 398-9099(c), cgoland@oeffa.org

Ohio Agrees to Stop Pursuit of Restrictive Dairy Labeling Regulations

Press Release

Columbus, OH— The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) reached an agreement yesterday with plaintiffs, including the Organic Trade Association, to withdraw a controversial dairy labeling rule. In 2008, the State of Ohio issued an emergency regulation to prohibit labeling dairy products as produced without the use of the artificial growth hormone, recombinant bovine Growth Hormone (rbGH).

“This agreement is a victory for consumer choice and transparency. Now, farmers and processors in Ohio will be able to accurately label their milk rbGH-free, and consumers will be able to use this information when they purchase dairy products,” said OEFFA Executive Director Carol Goland. “We applaud the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s commitment to end pursuit of regulations that restrict a consumers’ right to know and a farmers’ right to inform consumers about their production practices.”

The agreement follows a September 30, 2010 U.S. Court of Appeals 6th Circuit decision striking down significant parts of the pending rule created by the ODA to prohibited labeling dairy products as “rbGH-free.”

Critical to the decision was the Court’s reliance on an amicus brief filed by The Center for Food Safety, OEFFA, and other organizations to rule that milk produced with synthetic hormones is different than milk produced without it. Significantly, the Appeals Court recognized the compositional differences in conventional milk compared to rbGH-free milk. They acknowledged that milk from cows treated with rbGH has elevated levels of IGF-1, higher somatic cell (dispersed pus) counts, and lower quality of milk during certain phases of the lactation cycle.

rbGH, a synthetic hormone injected into cows to boost milk production, has been linked to an increased risk of breast and prostate cancer in humans and increases the incidence of clinical mastitis and lameness in treated cows. Europe, Canada, Japan, and Australia do not allow the hormone to be used in dairy production, and organizations such as the American Public Health Association have called for its ban in the U.S.

Yet, under the ODA’s 2008 rule, Ohio’s dairy producers could not label their milk “rbGH-free” or “artificial hormone free,” and could not make a statement about rbGH on their packaging without also adding: “The FDA has found no significant difference between milk from cows treated with artificial growth hormone and those that have not been treated.”

For more information about the history of Ohio’s dairy labeling rule, go to http://www.oeffa.org/farmpolicy_labeling.php.

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The Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association (OEFFA) is a non-profit organization founded in 1979 by farmers, gardeners, and conscientious eaters who committed to work together to create and promote a sustainable and healthful food and farming system. For more information, go to www.oeffa.org

Eliot Coleman, Maine’s winter-harvest farmer, gives tips on extending Ohio’s growing season

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011
By Debbi Snook, The Cleveland Plain Dealer
October 27, 2011

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Winter, begone.

That little voice of protest inside a gardener’s head starts ringing this time of year. The average date of the first frost in Northeast Ohio has passed (Oct. 23, according to Farmers’ Almanac) and the days are growing shorter. By Nov. 11, says timeanddate.com, we’ll drop below the 10 hours of daylight needed to encourage plant growth.

Unless you’re lucky enough to own (and afford to heat and light) a greenhouse, your days of fresh basil leaves are numbered. The growing season is over.

Don’t tell that to Eliot Coleman. The coastal Maine farmer believes in stalking the endless spring, even under a blanket of stone-cold snow.

Coleman, author of several books including, most recently, “The Winter Harvest Handbook,” has made a name for himself by growing all year long in one of the coldest parts of the country. He believes home growers in Northeast Ohio can do the same.

“No one thought that without heat we could actually harvest during the winter,” Coleman said on the phone last week from his organic farm in Harborside.

His method uses tall, unheated plastic greenhouses and, under each of them, several low, plastic-sheeted row covers for extra insulation. The shelters keep out drying, frigid wind and allow in light and solar heat, which gets trapped under the plastic.

“When it’s 15 degrees below zero outside, it’s 18 above under the inner layer,” he said.

While that kind of cold can kill tomatoes and peppers, it works for a variety of hardy greens such as spinach, scallions, carrots, leeks and baby lettuces, which are harvested and sold at his farm all year. The system also gives him a jump-start on the season with a wide variety of vegetables, including potatoes as early as May.

Metal hoops and plastic sheeting may not sound like rocket science, but, as with most things, there are plenty of details leading to his success.

Coleman is scheduled to speak in early November at a season-extension workshop in London (Ohio) co-sponsored by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, the state’s leading organic group, and Countryside Conservancy, which fosters farming in the Cuyahoga Valley and elsewhere.

Aimed at commercial growers, the event sold out weeks ago. Coleman agreed to talk to us about what home gardeners here can do to extend the season.

The first and cheapest method is a series of quick hoops, half-inch diameter hollow metal tubes that are used for electrical conduit. Bent into curves and shoved into the ground, they are covered with spun-bonded fabric that is staked into the ground.

Tips on building and buying row covers and plastic greenhouses

Eliot Coleman says his current cost of supplies to build a 10-by-12-foot bare-bones greenhouse is about $200, not including the tool to bend galvanized metal conduit pipe into frame sections.

“The bending tool sells for about $69.95 at Johnny’s Selected Seeds [1-877-564-6697],” he said. “It’s the perfect thing for a garden club to buy for its members to use.”

He recommends using plastic sheeting that blocks ultraviolet rays (to last longer) and spun-bonded agricultural fabric at 19-weight for insulation.

Floyd Davis of Red Basket Farm in Kinsman, a year-round produce vendor at Tremont and Peninsula farmers markets, recommends two local sources, BFG in Burton (1-800-883-0234) and E&M Produce Supply (15266 S. Hayes Road, Middlefield, just south of Ohio 87). He’s also ordered greenhouse kits and equipment from growerssupply.com.

Several websites offer extensive greenhouse-building plans, including Mother Earth News, The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, ehow.com , an Alberta (Canada) home gardener, and a site that promises plans for a $50 greenhouse at doorgarden.com.

Tunnel Vision Hoops, a new Shaker Heights-based company, constructs metal-framed, plastic-covered greenhouses. The business was founded when its principals grew dissatisfied with available hoop house plans.

They’ve built them in four counties, including for Cleveland Botanical Garden and Case Western Reserve University’s Squire Valleevue Farm in Hunting Valley. (216-902-8530; company story at bit.ly/kBKmRT.)

A scale model of their new 10-by-12-foot design is on display at the gift shop of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

“If you buy it as a kit, it’s $1,469, complete with a gutter system, roll-up sides, a real storm door on the front and zippered door on the back,” said Carlton Jackson, one of three owners. Installation costs $299 if you’re not assembling it yourself.

From Maine, Coleman logged on to Tunnel Vision’s site, tunnelvisionhoops.com, and admired their designs.

“These guys are doing good work,” he said.

Watering is not always necessary during the coldest months, but if it is, sandbags can be removed for sprinkler or hose access. As the season gets colder, a layer of plastic that is resistant to ultraviolet rays is added and pulled taut at the ends and staked to keep snow from crushing it. Sandbags hold down the sides.

The hoops give those last tomatoes more time to ripen, and protect herbs from an early frost.

“Quick hoops also are great for keeping plants over the winter,” said Coleman. He starts onions and scallions in August, spinach and lettuce seeds in October, and by the next spring he’s four to five weeks ahead of uncovered crops.

As the season heats up, the sandbags are taken off for ventilation, and the sheets are removed.

While Maine is colder than Ohio, and has fewer hours of daylight, we also have cloudy winters that can thwart plant growth.

Coleman suggests doing what he has done all along: Use the trial-and-error method of gardening to find out what works.

Northern growers, he says in the new book, need to discover how early they can plant under a quick hoop without triggering the plants to go to seed early in the spring. Climate will also determine what varieties are cold-hardy enough and how big a seedling must be planted to make it through the winter.

“If there’s a mistake to be made, I guarantee I’ve made it,” he said. “We jokingly refer to our farm as the National Empirical Research Station.”

Adding a plastic greenhouse, hoop house or high tunnel over the row covers opens the door to winter growth as well as harvest, he says, although the growth is modest.

“The way to think of it is a harvest season rather than a growing season,” he says of the greenhouses.

colefarmextendoct27.jpgBarbara Damrosch
Unheated row covers (or low tunnels) and plastic greenhouses (or high tunnels) keep Coleman’s Maine farm harvesting all year.

“Harvest is what you’re after in the long run, anyway. Someone once referred to the greenhouses as large translucent crisper drawers. You are basically stockpiling food.”

But it’s fresh homegrown food, a rarity at that time of year. It’s often more flavorful than store-bought because of its struggle through the cold. And you can select more- nutritious varieties than those commonly found at the supermarket.

Coleman recommends a greenhouse with galvanized metal pipe supports and a footprint no smaller than 10 by 12 feet. Anything smaller might not have enough air mass to stay warm overnight, or to cool off quickly in warmer weather. (See story on greenhouse sources in this section.)

A 10-by-12-foot house can also be moved by several people, giving a protected environment to a next-generation crop and opening the previously covered soil to the purifying rays of the sun and rain.

One bit of bad news for raised-bed fans: The row covers and greenhouses work best with field plantings, since raised beds are more vulnerable to cold. Still, a layer of protection for beds can warm things up significantly as well as protect from wind, pests and, when using shade cloth, punishing sun.

Extending the season means extending the work.

“You have to think in terms of having two spring seasons,” Coleman said. “August and September are like your second spring. And if you think about the first spring providing you the first six months of eating, a second spring gets you that second harvest. It makes a great deal of sense.”