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WASHINGTON —Organic growers in California and other farm states appear split over an industry promotion proposal that’s blossomed into a heated dispute.

Some growers want aseparate program that touts organic products in much the same way that other programs promote cotton, beef or eggs. Others want no part of generic advertising for organics funded by industry “check-off” fees.

With a Wednesday public comment deadline imminent, more than 11,000 public responses had flooded the Agriculture Department as of Friday. The volume and pace of the organic program commentaries led the “What’s Trending” section of the entire federal regulatory website, and they reflect wildly different perspectives.

On the one hand:

“The check-off model provides a tried and true vehicle for the organic sector to invest our own dollars in our collective continued growth at no cost to the taxpayer,” Steven Nichols, a certified organic egg producer in San Bernardino County, stated on April 6.

On the other:

“I have been an organic farmer in California for the past 10 years and the last thing I need is another layer of burdensome, time consuming and costly overhead to my already very busy life,” Fresno County farmer Eldon Thiesen wrote the Agriculture Department on March 23.

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California’s prune producers, winemakers and almond ranchers can take the new farm bill to the bank.

Following several fallow years, the House on Wednesday gave final approval to a 900-plus page farm and food stamp package that sustains California’s famed specialty crops, commodities and university researchers. The nation’s largest and most unique farm state, California gets multi-faceted attention in the long-stalled bill.

“For my home state of California, this farm bill is a dramatic investment,” Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., said Wednesday, adding that “this debate has gone on for far too long.”

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Earlier this year, it was hard to be optimistic about any progress in Congress on the farm bill. Fiscal cliff legislation on New Year’s Day extended the current farm bill through September, buying time for more delays. And, there was so much on the legislative agenda—from budget sequestration to appropriations and more. But after watching sequestration take hold in March, Congress addressed appropriations for the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2013 and moved on separate budget resolutions for FY2014. 

Still, when both the Senate and House agricultural committees announced plans for farm bill markup, no one could have expected the speed of deliberations in committee and the quick movement to floor consideration. On May 14, the Senate Agriculture Committee marked up the farm bill legislation in little more than three hours. The following day, the House Agriculture Committee took about nine hours to get the job done. 

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Although Aunt Mabel’s Christmas trifle might top your list of current food concerns, there are a few other things about U.S. food and agriculture worth considering as you look back on 2012, and forward to 2013:

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By Julia Freedgood of American Farmland Trust and Christine Fry of ChangeLab Solutions. Cross-posted from the Healthy Farms, Healthy People Coalition.

We’ve all heard the drumbeat from nutrition experts: Eat more fruits and vegetables. We know this advice is good for our health. But what does it mean for our land—and for the farmers who grow food on our land?

With obesity rates at epidemic levels, easier access to fruits and vegetables is important, especially in low-income neighborhoods where healthy options can be hard to find. But ramping up demand for affordable produce means stepping up production, which means more demand on land and water.

How we use these resources will affect our environment and communities for years to come. We need to find new ways to protect both human health and the health of our land long into the future.

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Cross-posted from the Colorado Health Foundation’s Health Relay blog and the Healthy Farms, Healthy People Coalition blog

In the United States, and increasingly around the world, it’s easy for consumers to find high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods, including sugar-sweetened drinks, fast foods and highly processed snack foods — they’re abundant, easily accessible and perceived as more affordable than healthier foods.

The Farm Bill renewed every five years or so, plays a significant role in shaping this food environment by influencing what foods get produced, how they are produced, who has access to them and, in some cases, how foods are marketed.

The majority of dollars in the bill primarily support the production of agricultural commodities (corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and cotton) and food programs (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP], formerly called Food Stamps) for low-income Americans.

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Weeding out one little word from a farm bill might mean real money for raisin growers and other purveyors of dried fruit.

But a wording change that expands a federal fruit and vegetable program to include dried, canned and frozen foods also could sour key lawmakers and spark a Capitol Hill fight. The conflict adds one more challenge for a Congress struggling to finish its farm bill work this year.

“It’s going to be a battle royale,” predicted Dan Haley, a lobbyist for Sun-Maid Growers and other California specialty crop clients.

Many such complications come together next Wednesday, when the House Agriculture Committee is expected to take up its newly released 557-page farm bill proposal. The package setting agricultural policy for the next five years markedly differs from a Senate version approved late last month.

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There are many issues related to California’s Central Valley that have been in the news recently. Topics such as social justice, farmworker health and labor conditions, immigration and its role in labor fluctuations/shortages, how pesticides are affecting drainwater and the health of people and animals living in the Valley and the ability of lawmakers to shift the future of agriculture in the country. This post is a collection of these issues. Hopefully this will be an opportunity to learn more about a topic you were unaware of, or a chance to learn more about issues currently influencing the region.

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WASHINGTON - The egg producers and animal rights advocates who once battled over animal housing in California see a new farm bill as a chance to put an unusual alliance into action. If lawmakers agree, the bill would phase in the first national standards to include larger cages for egg-laying hens, stricter egg labeling and limits on ammonia buildup.

The farm bill, though, remains a work in progress for which 198 Senate amendments await action, any one of which could alter the legislation’s direction. Nor it is clear that the proposal for national henhouse standards, written by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, will last long enough to get a vote.

“I won’t bring it up if it’s going to lose,” Feinstein said.

Spanning 1,010 pages, the Senate’s farm bill, now being debated, gives skeptics and supporters alike plenty to chew over. Self-styled reformers can attack subsidies and home-state lawmakers can seek regional advantage.

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