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Headlines for February 4, 2016
» Direct Marketing and Local Food the Focus of House Agriculture Committee Hearing -- National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
» EMISSIONS: A Climate Tax on Meat? Some Find It Hard to Swallow -- ClimateWire
» Conaway, Farm Groups Disappointed in Cottonseed Decision While Vilsack Details Lack of USDA Authority -- The Hagstrom Report
» Midwest Farmers Transitioning to Organic Can Get Aid -- AgWeb
» FAO Food Price Index Starts 2016 Dropping to Nearly 7-year Low -- FAO
Direct Marketing and Local Food the Focus of House Agriculture Committee Hearing -- National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
Source: National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (3 Feb 2016)
Author: n/a
(Article Summarized by Meridian Institute) In this blog post, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) reports on a hearing held earlier this week with members of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research. The hearing gave farmers, ranchers and advocates a chance to discuss their experiences in direct farmer to consumer marketing, farm to institution marketing, and other local food strategies. Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Davis (R-IL) said, at the start of the hearing, “As producers seek to develop new marketing channels for their products, it is important for the subcommittee to get their perspective on the opportunities they see, the challenges they encounter, and what programs can help facilitate further development of these alternative marketing channels.” Farmers and ranchers engage in direct sales via farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture (CSAs), as well as direct sales to restaurants and retail establishments. The demand for such sales is strong, but not without challenges; the panelists spoke to the committee about some of the obstacles they face as they participate in this sector. According to NSAC, the hearing was, in many ways, the beginning of policy discussions that will inform development of the next farm bill. It also, NSAC wrote, “represented a shifting of priorities in a climate where farmers, consumers and policymakers are more aware than ever about the importance of local and regional food systems to sustainable agriculture.” Panelists spoke to the programs and policies from the 2014 farm bill that they felt needed more support, or adjustment, in 2018. Cris Coffin, a panelist and a policy director of Land for Good in Keene, NH, said with an aging population of farmers, bold steps would be needed to encourage a new generation to join up. “With 1/3 of our farmers looking to retire in the next 30 years, that is a lot of land that could transition out of farming unless we take the appropriate steps,” he said. If, concluded NSAC, “the testimonies heard in Tuesday’s hearing are any indication, there is good reason to believe that the next Farm Bill will see much-needed additional attention paid toward supporting local and regional food systems, increasing healthy food access, and supporting young, beginning, and disadvantaged farmers.” more
EMISSIONS: A Climate Tax on Meat? Some Find It Hard to Swallow -- ClimateWire
Source: ClimateWire (4 Feb 2016)
Author: Niina Heikkinen
(Article Summarized by Meridian Institute) Could a tax on carbon-intensive ground beef make you stop eating a burger for dinner? Would it make you eat a salad instead? A new analysis from the University of Oxford and the University of Reading, both in the United Kingdom, looks at how a tax on foods like red meat could help the environment and improve people’s health. The team found that a tax could change consumer behavior, but the authors disagree about what the research actually means in the real world. Adam Briggs, a public health researcher at Oxford, says the findings suggest a carbon tax on high emission foods could be a positive for the planet and the health of consumers. The tax, he conceded, would, however, be unpopular in practice. Richard Tiffin, a professor of applied economics at Reading, questioned whether the tax would outweigh the financial burden it could impose on low-income consumers and the harm it could do to farmers in the UK. Both groups of researchers did agree that finding some way to address emissions from food production is important. "There is a potential market failure in agriculture as the true social cost of carbon (the wider costs to society of GHGEs [greenhouse gas emissions], such as their direct and indirect impacts on food production and health) is not included in the price of food and therefore is neither paid for nor is visible to the consumer," they wrote. Tiffin said the internal debate over the study’s findings reflect a broader conflict among researchers about how to change consumers’ eating patterns. "We don't understand why people make the dietary choices that they do," he said. more
Conaway, Farm Groups Disappointed in Cottonseed Decision While Vilsack Details Lack of USDA Authority -- The Hagstrom Report
Source: The Hagstrom Report (4 Feb 2016)
Author: Jerry Hagstrom
"House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas and farm groups on Wednesday expressed various levels of disappointment over Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s statement that USDA does not have the legal authority to declare cottonseed an oilseed and that Congress would need to authorize action and find $1 billion over 10 years to pay for aid to cotton farmers. Conaway said he had not gotten an official reply, but a USDA spokesperson late Wednesday sent The Hagstrom Report a copy of a letter Vilsack sent to Conaway earlier in the day and said it is up to Congress to give USDA the authority. “We are sympathetic to the challenges facing cotton producers right now and we will work with Congress to look at other ways within our authority to help,” the spokesperson said. “However, after a close examination of the law, we have determined that the requested designation is not authorized under the farm bill and we lack the needed flexibility in our existing tools, such as CCC [Commodity Credit Corporation], to meet the request. “Despite the lack of authority to accomplish what was requested, USDA stands ready to help cotton producers. We urge Congress to restore the tools that it has restricted so we can provide needed help quickly.” Vilsack confirmed to reporters today that he had informed congressional leaders of the determination by USDA lawyers, which means cottonseed is not eligible for subsidies. The cotton industry had asked for the designation because prices are very low." more
Midwest Farmers Transitioning to Organic Can Get Aid -- AgWeb
Source: AgWeb (4 Feb 2016)
Author: The Associated Press
"North Dakota and Minnesota are helping farmers with the three-year transition from traditional crops to organic production, an effort that the industry's main trade group says could boost the acreage of organically grown crops in the U.S. if it takes root beyond the upper Midwest. Minnesota started its grant program first, in 2013, and North Dakota followed suit this year. Both programs assist with the transition costs — everything from soil testing to education. Minnesota farmers can get up to $750 annually and North Dakota farmers up to $1,000. The expense of the transition, which bans farmers from using mainstream chemicals and likely leads to lower yields, is not prohibitive, but "there's a learning curve there that the farmer needs to go through," said Lowell Kaul, an organic farmer near Harvey, North Dakota, who serves on a board that advises the state agriculture commissioner. During the conversion, farmers can't sell their crops into the organic market until they are certified organic by a government-approved agency. The Organic Trade Association is pushing for an industry-led, government-administered certification program for organic farmers who are still in the transition phase, to give them better support and possibly even premium prices for their crops, according to Nathaniel Lewis, the association's senior crops and livestock specialist...The two states' programs could potentially serve as a model for other states. If the organic industry gets a national transitional certification program established, it could "in turn fuel demand for cost-share help through the states, and help other states create programs," Lewis said." more
FAO Food Price Index Starts 2016 Dropping to Nearly 7-year Low -- FAO
Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (4 Feb 2016)
Author: n/a
"The FAO Food Price Index fell in January, slipping 1.9 percent below its level in the last month of 2015, as prices of all the commodities it tracks fell, sugar in particular. The Food Price Index averaged 150.4 points in January, down 16 percent from a year earlier and registering its lowest level since April 2009. The FAO Food Price Index is a trade-weighted index tracking international market prices for five key commodity groups: major cereals, vegetable oils, dairy, meat and sugar. The main factors underlying the lingering decline in basic food commodity prices are the generally ample agricultural supply conditions, a slowing global economy, and the strengthening of the US dollar. This month, FAO also raised its forecast for worldwide cereal stocks in 2016, as a result of lowering its projected consumption and raising 2015 production prospects...Weather patterns associated with El Niño are sending mixed signals about the early prospects for cereal crops in 2016, especially in the Southern Hemisphere, according to FAO's Cereal Supply and Demand Brief, also released today. 2016 crop prospects have been "severely weakened" in Southern Africa, and a 25 percent cut in wheat production in South Africa now appears likely. Conditions for the crop are generally favourable in the Russian Federation and the European Union, but winter plantings declined in the United States and Ukraine. The area under wheat is also expected to be cut in India, following a poor monsoon and below average rains since October. The 2016 outlook for rice along and south of the Equator is "dim" due, at times, to insufficient water and, at others, to excessive rains." more
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