At long last, the Farm Bill race of 2012 is over.
The past week has been a flurry of activity in Congress, as the looming fiscal cliff spurred Washington to action. Despite the public attention on the Farm Bill over the past year, the conclusion to the long drama came not in a fiery showdown but instead slipped – barely noticed – in to the end-of-year fiscal fight. The bill that passed the House on Tuesday night had tucked into it a nine-month Farm Bill extension that pushed the debate off until later this in 2013. Read more
Compared to the billions that the government pays to subsidize industrial-scale growers of commodity crops such as corn, rice and soybeans, federal farm bill spending to promote cultivation and marketing of healthy fruits, nuts and vegetables is tiny. The Specialty Crop Block Grant program is one of the more important programs to support these healthy foods, known also as “specialty crops”. Last year the US Department of Agriculture distributed $55 million in these grants to increase “the competitiveness of the specialty crop sector,” more than 30 percent of it in California, the source of nearly half of the nation’s fruits and vegetables.
Although the money comes from the federal budget, it’s the California Department of Food and Agriculture that manages the grant-making process in the state and sets the program’s priorities. California is a nationwide leader in its efforts to craft a broader state strategy that goes well beyond USDA’s minimal guidelines, focusing its funding in three broad categories: research, marketing and nutrition.
The program is extremely competitive. Grant applications in California in 2009 totaled $65 million, nearly four times the amount available. Because this is such an important source of funding for innovative food and agriculture projects, Environmental Working Group took a close look at three years of grant awards to assess whether they were in line with the state’s top priorities and strategies as defined by the California Agricultural Vision, a strategic plan adopted in 2010 in a broad process involving multiple stakeholders. Read more
Well, it’s official. Last Thursday, Speaker of the House John Boehner confirmed that the House will not vote on the 2012 Farm Bill during this brief Congressional working session and thus we’ll zip right past that pesky September 30 expiration date on the former bill. (I’ll explain what this means momentarily.) It’s possible that during Congress’ upcoming lame duck session in November, a one-year extension of the current bill will be voted on, and then we’ll get to do this all over again next year! Read more
Recently, with Obama re-election posters blanketing the audience at the Democratic National Convention and Republicans mocking Obama’s campaign slogan, the word of the moment was Forward. But when it comes to food safety, this Administration is stuck in reverse. The 56-page 2012 Democratic Party Platform included no mention of food safety or the President’s monumental signing of the Food Safety Modernization Act. Read more
At a time when our nation’s family dairy farmers are in jeopardy of losing their farms and the independent dairy industry is in a state of volatility due to the price of milk paid to farmers, higher feed costs, corporate consolidation in the supply chain–and what many believe is a flawed pricing strategy–it was a huge loss when on August 7, 2012, Bryan Wolfe, a dairy farmer and activist, was tragically killed working his haybine on his farm in Rome Township, Ohio. He was 55.
According to Arden Tewksbury, Manager of the Progressive Agriculture Organization (Pro-Ag), Bryan was a well-known and respected dairy farmer activist who continually worked to obtain a fair price for all dairy farmers. He felt very strongly that a cost of production formula should be developed (like S-1640; the Federal Milk Marketing Improvement Act) to ensure all dairy farmers would have a fair chance to survive this RAT RACE that many dairy farmers are experiencing. Read more
More Americans than ever before, 50 million, are in poverty. One in seven people rely on the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, or food stamps. And they are not always the people you might expect. Formerly middle class families, recent veterans, college graduates and farmworkers are featured in this new photo essay, the latest report produced by the Food & Environment Reporting Network in collaboration with Switchyard Media, which first appeared on MSN. Read more
As Congress navigates its way through the 2012 Farm Bill process, Food & Water Watch today released a report that delineates the special interest lobbying efforts that shaped the 2008 Farm Bill. Food & Water Watch estimates that $173.5 million was spent by agribusinesses, commodity groups, food manufacturers and others to perpetuate policies that favor the largest food and agriculture industries. The public demand for broad-based reforms to the food system has been largely stymied by the special interest lobbying muscle that spent more than $500,000 a day during the 110th Congress.
The report, Cultivating Influence: 2008 The Farm Bill Lobbying Frenzy, finds that the 2008 Farm Bill was one of the most well-financed legislative fights of the past decade and breaks down the lobbying spending by more than 1,000 companies, trade associations and other groups. Read more
The latest report by the Food & Environment Reporting Network takes a look at how the American Farm Bureau Federation leads the charge against efforts to limit industrial-scale food production and has become the single most powerful farm lobby in the nation, accounting for 45 percent of all agriculture-related lobbying dollars over the last decade. Read more
A recent article in The Wall Street Journal celebrated the Hantz Farms project to establish a 10,000 acre private farm in Detroit. The project hinges on a very large land deal offered by financial services magnate John Hantz to buy up over 2,000 empty lots from the city of Detroit. Hantz’s ostensible objective is to establish the world’s largest urban mega-farm.
I say “ostensible” because despite futuristic artists’ renderings of Hantz Farms’ urban greenhouses, presently John Hantz is actually growing trees rather than food. The project website invites us to imagine “high-value trees… in even-spaced rows” on a three-acre pilot site recently cleaned, cleared and planted to hardwood saplings. These trees, it seems, are just a first step in establishing a 200 acre forest and eventually–pending approval by the City Council–the full Hantz megafarm.
In the short run, the purchase by Hantz cleans things up, puts foreclosed lots back on the tax rolls and relieves the city of maintenance responsibilities. If the tree farm expands, it could provide a few jobs. In the long run, however, Hantz hopes his farm will create land scarcity in order to push up property values–property that he will own a lot of. Read more
Bladder inflections affect 60 percent of all American women, with a rising number resistant to antibiotic treatment. Now researchers looking into the cause of the mysterious drug resistance have found evidence that it’s coming from poultry treated with antibiotics, according to a joint investigation by the Food & Environment Reporting Network and ABC News. Read more