Tag Archives: national

Gov’t Shutdown: Farm Bill Expires, Vermont’s USDA Offices Close

There was a faint hope that Congress would get its act together and hammer out a Farm Bill before it expired on October 1. House Republicans’ insistence on draconian cuts to food assistance programs has prevented a joint Senate-House conference committee from even beginning discussions of how, and whether, to fund dozens of farm programs over the five years.

Many of these programs help Vermont’s farms (both conventional and organic) and support the development of our local food systems. Some fund training and development programs at NOFA and similar organizations, while others serve farmers directly.

Among those programs affected are the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, the Farmers Market Promotion Program, the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program, Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives, Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers, Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), Rural Micro-entrepreneur Assistance Program, Specialty Crop Research Initiative, Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG) and others. These programs will remain without funding unless and until Congress decides to restore funding in a new Farm Bill.

Unfortunately, the prospects for this happening any time soon dimmed further today, when Washington’s dysfunction led to the shutdown of much of the federal government. This includes Vermont offices of USDA programs that assist our farmers with funds and assistance everyday, implementing conservation practices, providing operating loans, disaster recovery and business services. All work at Vermont’s NRCS offices and Federal Farm Service Agency have been suspended until further notice. (Don’t bother calling — no one is there.)

Let us hope that sanity will return to Washington soon. There is too much work to be done and too many people whose lives and livelihoods are being harmed — including those of Vermont’s farmers.

For more details about how specific programs will (or will not) continue, take a look at this post from the National Farmers Union.

[Post by Dave Rogers, NOFA-VT Policy Advisor]

A New England Education for the FDA

When the FDA team responsible for implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) came to New Hampshire and Vermont last week, they got an earful — and an education. At an August 20th Listening Session at Dartmouth College, about two hundred vegetable and fruit farmers, food processors, local food advocates, and consumers showed up to tell the visitors from inside the Beltway of the many ways in which the FDA’s proposals for new food safety regulations would affect them.  Farmers and others, including NOFA Vermont’s Fruit and Vegetable Technical Assistance Advisor Lynda Prim, stood in line for an hour or more for the chance to detail increased production costs, harms to the environment, and economic disincentives, especially on smaller-scale operations.

Those who presented remarks voiced a number of specific concerns. Many pointed out that the FDA’s proposed requirement that farmers test irrigation water weekly was unnecessary, impractical, and would increase costs significantly. Others pointed out negative consequences on wildlife and biodiversity on farms.

Lynda Prim joined a number of organic farmers present in voicing concern about conflicts between proposed FSMA requirements and the National Organic Program rules, despite the fact that the FDA is explicitly directed to avoid such conflicts. For instance, proposed requirements for waiting periods before crops can be harvested after field applications of manures (270 days) and compost (45 days) greatly exceed, and are in direct conflict with, such waiting periods required by the National Organic Program. Additionally, these extended waiting periods are impractical in New England’s short growing season, and would likely increase the use of chemical fertilizers on non-organic farms. Farmers’ incomes and the environment would be negatively affected.

Many spoke of how increased compliance costs — estimated by the FDA to run to thousands of dollars annually on even small-scale operations — would either force them to leave farming entirely or significantly damage opportunities for farm expansion and new farm enterprises. Such specific, informed and heartfelt criticisms of the proposed regulations continued for over two hours straight.

Later that day and the next, the FDA team visited local farms and food businesses, including the Mad River Food Hub and Hartshorn Farm in Waitsfield, and the Intervale Farm in Burlington. They got a first-hand look at the diversity of farming practices, production systems, distribution and marketing innovations that are critical to the continued development of our emerging local food economy in the region. (You can see their impressions of the visit on the FDA’s blog.)

Throughout their visit, the members of the FDA team listened intently. They had a lot of questions and asked for advice and recommendations. More than once, Michael Taylor, the FDA Deputy Commissioner who led the team, indicated that he wanted to make sure that the vigor of local farms and the local food economy would not be derailed by burdensome and unnecessary food safety regulations. We agree, and hope to see his statements translated into action when the final regulations are published next year.

Our visitors are now back at their desks in D.C.. But farmers, organizations, consumers and businesses throughout the country have until November 15 to submit their own written comments expressing their concerns about proposed regulations, as well as their recommendations for improving them. The FDA is, by law, required to read and consider every one of these written comments before it develops and publishes its final food safety regulations in the next year or so. It’s up to all of us to make sure it’s a highly educational experience for them.

More information about the proposed rules and how to submit your own comments can be found in our earlier post on the the FSMA. NOFA Vermont and Vermont Organic Farmers are working on an official comment of our own; stay tuned to learn more.

[by Dave Rogers, NOFA Vermont Policy Advisor]

The Food Safety Modernization Act and You

Root washer on Jericho Settlers Farm. Photo by Maria Reade.
Root washer on Jericho Settlers Farm. Photo by Maria Reade.

The FDA has recently completed its publication of proposed food safety rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). They  would require many of Vermont’s farmers and food processors to adopt new, and perhaps costly, equipment and practices designed to improve the safety of fresh produce and processed foods.

The public has until November 15 to submit comments and recommendations to the FDA, which will be considered in developing final rules that will likely take effect in the next several years.

It is important for every farmer and food processor to learn about these proposed rules and determine how they would affect their businesses. Farm and food advocacy organizations around the country have prepared summaries of the rules and information about how to submit comments to the FDA. (See links below.) In the weeks ahead, NOFA Vermont will be making additional information available – join our mailing list for the latest updates.

Upcoming opportunities to learn more and make your voice heard:

For more information about FSMA and how it might affect you:

Submit your comments to the FDA.

Quantity Counts! The more smaller-scale and diversified farmers they hear from, the better. To submit comments:

[by Dave Rogers, NOFA-VT Policy Advisor]

NOFA Advocacy Update

There are a number of topics in local, state, and national legislature that we’re involved in right now, including the GMO labeling bill (which needs your support right now!), the Addison County Natural Gas Pipeline project, the national Food Safety Modernization Act, and working to add compost to the list of agricultural products that are exempt from the state sales tax. Keep reading to learn more! Continue reading NOFA Advocacy Update