Farmers, food banks create partnership

In this trying economy, Americans are facing more than the prospect of losing their jobs. They’re being hit hard by high food prices and other difficulties, which is leading them to seek out other resources such as food banks for assistance.

Sadly, supply is not keeping up with this surge. Because of the current recession and higher food costs, food banks have seen a steady decline in donated packaged foods from manufacturers and grocery stores, which are historically their biggest donors.

Due to an increased need, food banks also require support from additional vendors. Ross Fraser, a spokesman for Feeding America, formerly America’s Second Harvest, reported a 30 to 40 percent rise in demand from a year ago. Feeding America’s is the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity. Its network of more than 200 distribution centers serves all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

To tackle the rising demand, many food banks and nonprofits are trying to partner with farmers, fishermen and schools while continuing partnerships with their usual allies.

Ohio food banks are benefiting from a first-time partnership between the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry (FHFH).

FHFH is a non-profit organization whose mission is to fight human hunger and deer overpopulation by contributing deer meat to church pantries, the Salvation Army, community food banks, emergency assistance programs and children's homes.

The Mid-Ohio Foodbank, which serves agencies in 20 counties, received a truckload of 800 pounds of animal meat from the FHFH earlier this month, according to a Columbus Dispatch article.

“It’ll make a substantial difference,” said Evelyn Behm, Mid-Ohio Foodbank’s vice president of strategic initiatives. “Our pantries are always in need of protein.”

In other parts of the country, fishermen in Southern California have donated boats, bait and deck hands for a deep-sea fishing excursion, which helped supply FOOD Share, Ventura County’s food bank.

In Vermont, the Foodbank plans to close on the purchase of a 20-acre farm by May, according to Judy Stermer, the food bank’s spokeswoman. The purchase will do more than add food to the needy. It will prevent commercial development, preserve farmland and restore the farm as a working farm to provide a center for agricultural education efforts and community activity. According to an Associated Press article written earlier this year, Foodbank officials plan to farm the land for root crops, renovate the aging barn into a four-season facility that can serve as a community meeting place, a winter farmer's market and an educational exhibit that focuses on the link between agriculture and hunger.

"Our intent is to raise 150,000 pounds of produce on the farm (annually) and make it available -- first and foremost -- locally in the Mad River Valley and Washington County and then to other food shelves and pantries around the state," said Doug O'Brien, CEO of the Barre Town-based food bank. “The short-term gain is significant, and the long-term gain is we'll continue to have the fresh produce and the educational opportunities to better understand the issue of hunger."

Fortunately, along with these new partnerships, there are still many programs and corporations, including grocers and food manufacturers, who have stepped in to help. Their contributions are usually in the form of money and transportation services. Last month in an Associated Press article, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. stated it will donate more meat and dairy products plus $2.5 million, while Kraft Foods, Inc. will fund a $4.5 million mobile pantry program.

Partnerships across the country are helping in large and small ways and every bit helps. What else can be done to help the hungry during the recession? Please comment below.

Ohioans continue to support farmers

In general, Ohioans continue to feel positive about Ohio agriculture, according to a recent survey conducted by The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. In fact, 87 percent of Ohioans agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “Overall, farming positively contributes to the quality of life in Ohio.”

Although the survey reveals some positive statements about Ohio agriculture, many believe that farmers must still be mindful of their duty.

“That’s a high level of support, but the agriculture community must still work to maintain that high level of confidence,” said Jeff Sharp, associate professor in rural sociology who oversaw the completion of this survey.

The biannual survey was mailed to 3,500 randomly selected Ohioans. The primary objective was to evaluate Ohioans’ attitudes about a variety of current food, farming and environmental topics. The survey received a response rate over 48 percent.

The survey also revealed that 84 percent agreed or strongly agreed that Ohio’s economy will suffer if the state continues to lose farmers. This shows that Ohioans realize the importance of farmers to the state’s economy. Ohio ranks 16th in the U.S with a market value of $4.3 billion in agriculture production.

Sixty percent of the respondents agreed with the statement: “I trust Ohio farmers to protect the environment.” Thirty percent answered undecided, and 10 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement.

As I discussed in my last blog, there are sets of rules being debated by lawmakers that would relax EPA restrictions on several industries including agriculture. Twenty-three percent of Ohioans believe that environmental protection laws regulating farming are too strict, and 59 percent were undecided.

This indicates that there is a large portion of Ohioans who don’t have sufficient information to determine whether or not those laws are too strict. And this tells farmers that they need to take a more proactive approach in educating Ohioans about their business and how those laws affect their farms.

There is also an increasing number of Ohioans who have concern for the future of farming. Sixty-three percent were very concerned that there is a loss of farmland due to urban growth and 62 percent were very concerned about a loss of family farms.

Overall, Ohioans’ opinions about Ohio farming are positive and will remain that way as long as, according to Sharp, “farmers continue to be good neighbors and environmental stewards.”

How else does farming positively contribute to the quality of life in Ohio? Let me know your thoughts.

EPA Deregulations: Good or bad for the environment, farmers?

The Bush Administration is pushing to pass a set of rules that could relax EPA restrictions on several industries including agriculture and environmental groups, and industry leaders are adamantly expressing their thoughts on this issue.

Environmental advocates say passage of this proposal could eliminate important safeguards that protect the environment from harmful pollution of several industries including agriculture.

Industry leaders say that the proposals would free business from unnecessary government involvement.

There are more than 170 livestock farms in Ohio, and the Ohio Department of Agriculture is reviewing applications from companies that want to build 18 more livestock farms.

Currently, farms are required to apply for permits with the EPA if they’re going to release anything into nearby steams. If the proposal passes, farms will no longer need a permit as long as they file plans that indicate what they’re doing. They also won’t need to report hazardous air pollutants released from animal waste. However, according to environmental groups this can actually cause more pollution and problems for the farms itself as well as the environment.

“Many farms store millions of gallons of liquefied manure in lagoons, which can leak or overflow into streams.” said Eric Schaeffer, director of Washington D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project. “If the farms don’t have to obtain permits and tell the state how they are doing, officials will have a difficult time punishing farms that do pollute streams.”

The proposal would also require power companies to install scrubbers and pollution filters on coal-fired power plants that are being renovated or repaired based on a plant’s hourly pollution rate instead of its annual production. These coal-fueled generators provide 89 percent of Ohio’s electricity.

“The plan would allow a refurbished plant to increase its pollution without adding scrubbers,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch. “A plant operating more hours at the old hourly rate could increase emissions of pollutants, including sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, by hundreds if not thousands of tons a year.”

Others believe these deregulations will help.

“Repairs that help a plant burn coal more efficiently could actually help lower its annual and hourly pollution emissions,” said John McManus, vice president of environmental services for American Electric Power. “The number of hours a plant operates doesn’t automatically increase after repairs.”

An EPA spokesperson said that the farm-rule changes would protect the environment and public health.

Do you think the passage of these proposals will hurt the environment? Or do you think they will minimize unnecessary government involvement? Please comment below.

Barack Obama is the next president: What does this mean for rural America?

Barack Obama has been elected president and rural America has spoken. Agricultural groups have congratulated the president-elect on his win and already laid out suggestions for his agricultural plan.

American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) President Bob Stallman released a statement congratulating President-elect Obama and his thoughts regarding his campaign.

“Farmers and ranchers, like all Americans, have a list of issues that they expect the administration and Congress will address,” said Stallman.

He said the Farm Bureau’s issues include the economy, energy, immigration, trade, implementation of the Farm Bill and many others.

“We know there are many points of view on these issues, but we also know that our elected leaders have one thing in common: Each person elected to office ran for office to improve this country. We look forward to working with the new administration and Congress to create those opportunities that will improve agriculture and rural America,” said Stallman.

National Farmers Union (NFU) President Tom Buis listed other challenges that face rural America.

“Agriculture faces many problems, including a worldwide recession that is hurting commodity prices, the need for regulatory reform that includes greater regulation of speculators in commodity futures market and more development of biofuels and green energy sources that will bring economic development to farms and rural areas,” said Buis.

Buis said the country is going to have a president who does want to work with rural America on these issues. And because Obama supported the Farm Bill, he said he believes that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will implement the new law in the way intended by Congress.

Buis also said he’s relying on other farm groups “to organize an agricultural summit to look at ways to counter falling farm income.”

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President Andy Groseta laid out his own concerns.

“In the coming years, ranchers, farmers and rural Americans will be significantly impacted by tax policies, environmental regulations, international trade, renewable fuel subsidies, food safety and nutrition,” Groseta said. “NCBA worked closely with the Obama campaign on each of these concerns, and we have been assured a seat at the table when decisions are made regarding these and other issues of importance to America’s cattlemen and women.”

The National Corn Growers Association sent a similar message congratulating President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden and addressing its issues.

“We have appreciated Sen. Obama’s leadership on issues ranging from strong safety-net programs within the Farm Bill to the promotion of corn-based ethanol as an important source of domestic energy,” said NCGA President Bob Dickey.

NCGA’s main concerns are renewable fuels, trade and the implementation of the Farm Bill.

It seems that Obama will have a lot of different organizations to work with to help improve rural America. Which issues do you believe are the most important for America’s farmers? Please comment below.

Election 2008: Who will be the next president?

It’s crunch time with only one day until the election, and both candidates have been spending significant time in crucial battleground states.

In the 10 days from Oct. 18-28, John McCain, Barack Obama and their running mates have been to the key swing states more than once. The top three states visited were Pennsylvania (10 visits), Florida (10) and Ohio (7). Followed by Colorado with six visits and North Carolina and Virginia with five visits. States with four visits or less were Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, Indiana and Iowa.

According to, Florida, North Carolina, Missouri, Indiana and Montana are the top five states still up for grabs. Ohio, which has voted Republican in the past two presidential elections and is widely considered the most vital battleground state, is leaning toward Obama.

In the most recent Gallup Poll (Oct. 23-26), voters were asked, “Regardless of whom you support, and trying to be as objective as possible, who do you think will win the presidential election in November?” Seven in 10 Americans expect Obama to win. Since June, the percentage of those who said they think Obama will win has grown from 42 percent to 51 percent. Forty-nine percent of McCain supporters say that Obama will win as well. And as expected, 94 percent of Obama supporters think Obama will win. (For more information on the Gallup Polls, please visit

With three of the battleground states being Ohio, Missouri and Indiana, the rural vote may just be more important this year than any other year. Along with those states and Iowa, the agriculture impact may determine who wins the election.

The economic impact among these battleground states alone is vast. For example, the market value of agriculture production for Iowa is $12.3 billion, which ranks third in the U.S. The market value for Ohio is $4.3 billion. One in 6 people in Ohio have an agriculture-related job, which includes wholesaling and retailing, farm production and marketing and processing. Ohio has 75,700 farms, averaging 186 acres in size per farm.

Over 90 percent of Iowa’s land is devoted to agriculture. It has 88,400 farms, the average farm size is 356 acres and Iowa agriculture employs 500,000 people.

Agriculture is more than just farming. It is a gigantic industry that includes a variety of businesses such as manufacturers, retailers, dealers and service providers. The four states mentioned above are vital to the nation’s agriculture industry.

Regardless of who you support and trying to be as objective as possible, who do you think will win the presidential election in November? Election day is tomorrow. Don’t forget to be an educated voter.

McCain’s, Obama’s support for the American farmer: Sincere or not?

Presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama are exhibiting their support for the American farmer. In July, both candidates spoke to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Council of Presidents. Since then, focus has turned to two major issues – energy and trade – and how these issues will affect agriculture.

McCain supports trade agreements that will open markets to U.S. agriculture and lower trade barriers, decrease trade-distorting subsidies and stabilize an affordable food supply for all. He says he would form America's farm policies in favor of small farmers and rural communities. McCain wants the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to be more involved by conducting research designed to increase the production of drought-resistant, high-yield crops. He also promises to support conservation programs that encourage environmental stewardship on America’s farmlands.

Obama wants to break down trade and investment barriers to maintain American farmers' competitive presence around the world. He would promote programs that help producers develop global marketing networks. He also wants to make sure all trade agreements contain strong and enforceable labor, environmental and safety standards. And, he wants to involve the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be able to issue and enforce recalls of contaminated food. He hopes to improve food-safety efforts by doing so. Obama has pledged to support conservation projects and industries that produce new value-added agricultural products.

Both McCain and Obama have laid out extensive agricultural plans, but Brad Lubben, a public policy specialist in the department of agricultural economics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says neither of the candidates have a strong agricultural background.

“The key will be whom the candidates choose to advise them on the issues,” he said.

Agricultural organizations such as the Nebraska Farmers Union Political Action Committee (NFUPAC) have endorsed the Democratic presidential candidate. According to NFUPAC President Gale Lush of Wilcox, the endorsement was based on the candidates’ voting record and their positions on economic issues that impact family farmers, ranchers and rural communities. Other key issues that determined their support include farm programs, renewable energy, rural development, market competition, fair trade and rural health care.

Other agricultural organizations, such as the California Farm Bureau and AgriPac, Michigan Farm Bureau’s (MFB) political action committee, have endorsed McCain. AgriPac’s endorsement was based on the candidates’ qualifications and how their policies would benefit the state and nation’s agriculture industries as a whole. AgriPac Chairman Andrew Hagenow acknowledged that McCain doesn’t agree with MFB on all its organizational policies, but “feels that he possesses the necessary leadership to steer the country on a path toward continued success, growth and prosperity in the agricultural sector.”

McCain’s opposition to ethanol subsidies may hurt his chance to win this election. States such as Iowa and Nebraska have historically sided with the Republican candidate, but these states are huge supporters of ethanol. There’s a probable chance that Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas will still vote Republican as many cattle ranchers in these states are heavily affected by the rise in corn prices, despite its near-50 percent decrease since June.

Not everyone believes that the candidates’ agriculture policy will be in the farmers’ favor. Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs (CRA), believes that regardless of the candidates’ position on agricultural issues, policies in Washington won’t change.

“Historically, policies have supported mega-farms that drive family farms out of business and fail to invest in creating a genuine opportunity for rural people and a future for their communities,” he said.

John Crabtree, media relations officer for the CRA doesn’t think that either candidate has shown sincere concern for rural America. He believes it’s more than just picking a side.

“It’s one thing to say you oppose or support the farm bill, but neither candidate has bothered to address the various issues within the Farm Bill that affect rural communities,” he said.

“Neither party has demonstrated a real commitment to ensuring that rural people – who contribute so much to the nation’s prosperity – share in it,” Hassebrook added. “Neither party seems to understand that America will never be as strong as it can be until all of America has the opportunity to share in building wealth, assets and prosperity.”

Do you feel that the candidates’ efforts toward improving and helping the American farmer are sincere? Or do you think they’re just trying to win votes? Let me know what you think.

Who’s contributing to the candidates and how does this affect their policies?

What factors are influencing the way the candidates form their policies? Are their decisions based on past administrations? Or could these policies be what the American people want? Do advisors or lobbyists help form the candidates’ plans?

All these reasons may be important, but they are not the only factors that define the candidates’ policies. Donations from key industries are significant elements. Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama, like most modern presidential candidates, rely heavily on contributions to fund their campaigns and get their respective messages out there. Key contributors include the oil & gas industries, the coal-mining industry, green efforts/environmentalists and the agribusiness industry.

The agribusiness sector includes crop producers, livestock ranchers, meat processors, the poultry and egg industry, dairy farmers, timber companies, tobacco companies, food products manufacturers, food stores and veterinarians. Though most contributions in this industry go to the Republican Party, sugar growers give more to Democrats, which other industries may eventually do if they wish to find allies in the new Democratic Congress. This year, the agribusiness industry has given $2,398,839 to McCain and $1,263,755 to Obama. Some of the contributors include American Crystal Sugar, Farm Credit Council and Reynolds American. According to, this industry will pay close attention to reform topics related to strengthening disaster relief programs and increasing U.S. involvement in global food markets.

Oil and Gas
Obama and McCain are both receiving hefty contributions from companies in the oil & gas industry. McCain has received three times more than Obama. Whereas Obama beat McCain in contributions from companies like Exxon and BP, McCain has received more from companies like Koch Industries, Valero, Marathon Oil, Occidental Petroleum, Conoco Phillips and Hess Corp. As of Oct. 19, McCain has received $2,028,275 from the oil & gas industry this year, while Obama has received only $523,133, according to figures that were released by the Federal Election Commission and that appeared on

Coal Mining
As McCain and Obama have both committed to advancing clean-coal technology, they are showing support from the coal-mining industry. McCain is again receiving more from this industry than Obama at $75,596, while Obama has received just $12,900. Though his running mate has said differently, Obama knows that the coal issue swings voters and has released many ads to show that he supports clean-coal technologies. McCain is doing other things to show that he supports clean-coal technologies, including visiting one of the country’s largest coal producers, Consol, and touring its research and development campus located in Pittsburgh.

Green Efforts
The candidates are also paying close attention to the alternative energy industry, which includes wind, solar power, crop-based ethanol and other biofuels as their importance is significantly increasing. While McCain has received the majority of contributions from the other industries, Obama enjoys 73 percent of all alternative energy contributions. This industry has given him a total of $90,557. The top contributor in the industry is National Biofuels, which has given a total of $160,400 to Democrats. Environmental groups are also making donations, hoping to affect energy and agricultural legislation. Environmentalists have given $201,050 to Obama and $38,925 to McCain. The Environmental Defense Fund and Defenders of Wildlife spent the most in lobbying efforts, while the Sierra Club donates directly to issue ads rather than siding with a political party or candidate.

As you can see, financial contributions play a major role in elections, but it’s still unknown how much they will affect policy making. How do you think these contributions are affecting the candidates’ policies? Would an industry’s support sway your vote? What do you think? Please comment below.

Obama, McCain: Who will win the rural vote?

With the election four short weeks away, Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain are focusing heavily on rural America to win this election. And they’ll need it. According to the National Rural Assembly, 60 million people live in rural areas.

Obama says he wants to make sure that family farmers have fair access to markets, control over their production decisions and fair prices for their goods. He says farm programs are designed to help family farmers instead of corporations. Obama also says he wants to encourage organic agriculture and would like to see more young people become farmers. He plans to provide tax incentives to make it easier for new farmers to afford their first farm.

McCain wants to provide sustainable, market-driven risk management for America’s farmers to reflect the outcomes of the global marketplace. He claims this system would eliminate the influence of special interests on American agricultural policy. He argues this agricultural plan will meet America’s need in food, fiber, feed and energy. Technology will help to reach these needs. McCain is heavily pushing the continuation of positioning America as the leader in agriculture technology.

Both candidates want to provide jobs, education and health care for people in remote locations.

Obama said in the Oct. 7 debate that he plans to invest $150 billion a year over a 10-year period to free the United States from its dependence on foreign oil. He claims this plan will improve the bio-fuels and fuel infrastructure, accelerate the commercialization of plug-in hybrids, promote development of commercial-scale renewable energy, invest in low-emission coal plants and begin the transition to a new digital electricity grid. He also plans to execute an economy-wide cap-and-trade program suggested by scientists to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

According to McCain’s Web site, he has proposed a $300 million award for “the development of a battery package that has the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog the number of commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars.” He supports the increased use of alternative energy sources like wind, solar and natural gas. McCain’s plan also focuses on increasing the number of nuclear power plants in the United States. He wants to construct 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030.

Both candidates focus on advancing technology and green jobs. Obama plans to create an energy-focused Green Job Corps to help disadvantaged youth gain the job skills they need. Obama also wants to create a Clean Technologies Venture Capital Fund to bridge the gap in U.S. technology development. He would make a $10 billion investment per year for five years. They both also want to advance clean-coal technology. McCain plans to spend $2 billion annually to help the science, research and development to improve this technology. By doing so, he claims he will restore the jobs lost and create new ones in the coal industry.

Dee Davis, president of the Kentucky-based Center for Rural Strategies, says whoever wins the rural vote will win the presidency. At this point, it’s still hard to tell who is leading with the polls continually changing. The rural population is still torn between the two candidates. Many people living in rural communities approve of McCain’s choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate because of her understanding of agricultural issues. However, Sen. Joe Biden has repeatedly shown his support for America’s farmers as well. He supported the farm bill and has fought to maintain a competitive marketplace at home for America’s farmers.

Let’s hear your thoughts. Which candidate do you think has a better plan for developing and assisting rural communities?

American Agriculture and the Economy

For generations, agriculture has served as the cornerstone of the American economy and has played a vital role in shaping the history of this country.

Since it’s humble beginnings in the original colonies, farming has changed over the years, growing from the small family farms to a multi-million-dollar business. In 1940, there were six million farms averaging about 165 acres each farm. As time progressed, farms became fewer but larger. In the 1990s, there were only 2.2 million farms in the U.S., but each averaged 470 acres of farmed land. Even though the number of farms decreased, technological advances now enable farmers to continue producing more food. This allows farmers not only to feed the U.S. but also feed the world.

“Agriculture is arguably the most important sector of the economy,” said John M. Antle, professor of Agricultural Economics at Montana State University.

In a world of economic uncertainty, agriculture continues to support the American financial markets. With the recent proposed bailout of several troubled corporations and the problems of Lehman brothers, AIG and Merrill Lynch, the dollar will likely weaken further, making U.S. products more attractive and likely leading to an increase in agricultural exports. Furthermore, the need to stabilize the tumultuous financial markets can only benefit the American consumers. Doing so would hopefully increase discretionary spending (dining out, purchasing of ethanol vehicles, etc.), which also will benefit the agricultural industry for years to come.

In 2007, farmers earned $86.8 billion. The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts this number will rise to $95.7 billion by the end of 2008. Although quite a large number, farming contributes only 1 percent of the U.S. GDP. In Ohio alone, 75,700 farms contributed $1.95 billion to the state’s economy, making agriculture the largest industry in Ohio, which is one of only five states where over 44 percent or 14.3 million acres of land is used for farming.

As the nation frets over the current economic crisis, it remains to be seen how American farmers will be affected. And with a change in administration looming, how will the next president’s policies affect the U.S. farming industry? Let me know your thoughts.

Emerald ash borer affecting more states by the day

In a Sept. 3 article in the Dayton Daily News, scientists estimated that the emerald ash borer (EAB) beetle has already killed millions of ash trees in the United States. It is considered one of the most serious threats facing the forests in North America. It is capable of eliminating an entire species of trees.

The consequences of this beetle’s destructive path are bigger than some might think. Around 114 million board feet of ash saw timber, which is valued at roughly $25.1 billion, is grown in the eastern U.S. each year. Since EAB was introduced to the U.S. in the 1990s, over 25 million ash trees have died or are dying and 7.5 billion ash trees are still at risk.

Not only is there money being lost by EAB destruction of ash trees, but millions of dollars are being spent by the USDA to destroy the beetle. In 2004, the USDA committed $40 million to destroy the beetle and plans to spend over $350 million in the next eight years.

EAB is a green beetle, but don’t be deceived by its innocent look - it’s not as harmless as it appears. The EAB is native to parts of Russia, China, Japan and Korea, so how did it get to the United States? It is suspected that it was accidentally imported from China in the 1990s. In 2002, it was discovered in Canton, Mich. It has since migrated and today threatens numerous states throughout the U.S.

Since 2007, there have been reported cases of EAB attacks in Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Illinois, North Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Maryland, Indiana and Illinois. In Ohio alone, 43 counties are under quarantine.

Currently, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is trying to exterminate all the beetles in the U.S., destroying every ash tree within a half mile of a known infested tree.

So how does this effect Ohio? In a recent study by the U.S. Forest Service, there are roughly 3.8 billion ash trees in Ohio, or one in every 10 trees in the state. The value of ash timber in Ohio is valued around $1 billion. Before EAB attacked, the ash was considered to be the most important tree to nursery and landscaping businesses. It can cost up to $1,000 for some homeowners to completely remove one tree. Ohio’s Division of Forestry predicts that over the next 10 years, the economic impact from EAB on Ohio could reach over $3 billion. The estimated total cost, if Ohio’s urban ash trees were completely lost, would be roughly $7.5 billion.

Not only is EAB affecting nursery and landscape businesses, but it’s also hitting the tool-handle market. A large portion of the market for ash in Ohio is focused around the tool-handle market, meaning anything from handles on hammers to screwdrivers, and other tools with wooden handles. There are two major plants focused on this market in Ohio, both of which get roughly 25 percent of their wood from ash trees. Ohio is actively seeking federal assistance to help destroy EAB to avoid the continued financial threat to the state’s already weakened economy.

So how does EAB kill ash trees? The adults lay eggs in the crevices in the bark of the ash tree. The larvae then burrow into the bark after they hatch and consume vital cambium and phloem. This typically causes the tree to die within two years. The good news is that the average life span of the EAB is one to two years. The bad news is that a female can lay between 75 to 300 eggs.

EAB continues to be a threat to Ohio and the surrounding states with no end in sight. Will the USDA be able to eliminate this pesky beetle? Let me know your thoughts.

High Prices a Problem for Corporations, Consumers Alike

Everyone from the CEOs of huge corporations to stay-at-home moms are feeling the squeeze of the high cost of living. Soaring food and fuel prices are leaving their mark in grocery stores, on the roads and in homes across the United States.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently estimated that food prices will climb 4.5 to 5.5 percent this year and another 4 to 5 percent in 2009. Many are scrambling to find new ways to survive in this volatile economy. The “trickle-down” effect has become obvious.

With the increased cost of living, many farmers are losing money with each chicken and cow they sell. Grain farmers are hurting from rising fertilizer and fuel prices as well. When those at the source of our food supply are hurting, the high cost of inputs are sure to be passed on to the consumer.

“It costs $1,000 to fill up some farm tractors every time they pull up to the diesel pump with an empty tank,” said Mark Schneidewind, Illinois Farm Bureau manager for Will County. In an Aug. 22 article in the Morris Daily Herald, he explained that anhydrous ammonia, a common fertilizer, has risen from $200 per ton to more than $1,000 in the past two years.

Like farmers, food manufacturers also must tighten their belts. Though often seen as responsible for hiking prices, companies like General Mills are suffering, too. According to an Aug. 8 Wall Street Journal article, to save dwindling profits, General Mills and other companies like Pilgrim’s Pride, Sara Lee and Tyson Foods have been forced to charge more for smaller boxes of cereal, cartons of ice cream and jars of mayonnaise.

The next place increased prices have a significant impact is in the grocery aisles and the wallets of families across the U.S. Already driving less, opting out of their usual activities and switching to more fuel-efficient cars, moms and dads are watching their food purchases closely. Even children at school can feel the effects of the market. Schools in many states are being forced to raise the price of all lunches, including their “low-cost” meals and are reducing the variety of foods they offer.

“We were so used to getting into the car and going places, trying new things,” said Jennine, a suburban New York mother of two. “I try to drive only as necessary so I can make a tank of gas stretch for two weeks. You have to think about how you do food shopping and where you are taking the kids.”

On the upside, makers of items like bicycles and wood-burning stoves are enjoying increased sales. Online and bulk shopping are also on the rise.

“High energy prices are forcing consumers and businesses to reconsider both short-term and long-term decisions, from where to go on vacation to where and how to organize product lines,” said Scott Horsley in his Aug. 13 NPR article. “Some of these changes will be long-lasting.”

The endless cycle of finger pointing is obviously not helping anyone solve the problem of higher prices. What is the solution? Are these market conditions here to stay? Let me know what you think.

Biofuels: Finding an Answer to the Energy Problem

The search for alternative fuels and energy sources has moved from a unique scientific pursuit to an economic and global necessity in the last decade. Immersed in controversy due to the soaring costs of fuel, food and other living expenses, the biofuel and ethanol industries are scrambling to find new and better ways to power our homes, cars and tractors.

Currently, the most common and widely produced biofuel is corn-based ethanol. However, even supporters of the industry realize that it is not the final answer to our energy needs. Corn ethanol is helping us reduce dependence on oil, but most agree that the future lies in using cheaper non-food material.

There are dozens of solutions in the works, but one of the most promising sources of cellulosic ethanol is switchgrass, a perennial that can thrive on poor soil with little water, fertilizer or pesticides.

Jeffrey Bennetzen, a professor of molecular genetics at Franklin College studying biomass energy, said that the advantages of using a cellulosic approach are that switchgrass captures carbon dioxide very effectively. It also reduces runoff from fields and does not take valuable acreage away from food production.

Sunflower stalks, sugar cane and sweet sorghum are all being studied for their use in creating cleaner and more efficient bioenergy. Their ability to grow quickly in conditions where corn and soybeans cannot, allows these energy sources to yield 250 percent more ethanol per acre than corn.

Other creative sources of fuel are pond algae, certain fruits and animal food wastes.

“Any kind of relief or help we can get from a cheaper source of oil could impact the agriculture industry tremendously throughout the country, throughout the world,” said Florida citrus farmer Bryan Beer. During peak harvesting, his tractors consume 120 gallons of fuel a day.

Many of America’s best minds are working to create what many believe will be one of the keys to a truly renewable energy system in this country and around the globe. It is projected that the impact of these research developments won’t be seen for about five to 10 years, but we do know that whatever the solution, farmers will have major roles to play.

There are still many questions that need to be answered, and many seem to directly influence the American farmer. Do you believe that cellulosic fuel is the answer? Is moving away from corn and soy-based fuel – products that many in the industry are finally catching up with – a wise decision? Could you see yourself growing these new crops? Let me know your thoughts. Please comment below.

High-tech Tools Transform Farms

From tractors that drive themselves to “remote” cow herding, technology is quickly changing the way farmers operate in the U.S. and around the globe.

Though humans have been growing crops and raising animals for centuries, the techniques for producing food has changed so drastically only recently. Touching almost every aspect of the family farm, new technology is keeping food safe, environmentally friendly, abundant and profitable.

Starting with the seeds they plant, farmers are using technology each and every day. Intensive breeding research is now being conducted to increase yields and to improve stress tolerance, drought and heat protection and increase seed size. According to an article in the Western Farm Press on July 8, technology-led innovations have increased U.S. corn yields by 60 to 70 percent since 1996.

“Not only do farmers have to adapt to new technology to stay profitable, they also must embrace it in order to feed a growing global population,” said Tamara Kass, director for agricultural products for DTN, an electronic information service. “It’s apparent how successful technology is in farming today, as we are producing more every year.”

Farming machinery has also seen many new improvements in the past decade. Fuel efficiency and precision are vital to keep costs low and productivity high. Global positioning systems (GPS) help farmers plot their fields to the inch, control distribution of seed and fertilizers and eliminate waste from crooked rows and overlaps. Durable computers, text-message market alerts and up-to-the-minute weather tracking are also making life easier for savvy farmers.

“All the technology has changed so much just over the past 10 years,” said Greg Place, a Wisconsin farmer who attended a recent “Farm Technology Days” event in his hometown. “I never thought I’d see this in my day.”

Crops and machinery are not the only areas of agriculture riding the technology wave. Those who raise livestock are finding new inventions useful as well. A manufacturer in the Netherlands recently introduced a rotating milking parlor, perfect for increasing profits for U.S. dairies that need to milk more cows per hour.

For ranchers, U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher Dan Anderson unveiled the “Ear-A-Round,” a device that can corral cattle remotely by funneling sounds directly to the animals. Eliminating the need for fences and allowing for better use of grazing land, this device could change the age-old role of the American cowboy.

According to an Aug. 10 Associated Press article, ranchers and cowhands will no longer have to spend time building and repairing fences. Instead, “they’ll devote more time to leading animals to areas for better nutrition while protecting natural resources.”

Anderson said that this device, which works by using sound to create a “virtual paddock” through GPS technology, could take the mundane physical labor inherent in herding cattle and help farmers and ranchers focus more on management.

“It’s looking for the best management with the best skills that technology can provide,” he said.

There is no question that technology positively impacts the American farmer, but do you think that there is a flip side to these advancements? Let me know your thoughts. Please comment below.

Doha Talks: Dead Trade Deal Could Be a Sign of the Times

The Doha trade talks, once heralded as a solution to many global market problems, collapsed last week after nine days of negotiations. As expected, fingers are pointing in every direction, and speculation on the impact of the failed negotiations is running rampant.

The reasons for failure seem to boil down to a single word “protectionism.” Thrown around by leaders of both “rich” and “poor” nations, it seems as though everyone, even the most global-minded, were caught up in looking after their own interests.

Representatives from India and China, called the “biggest villains” of the talks by economist C. Fred Bergsten, refused to give up trade barriers that protect their agricultural products. On the other hand, nations like the United States were criticized for unwillingness to cut agricultural subsidies, while trying to “pry open” the markets of other countries.

What Pascal Lamy, the director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), called a “massive blow to confidence in the global economy,” the ending of the talks marks the first failure of a major international trade negotiation since the 1930s.

Some speculate that post-WWII free-market trends and the effectiveness of the WTO should be questioned. Seen as taking place in a unique window of opportunity with high food prices and a weak U.S. dollar making exports viable, the Doha talks and the era of major multinational trade may be at an end. Regional and bi-lateral trades, much easier to negotiate and tailor, may be the trend of the future. According to a Wall Street Journal article, the real battles will now be between those who want to expand the era of global trade and those who want to carve out their own “protected niches.”

According to a New York Times article published July 30, economists and trade experts predicted that “negotiators, having come this close, might not find the conditions for a broad deal among the 153 members of the trade organization for years, if ever again.” While some, including Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, still hope that an agreement will occur, most agree that the talks are finished, especially with the U.S. election on the horizon.

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, issued a statement on July 29 expressing his disappointment at the opportunities lost at the conclusion of the talks.

“The United States made a significant offer to reduce domestic support levels contingent on an offer of commercially meaningful reductions in tariffs and other barriers from the developing countries,” Stallman said. “It is regrettable that India and China were not prepared to negotiate improvements in agricultural trade for themselves and other developing nations.”

Stallman went on to thank U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab for her efforts at the talks and made clear the Farm Bureau’s support of the WTO and its global efforts.

Will the rocky conclusion of the Doha negotiations truly signal the end of 70 years of increased global trade? How could this future shift of the world markets impact U.S. farmers? Let me know your thoughts. Please comment below.

The Graying Farmer: The Future of U.S. Agriculture

While we await the 2008 agricultural census results, the trends in some of the data are fairly predictable. A prominent feature of the 2002 statistics, the “graying” of the American farmer, continues to be a cause of concern for many.

In 2002, the census conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed that the average age of America’s estimated 2 million farmers was 55.3 years. With only 5.8 percent of farmers under the age of 35, some fear that the retirement of older farmers and a shift to large-scale operations will have a negative impact on the industry.

“There’s a real cause for concern,” said Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Neb. “We need a new generation of farmers to reinvigorate farming and our communities.”

Not all have a negative outlook, however. According to a new survey conducted by the American Farm Bureau Federation earlier this year, the next generation of farmers are ready to step up to the plate.

The study, which surveyed farmers and ranchers ages 18 to 35, found that the vast majority of young farmers (83 percent) are more optimistic about farming than they were five years earlier. In addition, 92 percent see themselves remaining in farming for the rest of their lives and 95 percent would like to see their children follow in their footsteps.

Young farmers are earth-savvy as well. Taking care of the environment, practicing conservation tillage and utilizing new technology were a priority of those surveyed. High levels of involvement in agricultural organizations like the Farm Bureau and Future Farmers of America is also encouraging.

The availability of land, overall profitability, urbanization, government regulations and the cost of health care were cited as the biggest challenges faced by young farmers. Though these are very real obstacles, many are finding ways to give these fresh faces a hand.

Some states now offer low-interest loans, tax breaks and mentorship programs for new farmers. Colleges and universities are also getting in on the act. The University of Oregon introduced its Small Farms Program to offer guidance and education for both young and old farmers across the state. Drawing a different demographic, the new organic and small farm niche has opened the doors for a new “hip” generation of farmers.

“Young farmers are an emerging social movement,” said Severine von Tscharner Fleming, who is making a documentary called “The Greenhorns” about the trend.

Do you think that this enthusiastic generation will prove to capable of handling the future of American agriculture? Will this organic movement, new technology and a “green” focus lead us to where we need to go? Let me know your thoughts.

Global Trade Talks and the American Farmer

The Doha round of trade talks, which started in 2001 with the goal of opening world markets, began again this week after a two-year hiatus. The negotiations thus far have revealed a significant struggle in balancing the needs of both wealthy and developing nations.

A major focus of the talks is the amount of subsidies paid to U.S. farmers. On Tuesday, following a similar proposal by the European Union, the United States offered to cap farm subsidies at $15 billion. Though lower than the original proposal of a $16.5 billion cap and far lower than the current ceiling of $48.2 billion, the leaders of developing nations were not impressed.

Leaders in India and Brazil, who feel that farmers in poorer nations are squeezed out of the market by subsidies, are not happy with the direction the talks are going. Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath said that the U.S. proposal was “hardly an offer.”

“We need to talk real cuts,” he said. Brazilian delegates simply said “nice try” and that the new level was “still too high.”

U.S. leaders are facing fire from home as well. Though the intent of the deal is to open important new markets in developing countries for American farmers, many believe that richer nations, such as the U.S. and European countries, will get the short end of the stick. After making concessions that will affect millions of farmers, there is no guarantee that the poorer nations will open their markets to the extent necessary for a truly fair exchange.

Those in the agricultural sector are unhappy with the concessions made by U.S. representatives at the talks. Kent Conrad, a Democratic senator from North Dakota, said supporting the decision to cap subsidies was “not negotiating in the interests of hard-working family farmers.”

Other U.S. concerns include the lack of consideration of some of the biggest factors influencing American agriculture, such as labor issues, environmental and health factors and biofuels and energy.

National Farmers Union President Tom Buis stated that the economy is vastly different than when the talks started in 2001.

“We are in a new era that requires new thinking,” he said in a statement to President Bush last week that urged him to accept “no trade deal” rather than a “bad trade deal.”

Most are highly skeptical that these negotiations will produce a profitable and workable plan, but a little hope remains. Razeen Saly, director of the European Centre for International Policy said, “The odds are still against a successful conclusion, but the main five or six players might pull some kind of rabbit out of the hat.”

While the final outcome of this deal still remains to be seen, several questions come to mind: Is the United States sacrificing the interests of the American farmer to strike a deal? Will the U.S. concessions hurt our agricultural sector? Will these open markets bring new cash home? I would like to know your views. Please feel free to comment below.

Local Food Important to Consumers

Safety, quality and the environment seem to be on the minds of American consumers lately. In light of recent food scares and the push for greener lifestyles, many are opting to buy local foods or get their produce directly from the farmer. This cuts down on the amount of energy and emissions associated with transporting food from different areas of the country.

A recent study by Ohio State professor Dr. Marvin Batte found that grocery shoppers are willing to shell out more money for locally grown foods. Deemed fresher, more environmentally friendly and a boost to local farmers, consumers say they were willing to pay more for quality produce.

On the heels of this study, Wal-Mart announced that it is beginning an initiative to purchase and sell more than $400 million worth of produce grown by local farmers this year. This move will cut 672,000 “food miles” and add up to about $1.4 million in annual savings for the company. Wal-Mart is now the nation’s leading purchaser of community produce.

Local farmers’ markets are also thriving. The number of markets in the U.S. has increased 21 percent in the past four years. According to the U. S. Department of Agriculture, farmers’ market revenue will top $1 billion this year. What used to be a rural phenomenon has turned into a hip trend.

Some consumers are taking their environmental convictions and love of local food one step further. A growing group of Americans has passed over grocery stores and markets completely by purchasing shares of community farms. According to a July 10 article in The New York Times entitled “Cutting Out the Middlemen, Shoppers Buy Slices of Farms,” this new brand of sharecropping has increased in popularity since its inception in the 1990s. Shareholders in these farms pay a fee and are entitled to a certain percentage of crops and livestock. This movement has supported small local farmers and allowed the community to take an active role in food production.

These trends are already making an impact on how farmers operate. In addition, the push for local food and environmentally friendly practices seem likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

The question now is: How will this affect the American agricultural industry?

Election 2008: Energy and Agriculture

With the hot-button issues of fuel, energy and food at the forefront of national and world debate, there is no question that rural America will have a huge impact on the outcome of the 2008 presidential election.

John McCain and Barack Obama both seem to realize how important the topics of agriculture and energy are to their success.

While on the campaign trail, both have agreed the United States must take steps to reduce our dependency on foreign oil, develop new technology and invest in renewable energy. The candidates understand the importance of ethanol, clean coal, lower consumer costs and a strong economy, but each has approached these goals in very different ways.

The biggest difference between the candidates’ plans are their views on the subsidization of corn-based ethanol and ethanol import tariffs.

According to a June 23 article in The New York Times, McCain strongly opposes continuing these multibillion-dollar annual payments and supports the removal of the 54-cent-a-gallon tariff on highly efficient sugar-cane ethanol. In a speech at Fresno State University in June, McCain cited the “unintended consequences” of global price distortion, high costs to consumers and a desire to “level the playing field” for all ethanol types as the reasons for his stance.

Other key components of McCain’s plan include uniform incentives for the purchase and development of flex-fuel vehicles, new nuclear power facilities, offshore drilling expansion and a $300 million prize for the development of a car battery that would jump-start the market for hybrids and plug-ins.

Obama is placing his bet on U.S. ethanol production and the continuation of subsidies and the ethanol tariff. According to his Web site, he will push for increased ethanol production and funding and research for new cellulosic ethanol development, which he believes is the future of the fuel market. Obama does not support offshore drilling or new nuclear power plants.

Obama presented his energy plan in a speech in New Hampshire in October of last year. He outlined additional portions of his proposed policy, including a focus on increasing regulations for power plants, capping carbon emissions, a $150 billion investment in clean energy development and an immediate push to phase out incandescent light bulbs.

While these two camps continue their battle for the White House, we are left to ponder the impact of their plans. Balancing our empty pockets and our desire for a healthy America will make this a tough decision. For now, the question remains: Who will be the best candidate for the American farmer?

A global food crisis

One of the biggest complaints of today’s consumers revolves around high gas and food prices. This complaint is not just from consumers in the United States. It has reached a global level.

Over the past 12 months, global food prices have increased by an average of 40 percent. Experts cannot find a single driving force behind this increase, but argue that there are numerous factors. These factors include an increased demand for food commodities from developing countries and increased costs of transportation.

One of the reasons for this global food crisis is the recurring natural disasters such as the extended drought in Australia. This drought has caused the annual rice harvest to fall by as much as 98 percent. The drought in California has killed a large number of farm animals. The floods in Iowa have destroyed acres of cropland. The unseasonable rains in Kerala, India have destroyed tons of grain. The effects of Cyclone Nargis on Burma caused a spike in the price of rice. The list goes on and on.

The United Nations estimates that it would take at least $30 billion per year to solve the food crisis that has spread across the world. This global food crisis has left over 862 million people undernourished. It would take roughly 10 years to make sustainable improvements, amounting to about $300 billion.

The World Bank is contributing $1.2 billion to help mend this crisis, and they are actively trying to obtain funding from other countries to help create more financial aid for poor countries.

According to World Bank research, the current level of commodity prices are directly impacting the food prices, throwing about 100 million people into the ranks of the poor and hungry. In late May, Congress devoted a hearing to the global food crisis and identified a series of proposals that would hopefully make a difference in alleviating the problems.

Arvind Subramanian is a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and a senior research professor at Johns Hopkins University. Subramanian proposes simple solutions as a part of the work he has done for his writings on growth, trade and development in an article titled “The global food crisis: A toolkit for audacious leaders.”

Short-run solution:
Ensure early emergency reaction to food shortages, including the capacity to mobilize food quickly and cheaply if necessary.

Long-run solution:
Use the current crisis to bring agriculture back into focus. The importance of agriculture has been neglected for decades. With this current crisis, agriculture has received increased development assistance from governments and multilateral organizations. People are now seeing the value behind agricultural development.

So what’s being done?

The UN also has set up the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which is providing $4.2 million to boost a program tackling rural poverty in the West African island nation of Cape Verde. This program’s goal is to assist roughly 60,000 poor rural people through improving sustainable agriculture efforts and ensuring that the food is affordable.

Will these various plans work? How can we help solve world hunger? Is there a solution? And will this food crisis hit the U.S. especially with the raising prices in fuel and food?

Bad Weather is making things tougher for farmers

From floods in Iowa and across the Midwest to the droughts in California, American farmers cannot seem to catch a break.

The floods in Iowa have affected 83 of the 99 counties with farmland losses in the billions of dollars. Grain prices may continue to rise, due in part to the flooding. It is not uncommon for food prices to spike after bad weather. Typically, these increases do not last long.

The bad weather has devastated some farmers to the point where they do not want to continue to farm the land. Farmers such as Gerald Jenkins, of the Ursa Farmer Cooperative, in Meyer, Ill., are not going to replant this season, and Jenkins may not plant in the future. Ron Lanz, a farmer from Iowa, lost more than 800 hogs due to flooding. He said he has considered giving up farming altogether.

While one part of the country wants the rain to stop, the other part is praying for rain to come. California is on the verge of a two-year drought, which is costing farmer Todd Diedrich up to 750 acres worth roughly $3 million in lost revenue. Many farmers, including Diedrich, are not sure their farm will survive another year like this.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is pushing the state Legislature to approve an $11.9 billion bond for water management, offering relief to those affected by this drought.

Consumers also need to prepare themselves for the aftershock of this bad weather. Fuel and food prices could be affected due to farmers not being able to produce a good crop.

Stephen Schork editor of the Schork Report, a newsletter that focuses on energy, stated that the bad weather could not have come at a worse time. Consumers are already paying over $4 a gallon at the gas pump and food prices have been predicted to go up by at least 7 percent, putting a big strain on America’s wallet.

With this bad weather, food and fuel prices could continue to rise. The question farmers and consumers now have to ask: What is going to happen next?

Farm Bill Update: Farm Bill Passed Despite Presidential Veto

Last week, we talked about all that was going on with the Farm Bill and whether or not it is worth all of this commotion. In order to know if it is truly worth all the debating and wondering if Congress should’ve just stopped the bill, instead of overriding the veto, let’s travel back in time to grasp a better understanding of how the Farm Bill came to be and the importance behind it.

The Farm Bill started as the Agricultural Adjustment Act in 1933. The bill restricted production during the New Deal by paying farmers to reduce crop area. Its purpose was to reduce crop surplus to effectively raise the value of crops, thereby giving farmers relative stability again. The farmers were paid subsidies by the federal government for leaving some of their fields unused.

Now, in 2008, the Farm Bill is officially called the Food, Conservation and Energy Act, continuing its history of agricultural subsidy, as well as now pursuing areas such as energy, conservation, nutrition and rural development. With that background and acknowledging the fact that this bill is not perfect, overall it feeds the hungry, conserves the nation’s land and natural resources and keeps working farmers on their land.

Finally, after a long debate lasting nearly two years, Americans have a new Farm Bill. A bill that President Bush vetoed and called “bloated” because it went over budget. While many Americans are happy to finally have a working Farm Bill, there are some who are still concerned with the bill.

The head of the World Trade Organization, Pascal Lamy, stated that the newly passed U.S. Farm Bill sent a “bad signal” to the world; especially while talks on global trade deals are in the works. Many nations across the world are worried that this bill will negatively affect the global trade talks.

Lamy commented to a European Parliament committee that “this Farm Bill is not sending a great signal that the U.S. is serious about reducing its subsidies.” Lamy feels that this Farm Bill will delay the international trade talks between rich, developed nations and poverty-stricken, developing nations.

Even though there are concerns with the Farm Bill, people are praising Congress for overriding President Bush’s veto. Numerous Republicans differed from Bush and overrode the veto. They believed overturning the president’s veto was necessary because the Farm Bill will provide relief programs to help millions of farmers and consumers in need.

In a showing of Congressional bipartisan support, Democrats have also welcomed the bill’s passage. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) said the bill is by far the most reformed bill since the 1949 Act. Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) stated that this bill is for both the urban consumer and the farmer. “At a time of rising grocery costs, we increase support for those having trouble buying food for their families. The most dramatic increase is nutrition support, $10.3 billion additional spending in this Farm Bill. All of it directed towards enhancing nutrition programs,” said Pomeroy.

So the Farm Bill has now expanded to cover not only the farmer but the consumer as well. Some people love it. Others hate it. What’s your view?

Farm Bill Update: When Will Americans Have a Farm Bill?

As Americans celebrated Memorial Day, Congress continued the debate over the Farm Bill – a debate that has now lasted almost two years. The question on most farmers’ minds is when will our government pass a working Farm Bill? Americans have been waiting for a bill that will benefit all parties involved from the producer to the consumer. But when will they get that bill?

What is the latest? Well, both houses of Congress finally passed a Farm Bill, which then was vetoed, as promised, by the president for going over budget. Then the House of Representatives overrode the veto. However, due to a clerical error, Congress is forced to vote on the Farm Bill once again.

After Congress votes on the Farm Bill again, it will then be sent to the president with all the documents included, sans the clerical error. Congress is predicting the president will veto the bill again, and then the House will once again override the veto.

Is the Farm Bill worth all of this commotion? There is a lot of value placed on the bill. According to a coalition organized by the National Farmers Union consisting of more than 500 farm, conservation, nutrition, consumer and religious groups, the Farm Bill “makes significant farm policy reforms, protects the safety net for all of America’s food producers, addresses important infrastructure needs for specialty crops, increases funding to feed our nation’s poor, and enhances support for important conservation initiatives.”

Roughly 74 percent of the money in the bill is allocated to help put food on the tables of the poor, as well as improving their diets and nutrition. The Farm Bill also includes a free fresh fruit and vegetables snack program for schools. Congress has allotted around $40 billion each year to feed the poorest 11 percent of Americans. An additional $1 billion will go to the Emergency Food Assistance Program for Food Banks.

The Farm Bill has its pluses and minuses, so to answer my own question, we’ll have to watch to see if all the interested parties think it is worth the commotion.

Farm Bill Update: Hungry Americans Need a Farm Bill

With the April 18 deadline quickly approaching for the passage of the new Farm Bill, legislators have yet to come up with a solution to fixing the bill’s budget. If Congress cannot pass this revised Farm Bill, the White House could refuse to support another 30-day extension and insist on a two-year extension of the 2002 Farm Bill, which contains inadequate funding to meet today’s needs. The budgeting issue still remains as Congress struggles to find ways to revise the budget before the deadline hits.

The budgeting issue affects not only farmers but consumers as well. “Hungry Americans cannot wait any longer,” said Vicki Escarra, president and chief executive officer of America’s Second Harvest. With the increasing cost of food, hungry Americans are turning to food banks, soup kitchens and food pantries for help.

Another extension of the under-funded 2002 Farm Bill would be devastating to food banks, which are already facing increasing demand request for food assistance with minimal food supply on hand. Nearly 70 percent of the new Farm Bill deals with funding for federal nutrition programs that are now currently working under the 2002 budget. The new Farm Bill would bring relief to the food banks and low-income Americans through funding and improvements on federal food programs, including the Food Stamp Program. A portion of the proposed Farm Bill would increase funding for these federal nutrition programs.

"We are seeing absolutely tragic increases nationwide in the number of men, women and children in need of emergency food assistance, many for the first time ever,” said Escarra. “Meanwhile, more than 1.3 million more people are enrolled in food stamps compared to a year prior. Hungry Americans need a Farm Bill enacted now."

Food banks are relying on the passage of the new Farm Bill. Until then, they cannot develop their own operating budgets because they do not know what the impact of federal budget will be.

“Everybody should have the opportunity to eat and not worry where it is coming from,” said Dayatra Latin from a community food bank in California. “It’s the difference between whether or not we’re going to eat tonight. That’s how much that bill passing means to them.”

Farm Bill Update: Congress to Farmers: Have Patience

As Congress returns from their two-week spring recess, they are asking farmers to have patience with the Farm Bill now that President George W. Bush has signed a one-month extension.

House Rep. Steve King (R-IA) said, "I would ask them (the producers), first, please have patience. I wish we'd done better for you; we owe you better than we produced.”

Not only do the producers need to have patience but also the consumers and others affected by the bill. The cost of food has risen more than 5 percent in the first three months of this year. Food banks across the United States are running out of food and the Food Stamp Program is in danger of depleting its funds.

Without a Farm Bill in place, these problems will continue. Congress understands the ramifications of these problems, and that is why they are committed to getting the Farm Bill passed. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and the Senate-House Conference Committee on the bill said he is very positive the progress will be made.

“There is still a considerable amount of work ahead before we can pass a bill,” said Harkin. “This short-term extension will ensure America’s farm and nutrition programs continue until the new Farm Bill is completed.”

White House officials reported that Bush would veto a bill if it increases taxes. Congress is asking the Bush Administration to have more involvement with the Farm Bill to find ways to pay for a $10 billion spending increase in the new U.S. Farm Law.

In addition, Bush, recently issued a statement saying he would sign a one-year extension if Congress cannot agree on a bill by the new deadline of April 18.

Bush said that, “while long-term extension of current law is not the desired outcome, I believe the government has a responsibility to provide America’s farmers and ranchers with a timely and predictable farm program -- not multiple short-term extensions of current law.”
Farm Bill Update: Congress Passes One-Month Extension

The frustration of farmers across the nation is rising as the status of the U.S. Farm Bill continues. Last week, President Bush signed to extend the 2002 Farm Bill until April 18. At that point if Congress does not pass the bill, Bush proposes to extend the bill for another year. The major concern that Bush has is trying to fit the proposed Farm Bill into the budget.

“Farmers and ranchers deserve to know the structure of policies that affect their day-to-day business activities, and right now they face uncertainty,” Bush said in a statement on March 13.

He has said he will not sign a Farm Bill that’s over the baseline. So, what’s the hold up? The House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees cannot reach an agreement on how to fund the $10 million over the $280 billion baseline.

As Congress recesses for the next two weeks, there has been talk of scrapping the bill and starting from scratch – writing a bill that would include no new spending above the baseline. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done for the Farm Bill to pass, but the budget issue still remains. There must be some agreement regarding the funding of the U.S. Farm Bill.

With this delay, farmers are facing a new problem. This extension leaves farmers in a precarious position as they try to plan for the coming planting season. Without a Farm Bill in place, farmers are at a loss. They have nothing on which to base their decisions, meaning farmers and other agricultural producers are planting crops under no federal guidance.

Farmers and the U.S. farm industry continue to watch Congress wrestle with the Federal Farm Bill as the March 15 deadline looms. If the new bill is not passed, the 2002 bill could be extended to one or two years, placing new policies in the hands of the new president and Congress.

According to online discussion groups, House and Senate leaders have met behind closed doors this week to continue funding-level discussions. Realizing they will not likely meet the March 15 deadline, they've agreed in principle for a farm bill extension until April 18. This extension may move through the Senate and House as soon as today. Meanwhile, the discussions are focused on the $10 billion over the baseline funding level mark via possible rebalancing loan rates and target prices.

Up to now, the U.S House and Senate have passed separate bills, neither of which significantly addresses subsidy cuts. Both also increase spending and paying for that increase via revenue enhancements or new taxes.

These two issues appear to be a stake in the sand for President Bush. He has stated that he will veto any farm policy bill that raises taxes or provides subsidies to farmers with annual adjusted gross income more than $200,000.

At Clary Communications, we are watching this issue closely, and we will touch base with you with weekly status reports over the next month.

Please let me know if we may be of service to you.