Blog for Rural America

The Center for Rural Affairs, a private, non-profit organization, is working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities. Permission to reprint items from this web log is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please let us know by sending an email to

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Iowa Farmers Union Farm Bill Hearing Testimony


July 24, 2006 - Ankeny, Iowa

(Continued from previous posts – third in a series of three)…Not only should the future farm bill contain an energy title to build upon the progress already made in the renewable fuels arena, but it should also promote exploration of the unlimited potential that exists in alternative sources available to rural areas such as wind and solar energy, with localized ownership participation a must for rural economic benefit. Harnessing these renewable energy resources and mandating their increased usage is a step in the right direction of changing the paradigm of our current petroleum-dependent society.

Many rural parts of our country have struggled and continue to struggle due to devastating weather-related disasters. Some weather-related disasters are not dramatic enough to make headlines, but typically cause as much damage, if not more, than the disasters that do make the nightly news. Just because it is not in the news, doesn’t mean that devastation caused by multi-year droughts do not have a profound negative impact on rural communities and producers. Instead of making producers and their bankers rely upon the political winds in Washington for disaster relief, it makes more sense to include a permanent disaster program in the next farm bill that mitigates losses not covered by traditional crop insurance or other programs administered by USDA.

I encourage the committee to take a look at the big picture and historical data to quantify the huge negative economic impact non-competitive markets and devaluation of our commodities have on rural America’s economy. Government farm payments do not, and should not, make up for the loss of our markets -- forcing producers to depend on their mailbox as opposed to the marketplace for their living. I had to stop selling hogs to the packers, and quit selling feeder pigs to my neighbors because they had to sell out because the hog market was completely consolidated and fair markets compromised after 1998 price collapse. This is all evidence it’s time we implement a rural community revitalization program that fosters rural entrepreneurship and small businesses development to localize food production and consumption, which gives farmers more positive economic options.

A part of the competition question also involves trade and trade policy. What happens to my market price when our trade surplus turns into a trade deficit? How do I know if my competitors from importing countries are required to meet the same strict environmental and labor standards? Our current free trade agenda does nothing to level the playing field or provide opportunities for me to make a profit from the market. Trade is a good thing,

but will not work in the long run if fairness issues are not addressed during negotiations. Where are the World Trade Organization talks headed? I believe there is a lot of merit in extending the current farm bill until we see what direction trade talks take and what final agreements are hammered out.

As a country, we need to deal with a mounting federal budget deficit. USDA Secretary Mike Johanns says agriculture cannot be excluded from pitching in. I agree that the federal government needs to stop bleeding red ink, but who decided that rural America and farmers and ranchers have to jeopardize their futures to pay for a mess we did not create? I am upset that Congress cut $3 billion dollars from farm programs, which is 9 percent of all the cuts enacted, yet agricultural spending is less than 1 percent of all federal spending.

I hope some of my suggestions have been helpful or at least simulated some thought. Thank you for this opportunity to testify; I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Iowa Farmers Union Farm Bill Hearing Testimony


July 24, 2006 - Ankeny, Iowa

(Continued from yesterday’s post)…Conservation programs received more attention and emphasis in the current farm bill. It makes sense to me that producers who are good stewards of the land receive some credit and incentives for participation in conservation programs. More importantly, I believe it is critical that financial resources are made available to producers for past conservation investments and crop rotations and those producers receive due recognition for not planting the whole farm to crops covered by traditional farm bill commodity programs. I fail to see the logic in promoting increased conservation practices and programs while Congress will not fully fund the programs.

Conservation incentives should be continued and expanded in the next farm bill. Increasing conservation programs is not only a financial benefit to me as a producer, but rewards society as a whole by improving the environment. Efforts must be made to improve program payment limitations, if future federal farm programs are to prioritize the interests of independent producers. The agriculture economy and rural America’s economic health is much better off with more producers, not just a handful of huge operations- as is the case currently.

One program authorized in the 2002 Farm Bill that producers and consumers have been denied is mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL). I am not sure how to convey to you my frustration that the current farm bill mandated COOL to be enacted by 2004 and yet it continues to be delayed at the behest of packers and processors that have a few members of Congress in their pocket. I am proud of the products that I produce on my farm and want consumers to be able to know where the products they buy in the grocery store come from—whether it is myself or another proud farmer from the United States or whether it is an imported product. I think the proof is there that COOL works, with seafood at my local grocery store now carrying a COOL label. Consumers are still buying, retailers are still selling and fishermen are still catching seafood. The sky didn’t fall when COOL went into effect for seafood and it won’t fall when it is implemented for other commodities.

The food purchase choice is still up to the consumer but at least it will be an informed choice with COOL. Survey after survey show both consumers and farmers want COOL to be implemented now. When was the last time you purchased a non-food item and were unable to determine where that item was manufactured? I want to know where the food I buy for my family comes from, and I resent the fact that the program to make that happen was approved but has still not been implemented. Country-of-origin labeling needs to be funded and implemented now and not further delayed.

I believe we need to cap federal agricultural subsidies to a certain size of farm including non-recourse loans; a strategic farmer-owned grain reserve should also be established. While the counter-cyclical program works in terms of providing a market safety-net for producers, it doesn’t address the cause of low market prices. Producers today are receiving the same market price for their commodities as they were 30 years ago, yet our cost of production is not the same as 30 years ago. The next farm bill should address the cause of low market prices, not just the symptom. In the current farm bill a savings of more than $13 billion was realized, but we can do better by utilizing common sense in farm bills. Seems to me, there are a bunch of entities farming the farmer and lobbying the government for cheap grain, which should not be continued in the next farm bill...

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Iowa Farmers Union Farm Bill Hearing Testimony

JULY 24, 2006

Thank you, Chairman Chambliss and Senator Harkin for holding this field hearing and providing me the opportunity to testify before your committee regarding the 2002 farm bill and future agriculture policy. My name is Chris Petersen; I serve as the president of Iowa Farmers Union, in addition to my family farm operation in Clear Lake, Iowa. I have been involved in production agriculture in varying degrees for 35 years including commodity crops; presently my wife and I maintain a 30-sow Berkshire herd; produce 400 pigs a year, all of which are sold locally or to niche pork companies. Also, we raise and sell beef to local consumers, raise vegetables for area restaurants, and produce and sell hay commercially.

Over the years I have participated in many farm bills and their components, including the 2002 Farm Security and Rural Investment Act. I am part of a shrinking pool of independent family farmers across America and speak with the interests of independent family farm food producers in mind. Corporate American agriculture seems to be doing quite well in terms of its economic stability; my goal today is to address the economic interests of independent family farm food producers, who founded this great country.

Every politician, voter, taxpayer, environmentalist, consumer, and the list goes on…need to realize independent family farmers are by far the best stewards of the land and animals. The independent, localized family farm structure has a proven track record of success in America. Straying from this proven structure jeopardizes the United States’ national strategic security, homeland security, anti-terrorism protection, the environment, rural economic development, food safety and food quality, and now energy independence. Federal agricultural policy that prioritizes the interests of independent family farm food producers is vital to not just us as producers, but to our country. It is my hope the committee will keep that in mind as it works to prepare future policy.

As a hog producer, I witness the challenges of an anti-competitive marketplace. I went through the 1998 price collapse of hog markets as a 3000 head farrow-to-finish producer and paid severe economic consequences. Since that market collapse, I have asked elected officials and others why our government has failed to step up to the plate and take action to prevent future tragedies. It was very disappointing the final version of the 2002 Farm Bill did not include a competition title, which was part of the Senate’s farm bill. I believe addressing anti-trust issues, restoring competitive markets and including a competition title in the next farm bill is a must to addressing what I see as one of the biggest problems in agriculture.

Without competitive markets, independent producers like me will continue to be pushed off the land or be turned into low-wage employees by corporate industrialized animal agriculture. I encourage the committee to include a strong competition title in the next farm bill, which should include but not limited to, a ban on packer feeding, reauthorization of an improved mandatory price reporting program and require USDA to start doing its job by enforcing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and the Packers and Stockyards Act. I would go further in asking the committee to re-vamp and update anti trust and competition laws to the 21st century, in century, in order to reflect today’s current practices. However, the laws will be of no use if Congress does not mandate that USDA enforce them. In addition to anti-competitive markets, most contract producers are bound by clauses in their contracts that prevent them from pursuing legal redress. In the best interests of contract growers, a ban on mandatory binding arbitration should be included in a competition title…(to be continued)

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action

Substance Abuse in Rural America - Carsey Institute Report

Substance Abuse in Rural America

Introduction - this is the introdution to a research report about substance abuse in rural communities, from our friends at the Carsey Instititute
(see full report at the link under the title of this post)

The media warn us about a “meth crisis” in rural America, and discouraging headlines are commonplace. As journalist and author Alan Elsner (2005) reports, the relative isolation and quiet lifestyle in rural areas and small towns provide ideal opportunities for drug activity and methamphetamine production. His interview with a member of Franklin County Sheriff’s Department in Missouri — a state particularly hard hit by an influx of meth makers, dealers, and users — highlights some of the unique characteristics of the meth trade.

It’s the first drug in the history of the United States we can make, distribute, sell, and take, all here in the Midwest. You can’t grow a coca plantation or an opium plantation here to get your heroin or cocaine, and marijuana takes four or five months to grow a good plant. With methamphetamine, you can go out and for a couple hundred dollars, you can make your drugs that day.

Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal expressed his frustrations at a statewide conference on fighting the meth problem: "It doesn’t matter where we go in the state, methamphetamine is there. The whole issue is eating us alive."

Despite dramatic and frightening statements like these, there has been only limited scholarly research about meth or other substance abuse among rural people nationwide. In this report, you will see that rural America does face some unique challenges with meth; yet only a very small proportion of rural Americans abuse methamphetamines. More troubling crises involve the high prevalence of the abuse of alcohol, especially among rural teenagers, and the limited number of treatment options for rural Americans who need help.

This report draws on existing knowledge and uses data from a nationally representative data source to understand patterns of substance abuse in rural America. In the background section, it defines terms, reviews previous studies, and presents findings about recent trends in substance abuse in rural and urban areas. Next, it looks at patterns of substance abuse for people of different ages, sexes, and races. It also considers patterns of substance abuse for people with different levels of education, income, and employment status. Findings about rural family and community contexts are also presented. The report concludes with a summary of the major findings and a discussion of policy implications. First, the report begins with a story of a place faced with tremendous substance abuse problems that is finding ways to overcome theses challenges.

see full report at

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Sec Johanns Talks the Talk But Won't Walk the Walk

Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns - No Profile in Courage Here

Johanns Letter to Senator Chambliss on GIPSA and Competition Bill

USDA Secretary Johanns wrote to the Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman this week with the Department’s views on the SAC-supported Competitive and Fair Agricultural Markets Act (S. 2307) introduced by Senators Harkin, Enzi, Thomas, and Grassley. Sadly but not surprisingly, the Department opposes most of the bill’s proposed measures to put more teeth into enforcement of competition and fair contract laws. One bright spot though – the letter reiterates support for bringing all poultry growing arrangements under the jurisdiction of the Packers and Stockyards Act.

In related news, the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration last week forwarded to the Committee a “progress” report on its actions to respond to the scathing USDA Office of Inspector General’s report on GIPSA non-enforcement and malfeasance. If anything, the report shows less courage and less concern about family farmers, ranchers and their markets than USDA's "analysis" of Senator Harkin's competition bill.

Johanns Exchanges with Grassley and Dorgan on Payment Limit Rules

Late last year, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) wrote to Secretary Johanns with a suggestion – rather than just asking Congress to enact commodity program payment limit reform and rather than just talking about farm bill reform, why not take the bull by the horns and close some of the loopholes that were created by USDA rule makers to begin with? Senator Dorgan (D-ND) made similar suggestions by way of questions submitted to the Secretary during appropriations hearings earlier this year.

Well, this week the answers have come back. Again, sadly but not unexpectedly, USDA says there are no problems with their rules and there will be no changes forthcoming. Despite USDA Payment Limitation Commission and US Government Accountability Office recommendations to the contrary, the Secretary is sticking to the story that “actively engaged in farming” loopholes a mile wide are “appropriate” and consistent with congressional intent.

Bottomline – they can talk the talk, but won’t walk the walk.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Senator Harkin's Letter to USDA regarding Packers and Stockyards Act Enforcement

This is the text of Senator Tom Harkin's letter to Phyllis Fong, USDA Inspector General, requesting follow-up investigation of USDA's efforts to address serious problems in enforcing the competition provisions of the Packers and Stockyards Act. Several readers wanted to see Senator Harkin's letter in order to pen letters of their own to Congress and USDA.

The Honorable Phyllis K. Fong
Inspector General
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Room 117-W, Jamie L. Whitten Building
Fourteenth Street and Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250

Dear Ms. Fong:

The audit report you released on January 18, Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration’s Management and Oversight of the Packers and Stockyards Programs, along with your testimony before this Committee on March 9, contained a good deal of valuable information and sound recommendations for remedying serious problems at the Department of Agriculture in enforcing the competition provisions of the Packers and Stockyards Act. These problems became so extensive that they included deliberate actions in the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) to conceal its failure of enforcement.

GIPSA has promised to make administrative and organizational changes to remedy the problems that were described in your audit report, and which had previously been identified by OIG and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) going back nearly a decade. On July 13, GIPSA Administrator James E. Link provided a 90-day status report to the Committee on the agency’s reform efforts, as promised at the March 9 hearing.

Given USDA’s long history of failure in enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act’s competition provisions, it is obvious that continuing oversight by your office, as well as by this Committee, is essential. It is also clear this oversight must encompass both GIPSA and USDA’s Office of General Council (OGC) since both have responsibilities in enforcing the packers and Stockyards Act. Insofar your January 18 audit report focused almost entirely on GIPSA, it is now important that your office examine OGC’s actions, capabilities and commitment regarding enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act competition provisions, particularly the extent and quality of coordination and cooperation between GIPSA and OGC.

Previous descriptions by OIG and GAO of problems in the enforcement of Packers and Stockyards Act competition provisions clearly encompass both GIPSA and OGC. In its 1997 audit report, OIG urged GIPSA and ODC to improve coordination in such enforcement, but GAO found in its 2000 report that these problems in the working relationship of GIPSA and OGC still continued. At this time, GAO recommended involving OGC lawyers at earlier stages of the investigation process, enhancing the role of GIPSA legal specialists, developing a teamwork approach to investigations similar to that of the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission (where economists and attorneys work closely together without an investigation) and adopt a more systematic approach to selecting cases and planning and conducting investigations.

The Honorable Phyllis K. Fong
July 18, 2006
Page two

There have also been questions about OGC’s interpretation of the Packers and Stockyards Act’s competition provisions and attitude toward enforcing them. OIG stated in its 1997 audit that Packers and Stockyards program officials were concerned that OGC did not want to litigate competition cases “because they are complicated and time consuming” and OGC had limited expertise with them. In 2000, GAO found “disagreements” between OGC and GIPSA regarding interpretation of the Act’s competition provisions. OGC has said that court decisions have made it difficult for the department to succeed in competition cases, while anecdotal reports suggest that OGC follows a strict or narrow interpretation of the Act’s competition provisions and does not pursue such cases because it fears the Department will lose.

It is essentially undisputed that USDA failed to implement longstanding OIG and GAO recommendations for improving enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act’s competition provision. In making this observation in its latest audit report, OIG noted that in particular the recommendations by OIG and GAO for improving the working relationship between OGC and GIPSA were not implemented. IN GAO’s testimony at our March 9 hearing, it was likewise stated that the past recommendation had not been carried out, “especially in regard to integrating OGC attorneys into the investigative process and developing a teamwork framework for its investigations.” The profound lack of communication and coordination between OGC and GIPSA was clearly evident in testimony at the hearing by the OGC Assistant General Council in the Trade Practices Division.

Earlier this year, GIPSA issued a directive to empower the agency’s legal specialist to consult with OGC and to increase communication and coordination between GIPSA and OGC at the early stages of competition investigations. If this closer communications and coordination to occur, however, it is essential for OGC to do its part, to make a genuine commitment to pursue competition cases and work in good faith with GIPSA. Past experience suggests there is reason for concern. As OIG’s January 18 audit report notes, OGC has filed no competition actions since 1999. To be sure, only two competition cases were referred by GIPSA to OGC in this period, but OGC’s inaction in the face of ongoing problems at GIPSA, despite the specific recommendations of OIG and GAO, has engendered persistent questions about OGC’s commitment to enforcing the Packers and Stockyards Act’s competition provisions.

In sum, it is important that OIG determine whether OGC will henceforth work with GIPSA to enforce the Packers and Stockyards Act’s competition provisions and whether there are any obstacles to prevent OGC and GIPSA from working together on such enforcement in accordance with the OIG and GAO recommendations. In addition, I ask you to examine the following:

The Honorable Phyllis K. Fong
July 18, 2006
Page three

Does OGC have the staffing and professional expertise to handle complex investigations and enforcement actions under the competition provisions of the Packers and Stockyards Act? Will OGC and GIPSA cooperate to assign lead roles to OGC attorneys specifically for more complex competition investigations, as suggested by GAO?

Do conflicts or disagreements over interpretations of the Packers and Stockyards Act exist between GIPSA and OGC that could undermine the development and execution of competition investigations and enforcement actions?

Did problems in the working relationship and communications between OGC and GIPSA prevent GIPSA from referring cases to OGC or cause GIPSA to develop bureaucratic systems to avoid even having to work with OGC? Have OGC personnel at any time pressured or discouraged present or former GIPSA employees from pursuing investigations of anti-competitive practices?

Does OGC interpret too strictly or narrowly the Packers and Stockyards Act’s competition provisions and relevant case law? Is OGC too cautious or hesitant in pursuing Packers and Stockyards Act competition cases?

Please review the issues I have identified above and confirm within 30 days whether your office will be able to examine them. If there are any problems in doing so, or any issues that you cannot pursue, please let me know and provide the reason or explanation. Please communicate with John Ferrell on the Committee staff regarding this request. Thank you in advance for your assistance on this request and for your previous work on this important subject matter.

Sincerely yours,

Senator Tom Harkin
Ranking Democratic Member
Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Last One Room School in Hawaii Closes

"Old Hawaiian" Life Fading with Loss of Maui School

by Neenah Ellis, National Public Radio, Morning Edition

The last one-room school in the state of Hawaii closed just a few weeks before the school year began. The village of Ke'anae, on the north coast of Maui, had its own school for 96 years. Now village children travel an hour by bus to the town of Hana.

Many residents of Ke'anae were surprised when the closure was announced in fall 2005, although the move had been discussed at community meetings for a year.

Ke'anae is a sleepy village in the tropical rain forest of east Maui. Most who live there are native Hawaiian. Family ties and Hawaiian cultural traditions are strong, and land ownership goes back many generations. Many people grow taro, a root crop brought to the islands by the Polynesians. Poi, a staple of the Hawaiian diet, is made from taro.

Ke'anae is an unusual place in modern Hawaii. It's a symbol to many people of "the old Hawaiian style" of life, where natives were able to live off the land. That's no longer possible in Ke'anae. Most people drive to west Maui, more than an hour away, to find work.

There also is a generation gap in Ke'anae. There are many older people and some younger ones. But people in their 30s and 40s have found reasons to take their families and leave. Only now are some in that age group beginning to return.

Some residents say losing the school is the last thing Ke'anae needs as it struggles to keep its Hawaiian identity and attract economic development.

Principal Rick Paul closed the school because the other school under his direction, the Hana School, has failed for six years to meet federal No Child Left Behind targets. Paul moved the Ke'anae children to Hana in order to add Ke'anae's teaching position to Hana.

"A community without a school is not a community," Janet Redo said. She grew up in Ke'anae and her grandchildren were among the school's last students. "My father always told me, 'Whatever you do, fight for the school to remain open.'"

Redo and a handful of Ke'anae villagers say they will work to revive the school. There is also talk of starting a charter school. But other one-room schools on Maui have closed, never to reopen.

-- Blogger's note: rural Hawaii, rural Nebraska and the rest of rural America have more in common than some would have us believe, John

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

EPA Talks About New CAFO Rule

On July 11th the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a public meeting in Washington D.C. with EPA providing an overview of their proposed revisions to the agency’s Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) regulatory rule.

If you plan on attending a regional EPA briefing we suggest the following: 1) provide context for your questions by commenting on the specific CAFO issues and concerns in your region; 2) share your comments with the media; 3) submit your comments to the EPA in writing (these are briefings, not public comment sessions); and 4) for detailed comments go to the CAFO rule contact John Crabtree, at the Center for Rural Affairs.

The proposed rule and additional information can be reviewed at

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affiars
Values. Worth. Action.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Sen. Harkin Requests Follow-up Investigation into USDA's Failure to Enforce Packers and Stockyards Act

Senator Harkin Requests Follow-up Investigation Into USDA's Failure to Enforce Packers and Stockyards Act

Requests Inspector General's probe into USDA’s Office of General Counsel’s failure to enforce law designed to prevent anti-competitive practices in livestock and poultry markets

In a letter to the Department of Agriculture (USDA) Inspector General (OIG) Phyllis Fong, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today called for a follow-up investigation into the Department’s failure to enforce the competition provisions of the Packers and Stockyards Act. Harkin’s request today asks the OIG to determine if USDA’s legal arm, the Office of General Counsel (OGC), is failing to help pursue investigations and enforcement actions against anti-competitive practices in the marketplace. A Harkin-commissioned OIG investigation released earlier this year found widespread failure by USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) in enforcing the Packers and Stockyards Act for over five years and efforts within GIPSA to conceal its inactivity. Questioning by Harkin at an oversight hearing of the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry showed virtually no communication and coordination by USDA’s OGC with GIPSA personnel to enforce the Packers and Stockyards Act’s competition protections.

“America’s livestock producers deserve to know that USDA’s lawyers are not asleep on the job.” Harkin said. “It’s unacceptable that GIPSA failed in its responsibility to investigate anti-competitive practices and OGC simply looked the other way. That is why I’m asking the Inspector General examine OGC’s capabilities and commitment to enforcing the law.”

USDA’s GIPSA has the responsibility to initiate and develop investigations into complaints of unfair, deceptive or anti-competitive practices in the livestock and poultry marketplace. OGC is the legal counsel for all of USDA and its agencies, and has the responsibility to provide legal advice and representation to aid in investigating cases and pursuing enforcement actions against violations of the Packers and Stockyards Act.

“OGC shares the responsibility with GIPSA to enforce the Packers and Stockyards Act,” Harkin said. “If OGC is not committed to enforcing the law, making needed changes at GIPSA won’t mean anything. Both GIPSA and OGC must actively work together.”

Previous audits conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2000 and OIG in 1997 and again in 2006 all revealed that inadequate coordination between GIPSA and OGC severely undermined enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act. GIPSA has pledged to improve coordination and seek legal counsel from OGC; however, it is unclear if OGC is currently committed to pursuing investigations involving anti-competitive practices.

Harkin requested that OIG examine the following:

- Determine if at any time OGC has pressured or discouraged present or past GIPSA employees from pursuing investigations of anti-competitive practices.
- Evaluate if the working relationship between OGC and GIPSA broke down, preventing GIPSA from referring cases to OGC or causing GIPSA to develop bureaucratic systems to avoid even having to work with OGC.
- Determine if OGC has the staffing and professional expertise to handle complex anti-competitive investigations.
- Evaluate if conflicts or disagreements arise over interpretation of the Packers and Stockyards Act between GIPSA and OGC that could undermine the development and execution of anti-competitive investigations.
- Assess whether OGC is taking too strict or narrow interpretation of the Packers and Stockyards Act and case law, preventing meritorious investigations of anti-competitive practices from moving forward.

Harkin has introduced the Competitive and Fair Agricultural Markets Act of 2006, legislation designed to bring broad and sweeping changes to USDA to more effectively enforce the Packers and Stockyards Act. Harkin’s bill would reorganize USDA by creating an Office of Special Counsel whose sole purpose is to investigate and prosecute violations of the Packers and Stockyards Act. This reorganization would allow for improved enforcement of the Act by removing layers of bureaucracy at USDA.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Lobby Congress for a "New Farmer" Bill

Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Lobby Congress for a "New Farmer" Bill

by Robert Pore, Grand Island Independent,

In an effort to increase the declining number of young people entering into production agriculture, the Center for Rural Affairs, Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and other organizations have announced a "New Farm Initiative" they want included in the 2007 farm bill.
Twenty-five years ago there were 350,000 farmers and ranchers under the age of 35 in this country, said Traci Bruckner, the center's assistant director of rural policy.

"That number has declined steadily until there will be fewer than 70,000 next year," Bruckner said. "That is why discussions of the 2007 farm bill should begin with a real debate over what the 2007 farm bill can do to lift up the next generation of family farmers and ranchers."

The Center for Rural Affairs contends that the 2007 farm bill should include a major, cross-cutting new farm and ranch initiative that addresses, in comprehensive fashion, the needs of beginning farmers and ranchers.

Bruckner said the "New Farm" initiative should provide beginning farmers and ranchers with tools they need to be good stewards of land and water; to be innovative and entrepreneurial; and to be better able to respond to the rapidly changing demands of the marketplace.

"If we want vibrant rural communities and healthy family farms, it is imperative that we invest in programs that serve beginning farmers and ranchers and enable them to get started farming successfully," Bruckner said.

The New Farm Initiative includes the following proposals:

· Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program -- The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), authorized in Section 7405 of the 2002 farm bill, is targeted to collaborative local, state, and regionally based networks and partnerships to support training, mentoring, land linking, education and planning activities to assist beginning farmers and ranchers.

The program also has a separate section for developing beginning farmer- and rancher-related curricula.

In the Senate version of the last farm bill, $15 million a year in mandatory funds was set aside for the program, but that funding was stripped out in conference with the House, and to date the ag appropriations subcommittee that determines annual discretionary funding allocations has not provided the program any money.

As part of the New Farm Initiative, the BFRDP should be reauthorized, amended to specifically address new immigrant farming concerns, and granted significant annual mandatory farm bill funding.

· Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Accounts Pilot Program -- The 2007 farm bill should establish a Beginning Farmer and Rancher IDA Pilot Program that uses special matched savings accounts to assist those of modest means to establish a pattern of savings and to promote a new generation of farmers and ranchers.

The account proceeds may be used toward capital expenditures for a farm or ranch operation, including expenses associated with purchases of land, equipment or livestock.

The proposed program would be administered through the Farm Services Agency and include at least 20 state pilot programs, each with authority to enroll up to 40 participants. The pilot would be funded at $10 million over the life of the farm bill.

· Stewardship Incentives for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers -- The bill should strengthen existing authority (Sec. 2004(a) of the 2002 farm bill) to provide special incentives to beginning and limited resource producers to encourage their participation in conservation, to help get new farmers started, and to achieve long-lasting conservation improvements.

· Transitioning the Beginning Farmer Land Contract Pilot Project into a permanent nationwide program -- The 2002 farm bill established a Beginning Farmer Land Contract pilot program to allow USDA to provide loan guarantees to sellers who self-finance the sale of land to beginning farmers and ranchers.

The pilot program is currently operating in Nebraska and eight other states. In each state, up to five private contract land sales between retiring and beginning farmers may be guaranteed under the terms of the pilot project. As part of the New Farm and Ranch Initiative in the 2007 farm bill, the Land Contract pilot program should be made permanent and applied nationwide.

To see a detailed draft of current beginning farmer and rancher proposals in the New Farmer and Rancher Initiative, see the Center for Rural Affairs Web site at

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Rep. Marion Berry's Farm Subsidy Adventure

According to an Arkansas Democrat Gazette report by the newspaper’s Washington Bureau Chief Paul Barton, the farm corporation established by Representative Marion Berry (D-AR) received more than $800,000 in farm payments since 1994. The structure of Marion Berry Inc. “might not have withstood close scrutiny by agriculture and tax officials.”

In 1994, Rep. Berry transferred stock in his farm corporation to his son Mitchell Berry and farm manager Danny Sloate. Giving Mitchell Berry and Sloate each 25 percent of the farm corporation allowed Rep. Berry to reduce his ownership while giving operational control of the farm and, theoretically, legal control of the corporation to Sloate. Barton wrote, “Experts on farm subsidies say the way Berry divided ownership kept his corporation eligible for payments even though he would no longer be living nearby.” A unique buyback provision in Berry’s stock divestiture allowed him to reclaim either 25 percent for $5,000 at any time for any reason. This calls the validity of the transfer of ownership and corporate structure into question, along with the farm payments that were predicated on that structure and transfer.

According to Barton, Iowa State University Professor Neil Harl said the transfer of ownership should not have passed muster with the Farm Service Agency. Barton quoted Harl, “I’ve never seen anything as bald as [the buyback provision]. That undercuts the bona fides of the whole thing.”

Barton also wrote that the Center’s Chuck Hassebrook “said agreements such as Berry’s should prompt Congress to immediately address the Farm Service Agency supervision of farming corporations, saying the Agriculture Department too often fails to examine ‘the legitimacy of ownership transfers.’”

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Demand for Organic Food Outstrips Supply

Demand for Organic Food Outstrips Supply

WASHINGTON, July 6, 2006

by Libby Quaid, Associated Press

America's appetite for organic food is so strong that supply just can't keep up with demand. Organic products still have only a tiny slice, about 2.5 percent, of the nation's food market. But the slice is expanding at a feverish pace.

Growth in sales of organic food has been 15 percent to 21 percent each year, compared with 2 percent to 4 percent for total food sales.

Organic means food is grown without bug killer, fertilizer, hormones, antibiotics or biotechnology.Mainstream supermarkets, eyeing the success of organic retailers such as Whole Foods, have rushed to meet demand. The Kroger Co., Safeway Inc. and SuperValu Inc., which owns Albertson's LLC, are among those selling their own organic brands. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said earlier this year it would double its organic offerings.

The number of organic farms - an estimated 10,000 - is also increasing, but not fast enough. As a result, organic manufacturers are looking for ingredients outside the United States in places like Europe, Bolivia, Venezuela and South Africa.

That is no surprise, said Barbara Robinson, head of the Agriculture Department's National Organic Program. The program provides the round, green "USDA Organic" seal for certified products.

Her agency is just now starting to track organic data, but Robinson believes the United States is importing far more organic food than it exports. That's true of conventional food, too.

"That is how you stimulate growth, is imports generally," she said. "Your own industry says we're tired of importing this; why should I pay for imports when I could start producing myself?"

"We're doing a lot of scrambling," said Sheryl O'Loughlin, CEO of Clif Bar Inc. "We have gotten to the point now where we know we can get a call for any ingredient.

"The makers of the high-energy, eat-and-run Clif Bar needed 85,000 pounds of almonds, and they had to be organic. But the nation's organic almond crop was spoken for. Eventually, Clif Bar found the almonds - in Spain. But more shortages have popped up: apricots and blueberries, cashews and hazelnuts, brown rice syrup and oats.

Even Stonyfield Farm, an organic pioneer in the United States, is pursuing a foreign supplier; Stonyfield is working on a deal to import milk powder from New Zealand."

I'm not suggesting we would be importing from all these places," said Gary Hirshberg, president and CEO of Stonyfield Farm Inc. "But for transition purposes, to help organic supply to keep up with the nation's growing hunger, these countries have to be considered."

The dilemma of how to fill the gap between organic supply and demand is part of a long-running debate within America's booming organic industry. For many enthusiasts, organic is about more than the food on their plates; it's a way to improve the environment where they live and help keep small-scale farmers in business.

"If organic is something created in the image of sustainable agriculture, we certainly haven't accomplished that yet," said Urvashi Rangan, a scientist for Consumers Union. "What people do have to understand is if that stuff comes in from overseas, and it's got an organic label on it, it had to meet USDA standards in order to get here."

The issue causes mixed feelings for Travis Forgues, an organic dairy farmer in Vermont.

"I don't like the idea of it coming in from out of this country, but I don't want them to stop growing organic because of that," Forgues said. "I want people to say, `Let's do that here, give a farmer another avenue to make a livable wage.'"

A member of the farmer-owned Organic Valley cooperative, Forgues got his dairy farm certified nearly 10 years ago. Organic Valley supplies milk to Stonyfield.

Switching to organic is a difficult proposition. Vegetable grower Scott Woodard is learning through trial and error on his Putnam Valley, N.Y., farm. One costly mistake: Conventional farmers can plant seeds when they want and use pesticides to kill hungry insect larvae. If Woodard had waited three weeks to plant, the bugs that ate his seeds would have hatched and left. Organic seeds can be double the price of conventional.

"There's not a lot of information out there," Woodard said. "We try to do the best we can. Sometimes it's too late, but then we learn for next time."

Stonyfield and Organic Valley are working to increase the number of organic farms, paying farmers to help them switch or boost production. Stonyfield, together with farmer-owned cooperative Organic Valley, expects to spend around $2 million on incentives and technical help in 2006, Hirshberg said.

Other companies offer similar help. And the industry's Organic Trade Association is trying to become more of a resource for individual farmers.

Caren Wilcox, the group's executive director, described how an Illinois farmer showed up in May at an industry show in Chicago."

He said, `I want to get certified. Help me,'" Wilcox said. "It was a smart thing to do, but the fact that he had to get into his car and go down to McCormick Center says something about the availability of information."

In the meantime, manufacturers like Clif Bar and Stonyfield still prefer to buy organic ingredients, wherever they come from, instead of conventional crops in the U.S."

Anybody who's helping to take toxins out of the biosphere and use less poisonous chemicals in agriculture is a hero of mine," Hirshberg said. "There's enormous opportunity here for everybody to win, large and small."

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Small Meat Processors Fight for Fairness

Small Meat Processors Fighting for Fairness

By Melissa Dunson of the Carthage (MO) Press Staff
(see link under title for online version)

The South American country of Argentina can sell beef to customers in the state of Kansas, but Cloud's Meat Processing and Smoking, located 20 miles from the Kansas/Missouri state border, cannot.

Andy Cloud, production manager at Cloud's, doesn't think that's right and he has a list of others across the U.S. who agree with him. A broad-based coalition of agricultural and farm organizations has been formed to address the issue. The coalition includes The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, American Association of Meat Processors, Center for Rural Affairs, American Meat Goat Association, Kansas Livestock Association, National Farmers Union, national Grange, American Sheep Industry Association, Missouri Association of Meat Processors, Montana Chamber of Commerce, National Association of State Meat and Food Inspection Directors, National Bison Association, North Dakota Meat Processors Association, North Dakota Stockmen's Association, Ohio Association of Meat Processors, R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America, Texas Association of Business and Wisconsin Association of Meat Processors.

The issue that has unified these widely separated groups is the 1967 and 1968 Meat and Poultry Acts that prohibit state-inspected products from being sold in interstate commerce. The laws apply to beef, poultry, pork, lamb and goat, but strangely not to “non-amenable,” but still state-inspected products such as venison, pheasant, quail, rabbit and others. Andy said when the laws were originally passed, state-inspected processing plants were small and each community had their own plant to serve them. But now, in the ever shrinking world of local agriculture, plants have grown in size and increased the volume they can produce so they can serve a greater area. But the laws haven't changed with the years and he feels small businesses are being penalized by a law that discriminates against U.S. products.

Foreign-produced meat and poultry can be freely shipped and sold anywhere in the U.S. as long as the meat has met an equivalent standard of inspection to that of federally inspected meats, essentially the same requirements met by state-inspected meats. More than 30 countries are eligible to export meat to the U.S., including Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, the Slovak Republic and Hong Kong.

“We follow the same rules, but we don't have the same rights,” Andy said.

The solution the coalition is seeking comes in the form of S. 3519, the Agricultural Small Business Opportunity and Enhancement Act of 2006. The bill was introduced by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Herb Kohl (D-WI) and will allow interstate shipment of state-inspected meat and poultry. Niki Cloud, executive secretary for Missouri Association of Meat Processors, believes the new legislation which is currently awaiting floor space in congressional chambers, will provide a number of benefits to the national and local economy.

“This is good for farmers, processors, small businesses and consumers,” Niki said. “There are 130 processing plants in Missouri and while it will affect all states, it has a big ripple effect especially for Missouri because we are surrounded by eight states.”

Andy said not only would the new legislation support local farmers and provide a better product to more customers, but it would also help solidify Missouri's reputation as a high quality meat producer.

“It would be huge,” Andy said. “It would allow us to promote Missouri products. When you think of cheese, where do you think of? You think of Wisconsin because they've done a good job marketing their product. When people buy good quality meat, I want them to think Missouri.”

Cloud's currently processes 5,000 pounds of meat each day, enough to provide meals to 20,000 individuals, but Andy said the business and local economy still has ample room for growth.

To support S. 3519, the Agricultural Small Business Opportunity and Enhancement Act of 2006, contact John Crabtree, or post a question here.

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Grass Fed Beef - Credit Where Credit is Due

Grass Fed Beef – Credit Where Credit is Due

By John Crabtree,, Center for Rural Affairs

USDA has finally proposed an administrative rule that would require livestock certified as “grass fed” receive a minimum of 99 percent of their lifetime feed from grass or forage, increased from the 80 percent proposed in 2002. The proposed rule, which is open for public comment until August 10, 2006, should be approved by USDA forthwith.

Let’s give credit where credit is due. Folks like Chuck and Bev Henkel of Norfolk, Nebraska, among many others, have worked tirelessly to establish a market for grass fed livestock that provides a premium for family farmers and ranchers that produce high quality meat raised in ways that consumers support. Approval of the proposed standard will be a dramatic victory and will ensure that grass fed beef producers are able to maintain their hard earned reputation for marketing a healthy and environmentally sustainable beef product.

USDA’s new grass fed standard is a response to an effort led by the Center for Rural Affairs, Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and other organizations to improve USDA’s 2002 proposal for livestock label claims such as grass fed and free range as well as antibiotic free and hormone free.

We urge everyone to help secure this victory by sending their comments in support of the grass fed label claim. While you are at it, urge USDA to move forward with the other sustainable production labels mentioned above. You can find out more about submitting comments and view a sample comment letter at – – under the action alert on grass fed beef.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Time To Rid Waste From Subsidies

Time to rid waste from farm subsidies

Editorial, Lincoln Journal Star, July 10, 2006

Members of Congress who represent farm states better start cleaning up the farm subsidy programs, or someone else is going to do it for them.

Rules for farm subsidies are too loosely written. Enforcement to make sure subsidies are used for worthwhile purposes is too lax.

The latest revelations of abuse were turned up by the Washington Post, which reported that in the past five years $1.2 billion in direct farm payments has gone to people who don’t even farm.

Even in farm country, jaws surely should drop at the newspaper’s findings. Among other things, the Post told of suburban homeowners who get annual checks because their property once grew crops. Asphalt contractor Donald R. Mathews of El Campo, Texas, tried to give his $1,300 yearly check back. The government told him it would just go to other landowners. “I don’t agree with the government’s policy,” Matthews told the Post. “They give all this money to landowners who don’t even farm, while real farmers can’t afford to get started. It’s wrong.”

The wasteful program got its start in the Freedom to Farm Act of 1996, when Congress was trying to wean farmers from subsidies. The direct payments were supposed to be temporary.

Ten years later the subsidies are still here and growing. Some of the most outrageous examples are from the so-called Texas rice belt, where farmland has been converted to acreages. Developers even advertise the availability of farm aid to entice buyers.

That’s a long way from where farm subsidies started in the Depression era, as a way to save the family farm.

Belatedly, some of the culprits who helped create the program are beginning to realize that it has gone massively awry. Sometimes property owners evict tenant farmers and just collect the aid. “This was an unintended consequence of the farm bill,” former Rep. Charles W. Stenholm of Texas told the Post. “Instead of maintaining a rice industry in Texas, we basically contributed to its demise.”

Chuck Hassebrook of the Center for Rural Affairs has been hammering on the same point for several years now, calling for caps on subsidies, stricter rules and better enforcement.

Last year the government handed out $25 billion in farm subsidies, “almost 50 percent more than the amount it pays to families receiving welfare,” the Post noted pointedly.

There’s still a need in America to provide a safety net for farmers. But if members of Congress from farm states want to preserve legitimate aid programs, they need to start ridding the system of waste and abuse. The day that farm states could rely on an appeal to “save the family farm” are receding into history.

The Lincoln Journal Star is on the web at - just click on the title of this post to view the editorial online.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Comments Needed on USDA's Grass Fed Meat Label

Grass Fed Meat Label Claim – Approaching Deadline

The Center for Rural Affairs along with the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and other organizations are urging the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to approve the proposed rule requiring that animals certified as grass fed receive a minimum of 99% of their lifetime energy source from grass or forage. There are only 30 days left to make comments supporting the proposed standard.

“Finalization of the proposed standard will ensure that grass fed meat products maintain their reputation as a healthy and environmentally sustainable consumer choice, protect the integrity of the USDA label, and benefit the small to moderate – sized sustainable farms,” said Traci Bruckner, Assistant Director of the Rural Policy Program of the Center for Rural Affairs.

Bruckner continued, “This is a significant increase from the original proposal issued in late 2002 stating that at least 80 percent of the lifetime energy source comes from a grass and forage-based diet. This is a big victory for the small and mid-size family farmers that pioneered the thriving grass-fed market.”

The new proposed standard issued by USDA is in response to an effort led by the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (SAC), Center for Rural Affairs and other groups to improve USDA’s 2002 proposal for label standards for grass fed claims, as well as antibiotic use claims; hormone use claims; and free range claims. “We asked USDA for a more extensive and inclusive process that would allow input from family farm, consumer, humane, and environmental organizations and most importantly, sustainable livestock producers themselves, the group who worked hard to establish the grass fed market,” Bruckner added.

The public is encouraged to voice support for this movement. For a sample comment letter those interested can go to – (or see link under the title of this post) and review the action alert on the grass fed beef label. The letter may be adapted to add whatever other comments one may wish to make about the proposed standard.

The Center for Rural Affairs is urging people to help secure this important victory with their comment letter in support of the proposed label claim standard for grass fed meat. And also urge USDA to issue label claims for public comment on pasture requirements for free range or pasture-raised livestock and for no antibiotics or supplemental hormones. The deadline for comments is August 10, 2006.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.