SDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service is contacting 25,000 farmers and ranchers now through August to take part in a national survey that will more accurately measure the environmental benefits associated with implementation and installation of conservation practices on agricultural land. The results of the National Resources Inventory Conservation Effects Assessment Project (NRI-CEAP) survey will help develop the science-based solutions for managing the agricultural landscape to improve environmental quality.
The pace of agricultural lending in the second quarter remained strong. Respondents to the Survey of Terms and Bank Lending to Farmers indicated the total number of non-real estate loans made to farmers in the second quarter increased 6 percent from a year ago (Chart 1). Moreover, the number of non-real estate loans larger than $100,000 made to farmers climbed 11 percent, continuing the trend of recent years. Reduced cash flow also has led to extended maturities for many loan categories to help reduce annual debt payments. Loans used to finance machinery and equipment were extended to an average of 46 months in the second quarter from an average of 28 from 2005 to 2014 (Chart 4). Maturities on loans used to finance livestock operations, excluding the purchase of feeder livestock, increased to a record 20 months. In fact, since 2005, maturities on each of the loan types tracked in the survey has increased, but most significantly in the machinery category.
The U.S. government's $2.65 billion operating loan program to help farmers keep their businesses going has already run out of cash, as requests for federal financial assistance grow amid the worst agricultural downturn in more than a decade. As a result, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is looking for other money sources "to help bridge the gap in farm operating loans as much as possible until additional funds are made available, either this year or in the next fiscal year," the agency said. The agency declined to say what other funding it was hoping to leverage for assistance. Such FSA loan guarantees and direct loans are often considered to be loans of last resort, say banking experts. Without the financial support, some farmers may struggle to survive until the next cash injection in the fall, say rural economy experts.
Hydroponic growing systems that do not use soil should nonetheless be considered for organic certification if they can achieve “equivalent soil functions,” a new report prepared for USDA's National Organic Standards Board recommends. The Hydroponic and Aquaponic Task Force report, which will now be reviewed by NOSB, did not provide a unanimous endorsement for organic certification of hydroponics. The task force members appeared to be split between recommending expansion of the organic industry to include hydroponics or urging NOSB to retain the program's longtime emphasis on soil ecology. However, a subcommittee of the task force that focused on the new growing systems said flatly: “It is critically important to consider hydroponic and aquaponic production systems as eligible for organic certification, because these practices conserve incredible amounts of water, dramatically reduce food safety risks and pose very low environmental impacts - while at the same time holding soil-plant biology and the use of the same animal/plant-based inputs, as soil-field farmers, at the core of their practice.”
The USDA-AMS has proposed new rules for organic poultry - in a section entitled "Avian Living Conditions" AMS tells the producer of organic poultry that the operation "...must establish and maintain year-round poultry living conditions which accommodate the health and natural behavior of poultry, including: year-round access to outdoors; shade; shelter; exercise areas; fresh air; direct sunlight; clean water for drinking; materials for dust bathing; and adequate outdoor space to escape from predators and aggressive behaviors suitable to the species, its stage of life, the climate and the environment." The new outdoor space requirements are enlightening as well. "Producers must provide access to the outdoors at an early age to encourage (train) birds to go outdoors. Outdoor areas must have suitable enrichment to entice birds to go outside." In going outside, the AMS regulators have determined that "Exit areas for birds to get outside must be designed so that more than one bird at a time can get through the opening and that all birds within the house can go through the exit areas within one hour."
Dirt and crushed gravel from the West’s hundreds of thousands of miles of logging roads often erodes into nearby streams, where it can harm water quality and fish. State regulation of road runoff varies, so a 2003 Oregon lawsuit sought to require federal regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency. Despite some success in lower courts, in 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the EPA is not required to control sediment from such roads. In July, the EPA upheld that policy. The agency argued that streams are already adequately protected by the Clean Water Act and by regional programs that tailor soil erosion management according to local climate and topographies. A spokeswoman from the Environmental Defense Center, which brought the suit, says the decision is “a lost opportunity for much-needed improvements in water quality for public health.”
The nation’s fourth largest poultry company is at odds with the National Chicken Council (NCC) over a proposed rule from the National Organic Program (NOP) designed to maintain a viable national organic poultry program. Perdue Farms supports the proposal to provide broilers more room inside chicken houses, ensure sufficient pasture space with ready access to the outdoors and require husbandry practices that are said to promote natural behaviors.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has proposed changes to both the beef and soybean checkoff programs that would allow producers, under certain circumstances, to request that their assessments paid to a qualified state board or council be redirected to the national program.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) today announced more than $8.3 million in available funding to support small businesses in the creation of advanced research and development projects that will lead to innovative solutions for American agriculture. This funding is available through the Small Business Innovation Research program, administered by NIFA. Companies initially apply for Phase I feasibility studies, which may be followed by Phase II research and development projects. Phase I grants are limited to $100,000 and a duration of eight months, while Phase II grants are limited to $600,000 and a duration of 24 months.
Pat Kincaid credits the dairy cows on a now-shuttered prison farm in Ontario with teaching him the skills he needed to break a life-long cycle of crime and incarceration. The 65-year-old Kingston, Ont., resident, who has spent a total of 35 years behind bars for assaults, thefts and other property crimes, hopes other inmates get the chance to benefit from a program the federal Liberal government is now considering reopening.
“There’s not a program in jail, even today, that can teach those skills that the cows have taught me by working with them,” said Kincaid, who’s been out of prison for seven years. The 2010 closure of the country’s prison farms by the then-Conservative government — six in total operating at institutions in New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta — was highly controversial.