There’s so much to keep an eye on as the weather cools down and ag policy heats up. As you read this, the North Carolina General Assembly has just wrapped up a special session that among other things, worked to address the needs of those harmed by Hurricane Matthew, including farmers. The South Carolina General Assembly will begin its annual legislative session in about a month and we’re getting ready for it (we are over the moon to have Katie Welborn, our new SC Policy Coordinator, on staff!) We’re expecting an announcement about the head of USDA in the soon-to-begin Trump administration any day now that will likely signal how programs vital to our members’ farms and food businesses will fare in the coming years.
In the meantime, we’ve put together articles for you about the ag economy–big and small, lots of pigs, and an obituary that will make you feel all the feels. So, put on a sweater, sit yourself down in front of your space heater (am I the only one doing that?) and dive into some ag policy news that caught the eye of CFSA’s Policy Team this month.
Happy holidays from the CFSA Policy Team,
Rochelle Sparko, CFSA’s Policy Director
P.S. Thanks for sticking with us during this first year of the Buzz. We’ve enjoyed putting this together for you each month, and hope you’ve found it interesting and informative. If you learned something, saw an issue in a new light, or connected with our work to build a vibrant, sustainable food system in the Carolinas, please consider a gift to CFSA. We can’t do it without you.
The Buzz for December
I promised you swine, and I deliver. Last year, members of the SC General Assembly considered and quickly dropped a bill to tag farmed swine. NC has had a similar law in place for years with good success. If a bill is introduced in 2017, we’ll follow it and keep you informed.
Institutional investors worth over $1trillion called on CAFO livestock producers, including Smithfield which has a large presence in NC, to take proactive steps to be better stewards of water resources. According to the investors involved, water mismanagement opens these companies up to fines, reputational damage, and the possibility of expensive litigation. Will institutional investors be able to push CAFO farms to be better environmental stewards? It remains to be seen.
A strange thing happened in the midwest – researchers found antibiotic resistant bacteria on a hog farm. We’ve heard this before, so what’s different here? First, the bacteria are resistant to antibiotics that aren’t even used on the farm. Second, the farm uses antibiotics to prevent disease, not to promote growth. This undermines the hope that curtailing the use of antibiotics to promote growth would stem the increasing number of resistant bacteria found on farms. Keep your eyes on the FDA to see if they’ll do anything to promote on-farm practices that substantially reduce the use of antibiotics to protect the public health.
What could the new president mean for food and nutrition policy? This AP article lists a few sectors of the food policy world that could change dramatically in the coming years. There’s not much in here about local or organic food, but we hope that these growing sectors of the food and ag economy get the support they deserve from the next president and Congress.
I mentioned the growing local and organic sectors in the last article. If you were wondering, “what’s your proof for that?”, have I got some data for you. Organic is doing well, and CFSA is thrilled. Since beginning in 2002, the U.S. organic sector has tripled in size to over 22,000 certified organic operations with over $43 billion in U.S. retail sales. And demand for organic products is expected to continue growing. This is the kind of news that makes it possible for CFSA to help more farmers convert their operations to certified organic, to convince policymakers to consider the needs of organic farmers, and urge retailers to work with local, organic growers. Keep up the great work everyone!
Cover cropping: it nurtures the mircro-organisms in the soil, it reduces runoff, it deters weeds. And without policies in place, encouraging crop insurance companies to pay claims to farmers who use this environmentally sound technique, the presence of cover crops can keep a farmer from collecting crop insurance payments. Check out this story about one farmer who took on his crop insurance company, and about the policies that push farmers to avoid cover crops.
National Geographic takes a look at a study by the Food Chain Workers Alliance that documents the wage gap between food system workers and all other jobs. The workers who plant, harvest, process, deliver, sell, prepare and clean up our food often can’t afford to eat it themselves. A system that relies on wages so low that workers can’t afford healthy food isn’t resilient or sustainable. What policy changes can you think of to address this? Tweet us your ideas @carolinafarm
I’m not sure how we missed this article this summer, but it’s a really interesting look at a retail market that grocery stores and farmers’ markets shoppers would find unfamiliar. The produce in NYC’s Chinatown is fresh and inexpensive. How does it work? Sounds like a system of small-scale distributors located nearby and a network of small- and mid-scale farms located near and far. Sound like something you’d like to see more of? CFSA supports policies that build local and regional supply chains in the Carolinas, and we thought it was neat to see how it was working up North.
The Financial Future of Farmers
For the truly wonky, I present two articles. First, one from the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank, which discusses the decreasing value of farmland. The second, from Bloomberg News, reports that farmers are having trouble making loan payments because their debt to income ratio is too high. When read together, these two articles are setting off alarm bells for me. As the value of farm land drops, farmers’ debt to income ratio gets high, and commodity prices slump, we’re stirring together the ingredients for a rocky financial future for farmers.
When CFSA staff called our farmer members in hurricane impacted parts of North Carolina earlier this year, we heard amazing stories about neighbors coming together to help each other in a time of need. Here’s a story of a man who stood, not against a bad storm, but a bad policy, that hurt innocent farmers. Bob Fletcher died recently. Decades ago, he saved several farms of his neighbors, making sure the orchards were cared for, the bills were paid, and that interned Japanese-Americans didn’t lose their homes, their farms, or their income. This one made me feel all the feels, and I thought that remembering his neighborliness in the face of racism was a pretty decent way to end our first year of the Buzz. We’ve enjoyed putting this together for you, and hope you’ve enjoyed reading.