Happy May, everyone.
The Buzz is full of great information this month from the politics and economics of the federal Farm Bill to the decision by a number of large food manufacturers to start labeling GMOs. I’m also especially excited to highlight some excellent articles about traditional plant breeding this month.
I’m not a farmer, but I play one in my backyard. I love working on policy issues of importance to local, organic farmers during the day; and in my spare time, this Massachusetts transplant is doing her best to breed a rhubarb plant that will withstand our hot North Carolina summers. Traditional breeding is the tried and true way to develop plants that survive a particular climate, withstand specific pests or diseases, improve yield or flavor – the list goes on and on.
This month, learn how traditional plant breeding may help save the orange industry in Florida, how eating unusual plants and animals (that exist because of traditional breeding) is a great way to make sure they don’t disappear, and how NC State University is reaching out to agrichemical companies to help pay for its new Plant Sciences building–we hope traditional plant breeding research remains a key part of the work that will take place in that building!
So let’s all toast traditional breeding methods this month and the farmers who bring the delicious results to market.
Rochelle Sparko, Policy Director
Buzz-Worthy News for May
In 2012, CFSA went on the road across the Carolinas during our Barn Storm Tour to speak with you about the federal farm bill. Many of you wrote postcards, sent emails and made phone calls to Congress during the exceptionally long process that led to the passage of the the Agricultural Act of 2014. Two years in, it’s looking like the US is on track to spend much less than the original Agricultural Act of 2014 estimated, mostly due to declining participation in SNAP (formally known as food stamps) as our economy improves. For the policy wonks among you, may we recommend this detailed blog that checks in on implementation of the Agricultural Act of 2014, and lays out an argument that the the path to the next farm bill (hearings and debate are already getting started for the 2019 farm bill!) will be even more difficult due to the current state of the U.S. agricultural economy.
For the past decade, a disease called greening has caused immense damage to the citrus crop in Florida. Finding a solution has been a huge challenge for farmers throughout the state. The disease spread to other states, putting other farmers (and our morning OJ) in peril. But now, through traditional breeding methods and short-term therapies, there is hope that a new generation of trees will withstand the disease. Public investment at the state and federal levels in traditional breeding research may have just saved the Florida citrus industry. CFSA fights to fund traditional breeding research to support organic and non-GMO farmers have access to plants that resist a particular pest or disease, or improve yield, flavor, or otherwise expand farmers’ options.
Speaking of public investment in traditional plant breeding, we’re keeping our eyes and ears open for information about how NC State’s Plant Sciences Initiative will benefit organic and non-GMO farmers. The new Plant Sciences building will receive much of the funding it needs through a bond initiative approved by the voters of NC back in March. $95 million more is needed to get the job done. The building is designed to enhance agricultural research capacity at NCSU. NCSU anticipates using the building for interdisciplinary research and collaborations between the University and private business. The University is reaching out to agro-chemical companies to help meet its fundraising goal. CFSA will continue advocating for the inclusion of traditional plant breeding at the Plant Sciences building; it’s an important part of solving the problems agriculture faces now and will face in the future.
The federal debate over GMO labeling isn’t over yet, and unfortunately, there is no real compromise in sight. Without federal action, a Vermont law requiring food products made with GMO ingredients to be labeled will go into effect on July 1. In response, many major food manufacturers – such as General Mills, Mars, Kellogg, Campbell’s, Hershey’s and Dannon – are moving to label GMO ingredients to comply with the Vermont law. Dannon recently announced that it will go one big step further and has made a commitment to move to more natural ingredients that are not synthetic and non-GMO in three of its flagship brands – Dannon, Oikos and Danimals. The company is also establishing a new buying system that will put them in a more direct relationship with their dairy farmers. Stay up-to-date on the current federal debate over GMO labeling by signing up for CFSA’s Federal Policy Action Alerts.
Zombies eat locals, according to a funny sticker we’ve seen around town, and it turns out that people eat local food! The percentage of consumers buying local products rose from 12% in 2007 to 25% in 2013. This increased consumer demand for local foods has led to a proliferation of new artisan food and beverage companies. Many times, these small businesses face big challenges when they try to grow, including finding the financial backing they need to meet the needs of a new, big buyer. Check this article out for some stories of people who did it, and the ones who chose not to. CFSA works hard across the Carolinas to ensure new and expanding food businesses can get access to the money they need to run their business. From supporting the Healthy Food Financing Initiative in SC, to educating members of the Committee on Barriers to Small Business Access to Credit and Capital in NC, we’re trying to make sure state policies support local businesses.
This article and accompanying set of pictures (you can’t deny it – you want to hug that pig!) from the Smithsonian points to the diminishing diversity of agriculture across the planet. It also highlights how, despite the efforts of grocery stores to create uniformity in produce and meat, heirloom variety advocates have passionately kept the oddest versions of livestock, fruits and vegetables in production….and delicious consumption. Keeping heirloom varieties around for future generations is important to us at CFSA; it’s part of why we support public plant varieties and traditional plant breeding. If you have a favorite heirloom that you would like to share, join us at our Sustainable Agriculture Conference this year in November and participate in our Seed Exchange. One of our personal favorites from last year was rainbow colored heirloom popcorn – beautiful and delicious!
When you shop at your local farmer’s market, most of the time you are buying directly from the person who grew or produced the food they are selling. For many farmers in the CFSA network, direct-to-consumer sales are a critical part of their successful business strategy. This blog from the USDA’s Economic Research Service discusses recent data showing that farmers who sell directly to consumers are actually more likely to remain in business than those who sell only through wholesale channels. The additional income that farmers can earn by selling directly to consumers rather than to wholesalers can attribute to increased farm income and lowered risk. Read the blog to learn about several other factors that make direct-to-consumer sales an important market for any producer.
This new report from the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) has a clear and grim message: our continued reliance on synthetic pesticides is putting our children’s health at risk. The report documents how kids across the country are exposed in various ways, but specifically how those who grow up in agricultural areas often face a “double dose” of pesticides from nearby fields. Rural children are — quite literally — on the frontlines of pesticide exposure. PAN recommends that policymakers need to set an ambitious national use reduction goal for agricultural pesticides – we could not agree more.
No one has ever said that farming is easy. Beyond the physical nature of the job, farmers often have to fill many roles in their businesses: from mechanical engineers to marketers to soil scientists. So it’s important that farmers have all of the right tools to get the job done. This article highlights the work of Dr. Rick Haney, a USDA soil scientist who has recently developed a very important new resource for farmers to add to their toolbox – the Haney Soil Nutrient Tool (HSNT). HSNT evaluates the biological activity in the soil through a Solvita microbial activity test to determine the total amount of plant available nitrogen. This innovative approach to soil testing takes into account the complex ecosystem of the soil rather than depending on the narrow measurement of inorganic N, P, and K. This can save farmers money and reduce water contamination from excessive nutrient application. CFSA is currently collaborating with Dr. Haney to demonstrate the utility of the HSNT to accurately assess soil nutrient availability and to develop soil fertility recommendations based on the HSNT results.
The SC farming community is reacting to recent comments made by Governor Nikki Haley at the the SC Republican Convention on May 7. The Governor stated that she plans to veto legislation allocating $40 million to SC farmers who experienced catastrophic losses in flooding last fall. A veto by Governor Haley will put the ball back in the General Assembly’s court; legislators will need to decide whether to let the governor’s veto stand or override her veto, making grants of up to $100,000 available to farmers who have otherwise uncompensated losses. Check out this article from the Aiken Standard to read how farmers feel about the Governor’s decision.