Ag Policy

The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2017


This legislation would expand beginning farmer access to farmland by increasing the flexibility and effectiveness of land-link programs and protecting farmland affordability through conservation easements. It would also empower new farmers with the skills they need to succeed by securing permanent funding for new farmer training, expanding support for farm transfer and succession planning, and launching a new asset-building financial literacy initiative.

This bill would ensure farmers are able to finance new farm purchases by allowing FSA real estate loans to reflect regional farmland inflation rates and expand risk management options for new and beginning farmers. Finally, this legislation would encourage commitment to conservation and stewardship across generations by increasing participation in conservation programs by beginning farmers.

We applaud the sponsors of this legislation for tackling a pressing concern that too often in the past has been talked about but not acted upon. We urge your strong support to ensure this initiative is enacted into law as part of the new farm bill.

Add your organization's information here to endorse the bill. Please note: this letter is intended for organizations. Individuals can endorse the bill too—look for a sign-on opportunity soon.  NSAC has a sign-on for ORGANIZATIONS at this time. You can sign it here.

NSAC reports on Congressional Appropriations Conversations

On Tuesday, June 13, shortly after appropriators received a letter from nearly 600 organizations, businesses, and local governments opposing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) plan to eliminate its Rural Development Mission Area, the Secretary of Agriculture returned to Capitol Hill to once again defend his plans for a Departmental reorganization. This week, the Secretary was before the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which along with its analog in the House, determines discretionary funding levels for USDA and its programs.

This hearing, which normally serves as an opportunity for the Secretary to promote and defend the budget priorities of the President, took on a markedly different tone and covered myriad issues, including proposed cuts to voluntary conservation programs and research programs, Country Of Origin Labeling (COOL), and of course the proposed reorganization of USDA. A number of Senators, including the Subcommittee’s Ranking Member, Senator  Jeff Merkley (D-OR), asked pointed questions about the Departmental reorganization and the elimination of the Under Secretary for Rural Development.

Read the full story on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalitions blog HERE.

Take Action - Add Your Voice to the Union of Concerned Scientists

Tell the Agriculture Secretary Nominee to Put Healthy Food and Farms First!

Former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue is President Trump's nominee to lead the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA plays a vital role in our food system, a system that right now is fueling chronic health problems, damaging farmland, and spewing chemical runoff into our waterways.

You can bet Governor Perdue is hearing from the usual agribusiness lobbyists working to keep the status quo, and he has a history of siding with them. Because he is likely to be confirmed without much of a fight, we need ensure the first thing he hears upon assuming office is a demand for smarter public investments to make healthy foods more affordable, to improve children's health and well-being, and to encourage farmers to adopt science-based, sustainable farming practices.

Add your name to the petition telling USDA Secretary nominee Sonny Perdue: put healthy food and farms first. The Union of Concerned Scientists will deliver the message within the first week of his confirmation.

NSAC on the Administration's Inaugural Budget

As a long standing member of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, we rely on their policy team to keep an eye on Washington, DC. You can see more of their policy news, or sign up for their newsletter here.

Administration’s Inaugural Budget Request Guts Food and Agriculture Programs

President Trump’s budget proposal calls for draconian cuts to food and agricultural programs on a historically unprecedented scale. Adoption of the “skinny” budget – so called because it is just a few brief pages of bullet points, rather than the traditionally detailed budget proposal put forth by the President – would result in massive layoffs at USDA and dramatic reductions in federal investments in agricultural research, rural job growth and infrastructure, and farm loans and conservation. Luckily, it is unlikely that Congress will go along with much of what the President is proposing.

Accounting for the programs that are being left intact as well as the programs that are being zeroed out, USDA would be left with roughly 50 percent of its current budget for all other discretionary programs funded through the annual agricultural appropriations bill. This means a proposed 50 percent cut to most agricultural research programs, farmer outreach and extension programs, agricultural marketing and farm credit programs, enforcement of grain standards and livestock competition rules, international food aid, and the many smaller nutrition programs that receive annual appropriations. It would also mean a dramatic cut in USDA staff and the most significant loss of resources for farmers, ranchers, and rural communities in decades.

Next Steps

As mentioned above, the President’s budget request is just the first step in the FY 2018 funding process. Moreover, the specific details of his FY 2018 budget request are still unknown. The request release today is a very bare bones version of a much more detailed request that will be released later this spring, rumored to likely appear sometime in May, well past the normal timing for the budget request to get to Congress. At that point, congressional appropriators will take the budget request into consideration – along with the hundreds and possibly thousands of additional proposals they receive from members of Congress and stakeholders – and will draft the actual USDA funding bills for FY 2018.

Read the full text at NSAC website.

#FarmersCount: Take the National Young Farmer Survey

Take the National Young Farmer Survey and let Congress know that #FarmersCount! The survey is conducted every five years by the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) in order to understand and elevate the issues that matter most to young farmers and aspiring farmers. Take the survey today and share it broadly. It is crucial that the survey results represent all young farmers and aspiring farmers, no matter where they live or what they grow. Survey answers are completely confidential. Take the survey at

Read More

Money Honey! Requests for Proposals Are Here

Open RFAs are listed below in order of deadline:

Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives Program (FINI): December 12, 2016

Borne out of the 2014 Farm Bill, FINI is an important competitive grant program that serves to enhance food security. Grants under this program are available to nonprofit organizations and federal agencies (i.e., community-supported agricultural programs and emergency feeding organizations) whose projects focus on enabling Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants to purchase more fresh fruits and vegetables through cash incentives. Projects will be categorized into three buckets based on size and timeframe – Pilot Projects, Multi-year Community-Based Projects, and Multi-year Large Scale Projects. 2017 priorities include providing locally and regionally produced produce to SNAP participants, creating direct connections between low-income communities and agricultural producers and targeting underserved communities (i.e., StrikeForce communities). Applications are due at 5 p.m. on December 12, 2016.

Organic Research Extension Initiative (OREI): January 19, 2017

OREI grants are a key funding opportunity for projects that advance research, extension, and education opportunities within the organic industry. A variety of organic stakeholders and their projects are eligible for OREI funding, including (but not limited to) universities, nonprofits, and private companies. Projects must include a local or regional panel component, in addition to involving farmers when performing on-farm testing to promote regional-based developments. During the application process, projects will be categorized into four areas: (1) Integrated Project Proposals; (2) Conference Proposals; (3) Research, Education and Extension Planning Proposals; and (4) Curriculum Development Proposals. The deadline for these proposals is 5 p.m. on January 19, 2017.

Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG): January 9, 2017

USDA’s agency dedicated to conservation efforts, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), recently announced the availability of $25 million for its CIG program in 2017. This program, which is a branch of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), provides an opportunity for NGOs, non-Federal government organizations, American Indian Tribes and individuals to engage in research and projects focused on conservation. NRCS’ goal is to ultimately make the technologies and practices that come out of CIG available to farmers engaging in on-farm sustainability. Each year, the program focuses on specific areas in conservation technology. This year’s foci include: conservation finance, precision conservation, data analyses to assess natural resource abundance, and water management technologies. Of the $25 million allotted to this year’s projects, $2 million will be directed towards projects specifically targeting and working to improve conditions for beginning farmers, socially disadvantaged farmers and veteran farmers. The application deadline is January 17, 2017.

Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP): February 3, 2017

CSP is a unique program that supports farmers already invested in environmentally sound farm practices, as well as farmers looking to improve their farms’ sustainability. USDA’s NRCS carries out CSP, the largest working lands conservation program in the nation. CSP works differently from the other grants mentioned here; specifically, farmers receive both technical and financial assistance in a contrast that extends for five years. State NRCS technical advisors will help farmers develop plans for their conservation practices. These can include: addressing major regional resource concerns such as water quality, improving soil quality, increasing on-farm biodiversity and conserving water and energy. Additionally, the program offers conservation enhancements to help expand or add on to a farmer’s already existing conservation efforts. To help you navigate these enhancements, check out some of NSAC’s own resources.

Due to the obvious appeal of the resources and guidance awarded through CSP, it is a highly competitive grant program. To apply, farmers must fill out a simple form. If accepted and deemed eligible for CSP, contracts will be awarded first to those whose conservation plans (which are developed together by the farmer and NRCS field staff) best address key state-based priority resource concerns. Applications will be accepted year-round. However to be considered for a FY 2017 contract, applications should be turned in no later than February 3, 2017.

Integrated Research, Education, and Extension Competitive Grant Programs – Organic Transitions (ORG): March 9, 2017

Administered by USDA’s NIFA, the ORG competitive grant program supports colleges and universities seeking to advance the organic sector. Funding for organic agriculture is extremely limited, despite the rising demand for organic products from consumers and increase in transitioning to organic agriculture from farmers. The ORG grant program seeks to fill this funding gap by supporting projects focused on research, education and extension for organic transition, with the ultimate goal of making organics more competitive in the food industry. For the FY 2017 round of applications, NIFA will make about $3.8 million available. In the RFA for ORG, NIFA describes key priority areas for FY 2017 projects, including: (1) research on the effects of organic practices on an agricultural system (i.e., cover crops, organic manure, and conservation tillage); (2) technological and methodological improvements for climate change mitigation on organic farming systems; and (3) increased understanding of the barriers to organic transition. Applications are due no later than 5 p.m. EST on March 9, 2017.

Rural Energy for America Program (REAP): Deadlines vary by grant type

In an effort to facilitate sustainable farm development by way of efficient and renewable energy, USDA created REAP, an outgrowth of the Farm Bill’s energy title, through which REAP is allotted $50 million annually. REAP’s funding approach is two-pronged, with assistance going towards: (1) grants and guaranteed loans for farms and small rural businesses aiming to improve energy efficiency and implement renewable energy; and (2) energy audit and renewable grants for service providers who work with farmers and small rural businesses.

Because the types of REAP projects are wide-ranging, USDA offers a number of deadlines for its Notice of Solicitation for Applications. For farms and small businesses requesting grants under $20,000, the first batching deadline has already passed. However, the second batching deadline will be at 4:30 p.m. (local time) on March 31, 2017. Larger grant requests are also due at 4:30 p.m. on March 31, 2017. Finally, for farms and business requesting a private loan guarantee, there is a rolling deadline, which will begin the first month that 8 applications are turned in.

Documenting Disaster Losses

We wanted to share some information on Disaster Losses as we watch the incoming hurricane weather. Our friends at the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA have put this list of resources together for producers.

Producers’ ability to receive assistance for disaster losses depends in large part on their ability to demonstrate the extent of those losses. The better the documentation, the more likely it is that a producer will be able to maximize the assistance he or she is eligible for.

As soon as the emergency is over and people and animals are safe, the farmer should begin documenting the loss. It is critical that all damage is documented before recovery efforts take place. Use the camera before the chain saw.

Federal programs often expect people to be at their organized best when their lives are at their worst. Disaster assistance programs can be complicated, with different specific deadlines and application processes. We recommend keeping an inexpensive notebook with documentation of everything you do in the recovery effort, including the use of equipment, any agency people you talk to with what you asked and what they said, and notes of the extent of damage.

There are three categories of information that should be documented to show the extent of a particular producer’s losses:

1. What was the status of the farm or ranch the day before the disaster?

2. What was the status of the farm or ranch the day after the disaster?

3. What costs have been incurred or estimated as the producer begins to make a recovery?

All aspects of the operation that were affected by the disaster should be accounted for. This includes pre- and post-disaster conditions and values of structures, equipment, livestock, crops and the land itself.

Establishing the Pre-Disaster Value and Condition of Property

Ideally, a producer will already have on hand documentation that establishes the pre-disaster ownership interests and values of affected property. If that is not the case, or if the documentation is destroyed in the disaster, there are several possible sources for this information.


A loan application will usually list the value of equipment, crops, livestock, and other assets that would be used as loan collateral. Even if the loan application was denied, the producer can often get a copy of an earlier application. If the loan was approved, there may be appraisals in the loan file that further document the value and condition of the assets.

Insurance providers

Insurance providers will have copies of insurance applications and any policies issued, including values and descriptions of the covered property. Crop insurance providers will have whatever acreage and production reports the producer submitted for the affected crops.

Taxing agencies

The producer’s most recent federal or state income tax return, if applicable, will help verify income and expenses for the operation. If a producer does not have a copy of their return, a copy can be obtained from the IRS by submitting a completed Form 4056. To get a copy of this form, go to or call 800-829-3676. There is usually a small fee for obtaining a duplicate tax return. The producer’s most recent property tax statements will help verify pre-disaster property value and condition. These should be readily obtainable from the taxing agency.

Farm Service Agency (FSA)

Producers who participate in any FSA program that involves crop reporting, such as the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP), should request a copy of their FSA file, which includes acreage and production records the producer submitted for the current or prior crop years.

In addition to these sources of documentation of pre-disaster values, there are many other materials that a producer can use to show the value of what was on the farm before the disaster.

1. Receipts and credit card bills show the value of purchased inputs or equipment.

2. Receipts for inputs—such as seed, fertilizer, or pesticides—when multiplied by application rates can be used to demonstrate crop acreage, particularly for specialty crops where standard commodity acreage reporting is a poor fit.

3. Sales records from past years can show the prices that were expected for specialty crops and livestock products.

4. Documentation from auction barns or feedlots and veterinary expenses can show the number of animals on a farm before the disaster.

 Establishing the Post-Disaster Value and Condition of Property

If a producer has crop insurance, a crop insurance adjuster will visit the farm to certify the extent of crop damage. FSA will similarly verify crop losses under NAP.For non-insured crops or livestock, communication with your local FSA office is critical.

Documentation from third parties is the most helpful. This includes sales receipts, scouting reports, veterinarian reports or other documentation. Photos can be critical, as long as they are accompanied by explanatory documentation of where and when the photo was taken and the subject of the photo.

Disaster assistance programs can also cover the costs of disaster recovery. The Emergency Conservation Program can partially reimburse expenses such as the use of equipment like chain saws or backhoes, reinstallation of fences, or time spent working on recovery. Farmers should keep a log of disaster recovery equipment use and time spent. These records are acceptable documentation if they are written at the time of the work performed and not at a later date.

Prepared by Scott Marlow of the Rural Advancement Foundation International – USA, in Pittsboro, North Carolina

Other helpful links include:

· FLAG's guide goes through different help that's available for different types of disaster loss: 

· This is FLAG's longer Farmers' Guide to Disaster Assistance: You can download individual chapters by clicking on links in the lefthand column. 

· This guide covers emergency assistance for livestock, honeybees, and farm-raised fish:

· Farmer Eligibility for Disaster Unemployment:

USDA Value Added Producer Grants Due!

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the availability of $44 million in funding through the competitive VAPG Program. Administered by USDA Rural Development, the VAPG program provides competitive grants to producers for working capital, feasibility studies, business plans, and marketing efforts to establish viable value-added businesses. Up to $75,000 is available for planning grants and up to $250,000 is available for implementation grants.

The deadline for paper applications is July 1, while electronic applications are due June 24 on the website

Individual and groups of producers, as well as farmer coops and producer-controlled businesses, are eligible to apply for these grants, which help to increase income and marketing opportunities for America’s farmers and ranchers, along with fishermen, loggers, and other harvesters of agricultural commodities.

USDA has created a “toolkit” for applicants, that includes an application checklist, templates, required grant forms, and instructions (found under the “Forms & Resources” tab).

If you need assistance, check out the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s Farmers Guide to the VAPG Program as it walks farmers through the program’s application requirements with a step-by-step description of the application and ranking processes.

Yep, those are collards in high tunnels at the  farm of Russell and Jewell Bean in Eufaula, AL, February 2013.JPG

More Funding Available for Fruits and Veggies Through Specialty Crop Block Grant!

Good news rolling off the Hill! Our partners at NSAC are sharing all the news as it happens.

On Wednesday March 9 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) announced the availability of over $62 million in funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) in fiscal year 2016. AMS also announced $26 million in funding would be made available for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP).

SCBGP provides grants on an annual basis to assist state departments of agriculture in enhancing the competitiveness of specialty crops. To receive grants, states must submit an application to AMS outlining how the grant funds would be spent.

States regularly partner with nonprofit organizations, producer groups, and colleges and universities to develop their applications and administer their programs. SCBGP funding is allocated to U.S. States and territories each year based on a formula that considers both specialty crop acreage and production value.

States can use the block grants to supplement state-run specialty crop programs. They can also use them for projects that enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops, such as locally grown fruits and vegetables, through research and programs designed to increase demand. SCBGP funds can support a wide array of projects including: value-added processing businesses, food hub development, farmer food safety training, and farm to school initiatives.

State departments of agriculture must submit their applications to AMS by July 6, 2016.

USDA encourages states to submit projects related to the following priority areas:

  • Benefitting underserved communities and veterans
  • Improving producer capacity to comply with the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)
  • Developing adaptation and mitigation strategies for farmers in drought-stricken regions of the country
  • Increasing opportunities for new and beginning farmers
  • Developing strong local and regional food systems
  • Protecting pollinator habitats and improving pollinator health
  • Supporting the growth of organic specialty crops

Improving Producer Capacity to Comply with FSMA

One priority area that is particularly timely given the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recent changes to FSMA rules, are those projects that improve specialty crop producers’ capacity to comply with the new requirements –specifically with the new FSMA Produce Rule.

NSAC encourages prospective applicants to seriously consider projects from this priority area. Complying with food safety rules is critical to the ability of small and mid sized farmers to be successful, and in order to comply many farmers will need access to FSMA education and training programs.

Under the FSMA priority area, USDA is encouraging projects that enhance food safety broadly and improve the capacity of all entities in the specialty crop distribution chain to comply with FSMA requirements. According to the USDA, preferred projects would develop “good agricultural practices, good handling practices, good manufacturing practices”. In the case of cost-share arrangements, preferred projects would fund audits of such systems for small farmers, packers and processors.

Organizations interested in applying for SCBGP funds should do so directly through their state department of agriculture. A listing of state contacts and how to apply with state application due dates, can be found here.

Conservation Stewardship Program 2016 Open for Sign Ups!

Farmers and ranchers interested in enrolling in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) this year have until March 31 to submit their initial applications to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). USDA will enroll 10 million acres of farm and ranch land in the program this year, with payments to farmers and ranchers of over three-quarters of a billion dollars over the next five years.

March 31 is also the deadline by which initial applications are needed from farmers with expiring 2012-2016 contracts if they want to renew them for another five years.  Some 12 million acres already in the program are eligible for renewal this year.

“The Conservation Stewardship Program is one of our most popular programs with producers because it results in real change on the ground by boosting soil and air quality, conserving clean water and enhancing wildlife habitat,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “With this investment, we’ll be able to build on the already record number of acres enrolled in USDA’s conservation programs, enabling producers to achieve higher levels of conservation and adopt new and emerging conservation technologies on farms, ranches and forests.”

Read more from our ever vigilant partners at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition HERE.

Conservation Stewardship Program Changes Delayed

Late last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) broke the news that the major overhaul (or “makeover”) of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) scheduled for early 2016 will be delayed one year, and instead rolled out for the 2017 sign-up period.

CSP is a comprehensive working lands conservation program designed to help farmers and ranchers protect and improve natural resources on productive, profitable land. It provides farmers and ranchers assistance to manage and adopt advanced conservation systems on their lands in agricultural production through a commitment to continual improvement and exceeding stewardship thresholds for priority resource concerns.

Nearly 70 million acres are currently enrolled in the program, and an additional 20 million acres will be enrolled or renewed each year until the next farm bill, so any updates or revisions to the program will have a significant impact on working lands conservation across the country.

The delay means that the 2016 sign-up period, which is expected to begin early next year, will occur under similar rules and guidelines as it did in 2015. The Conservation Measurement Tool (CMT) will still be used to score and rank applications, and payments will be determined as they had been in the years past.

The major changes that NRCS had been planning for 2016 are now scheduled to be rolled out in October 2016, and the new program will be offered to participants for the 2017 sign-up period.

We join our friends at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) applauding NRCS for extending the overhaul timeline, as it not only provides time for field and state NRCS employees to receive ample training on the upcoming changes, but it also allows stakeholders to provide input before these changes go into effect. Additionally, farmer outreach will be absolutely critical for new participants and renewals, and the revised timeline enables NRCS and organizations like NSAC to ensure that farmers are informed and excited about the upcoming changes.

Watch NSAC as they continue to engage with NRCS on the upcoming 2016 sign-up.

Does this Weeks' Budget Deal Affect Farmers?

We depend on our friends at the National Sustainable Ag Coalition (NSAC) to analyze everything coming out of Washington DC - here is their take on the recent budget extension:

Debt Limit and Spending Caps

The agreement suspends the U.S. borrowing cap (also known as the debt limit) until March 15, 2017. The borrowing cap would kick in early next month, if Congress were to fail to pass the agreed upon budget deal, putting the nation in default on paying its debt for past spending decisions.

In addition to suspending the debt limit, the budget agreement raises overall spending caps for both domestic discretionary spending and defense discretionary spending. For domestic (non-defense) discretionary spending, caps would increase by $25 billion in FY 2016 and $15 billion in FY 2017. By comparison, the deal increases defense spending by $41 billion in FY 2016 and $31 billion in FY 2017, including funding for what is known as the Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) account.


The budget deal pays for the spending increases by, among other cuts and reforms:

  • Extending automatic sequestration cuts to mandatory spending by one year, to 2025;
  • Reducing the target rate of return for crop insurance companies from 14 percent to 8.9 percent, and allows Congress to generate taxpayer savings through negotiated agreements with the crop insurance industry;
  • Selling crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve;
  • Auctioning internet and mobile phone spectrum frequencies;
  • Modifying some tax compliance provisions;
  • Repealing a provision from the Affordable Care Act that requires large employers to automatically enroll employees in a health care plan, if a qualified plan is offered by the employer;
  • Reforming Social Security Disability Insurance; and
  • Cutting and reforming certain Medicare payments and requiring Medicaid rebate payments from makers of generic drugs.

Impact on Agriculture and Conservation

Crop Insurance

As noted above, the budget deal uses two changes to the crop insurance program as offsets for increased discretionary security and non-security spending. The first change removes a provision of the 2014 Farm Bill inserted in the dark of night that prevents USDA from obtaining any savings from a renegotiation of the Standard Reinsurance Agreement (SRA). The SRA governs all aspects of the relationship between the federal government and the crop insurance companies that administer the policies. That 2014 Farm Bill provision locked in the status quo rate of return for crop insurance companies and allowed them to pocket any savings obtained through increased efficiencies in the crop insurance delivery system.

The other provision lowers the target rate of return for crop insurance companies under the SRA from 14 percent to 8.9 percent. President Obama proposed a smaller cut from 14 percent to 12 percent as part of several past budgets. Rumor has it, though, that the White House offered other crop insurance reform provisions that would have changed premium subsidies to certain farmers, but Hill negotiators suggested the SRA change instead.

These changes together have been estimated by CBO to save $3.038 billion over the coming decade.

Neither of these provisions impact farmers, as insurance and subsidy rates are set by the federal government and federal law, not by the insurance companies. NSAC’s press release on the budget deal can be found here.

Big Day of Policy Action This Thursday!

Back on September 30, the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 EXPIRED and Congress has yet to pass a new version of this bill (also known as the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization, or CNR). In order to urge Congress to take immediate action on this critical legislation, the National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are planning a Big Day of Action for Thursday, Oct. 22.

Join us THIS THURSDAY for a big day of advocacy - we’ll be calling on Congress to let them know that Farm to School is proving to be very effective in improving child nutrition and fighting hunger.

Farm to school is a down to earth approach to child nutrition that empowers children and their families to make informed food choices while strengthening the local economy and contributing to vibrant communities. Together with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and our network of supporters across the country, we are calling on Congress to support continued farm to school success and innovation in the upcoming Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization.

In the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, Congress established mandatory funding of $5 million annually for a farm to school competitive grant and technical assistance program. The USDA Farm to School Grant Program increases the use of and improves access to local foods in schools – thus boosting farm income and economic opportunities – while also fostering experiential food education for our nation’s children. However, demand for the program is more than five times higher than available funding, so we are excited to announce that the Farm to School Act of 2015 has been introduced in Congress

Bill basics

The Farm to School Act of 2015 will continue and expand upon the successes of the USDA Farm to School Grant Program by:

  • Fully including preschools, summer food service program sites and after school programs on the list of eligible entities;
  • Increasing annual mandatory funding from $5 million to $15 million to better meet the high demand and need for this funding;
  • Increasing access among tribal schools to farm-fresh and traditional foods, especially from tribal producers; and
  • Improve program participation from beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. 

JOIN US - this policy benefits farmers, families, and kids - our future!

Gardens at Oxford Schools, Oxford MS   photo by Sunny Young

Gardens at Oxford Schools, Oxford MS   photo by Sunny Young

Our voices really do matter!

Over 100 Organizations Deliver Letter Opposing Cuts to Conservation -National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition notes:

On Thursday, September 17, more than 100 organizations from around the country delivered a letter urging the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to “protect mandatory funding for farm bill conservation programs, support robust discretionary funding for Conservation Technical Assistance, and reject any attempt to undermine highly erodible land and wetland conservation compliance” in fiscal year (FY) 2016 appropriations legislation. A broad range of groups joined NSAC to send the letter, including the National Farmers Union, National Wildlife Federation, Kansas Rural Center, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, League of Women Voters, and many others.

Congressional appropriators are currently negotiating final appropriations legislation for FY 2016. In previous years, appropriators have used a back-door budget gimmick called “Changes in Mandatory Program Spending” (CHIMPS) to cut farm bill direct spending, which is under the jurisdiction of the Agriculture Committees, not the Appropriations Committees. For example, the FY 2015 Appropriations Act cut the 2014 Farm Bill’s funding for conservation by over $650 million.

In June and July, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees passed FY 2016 agriculture appropriations bills that cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the farm bill Conservation Title, on top of the dramatic reduction in conservation spending already made by the 2014 Farm Bill and sequestration. The proposed FY 2016 cuts would further reduce conservation enrollments by millions of acres and hamper efforts by farmers, ranchers, and foresters to conserve water, maintain their soil, and prepare for extreme weather events.

In addition to opposing cuts to mandatory spending for conservation programs, the letter urges appropriators to adopt the Senate funding level of $855 million for discretionary Conservation Operations, which includes Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA). USDA’s ability to deliver conservation programs to farmers and ranchers depends heavily on on-the-ground technical assistance. “We must not hamstring our investment in conservation by under-funding technical assistance,” the letter states.

Finally, the letter urges congressional negotiators to reject a controversial policy rider included in the House bill. The rider would delay by one year the implementation of basic soil and water conservation requirements established by the 2014 Farm Bill. When the rider was initially added to the House bill last spring, there was concern that a significant number of producers had missed a June 1 deadline to self-certify compliance with conservation requirements. In the months that followed, USDA took extraordinary steps to address the problem by working with each and every one of the two percent of producers who did not file their self-certification forms on time. In most cases, USDA found that forms were not filed because the producer on record was no longer farming. Among the tiny fraction of active operations that did not initially self-certify, nearly every one has now done so, securing eligibility for taxpayer-funded crop insurance premium assistance.

“We believe that the concerns that prompted the policy rider have been addressed administratively and do not require any legislative action,” the letter states.

FDA Facilities Rule Contains Significant Improvements, but...

Policy News from our friends at the National Sustainable Ag Coalition:

Washington, DC, September 11, 2015 – On September 10, 2015, FDA released the much-anticipated final rule detailing preventive control standards for facilities producing food for human consumption.  Once officially published in the Federal Register – scheduled for September 17, 2015 – the rule will go into effect in sixty days and compliance clocks will start ticking for facilities covered by this rule.  The Produce Safety Rule, another key component of FDA’s new approach to food safety under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), will be finalized by late October 2015.

This final rule comes after significant public outreach and two rounds of public comment on certain key provisions.

“We commend FDA for its continued engagement with stakeholders throughout this process, and appreciate the agency’s responsiveness to our concerns” said National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) Policy Specialist Sophia Kruszewski. “The final rule reflects many of the issues raised by the sustainable agriculture community, and provides several important modifications to avoid ensnaring farms and local food markets in ill-fitting rules designed for large-scale industrial food facilities.”

In particular, the revised definition of what constitutes a farm – and is therefore exempt from registering with FDA and complying with the new Preventive Controls Rule – hews much more closely to the reality of what farms look like, how they operate, and how they are managed.  Similarly, changes to the supporting definitions of “harvesting,” “packing,” and “holding” provide further clarity on the types of activities that farms can do without triggering the “facility” definition.  These changes will go a long way toward ensuring that fewer farms are misclassified as subject to this rule, and supporting the continued growth and development of local and regional food systems.

Absent from this final rule, however, is the clarified retail food establishment exemption.  In FSMA, Congress clarified that sales through direct-to-consumer sales platforms like roadside stands, farmers markets, and community-supported agriculture (CSAs) operations were included within the exemption for retail food establishments.

This clarification had two goals – the first was to reinforce that CSAs, farmers markets, roadside stands, and other direct-to-consumer operations that sell the majority of their food directly to consumers are not food facilities, do not have to register with FDA as facilities, and are not therefore subject to the Preventive Controls Rule.  The second was to clarify that the location of the direct sale could not trigger the facility definition – for example, delivering a CSA box to a location where customers could pick up their boxes would not make that location a facility.

“One of the most concerning aspects of the FSMA rules for farmers has been the confusion surrounding the issue of which farms FDA will consider to be food facilities, and will therefore be subject to food facility registration requirements and the preventive controls rule,” noted Kruszewski.  “Belatedly, FDA has initiated a separate rulemaking to address this issue, but failure to incorporate the clarification into the final preventive control rule released today is a missed opportunity, perpetuating the misinformation and confusion surrounding who is covered by these rules and continuing to delay the ability of local food producers to make business decisions based on their understanding of whether and how these new food safety rules apply to their operations.  We urge FDA to finalize this important piece of the Preventive Controls regulatory framework without further delay.”

Another major area of concern with the final preventive control rule is expensive audit requirements.  When Congress passed FSMA, it was sensitive to the fact that buyers are increasingly requiring audits of farmers and that – while an audit can provide a useful verification tool – it is only one tool to ensure that risks are being minimized across a supply chain.  Congress specifically said audits could not be required as part of FDA’s new food safety framework.

“We are severely disappointed to see FDA continue to claim that the rule’s onsite audit requirement does not violate both the letter and the spirit of FSMA,” said Kruszewski.  “The statutory text of FSMA could not be clearer: FDA cannot require farms or facilities to undergo, and pay for, third party audits to verify compliance with the rules.  Yet, the rule continues to require just that through backdoor channels.  The rule does provide various ways that the onsite audit could be avoided, but requiring them to begin with does not adhere to Congressional intent.”

An outsized reliance on third party audits will overshadow the important role of training and education as a way for farmers to demonstrate a culture of food safety and move toward FSMA compliance.  NSAC will continue to urge FDA to be transparent in their intentions regarding the role and relative importance of third party audits, and to consider alternative compliance indicators – such as group certification and self-certification – particularly for the most vulnerable entities shouldering disproportionately higher costs of compliance.

The true impact on farmers and small food enterprises of this issue and many others will ultimately be determined as the rule is implemented.  FDA noted in the final rule that many of the specifics surrounding how these provisions will be implemented – and enforced – will be determined through the development of guidance documents.  NSAC urges FDA to provide as much additional detail to regulators and the regulated industry as possible in these documents and other interpretative materials, particularly regarding activities that may trigger the farm definition, expectations for qualified facilities, how the agency will ensure onsite audits do not become a de facto requirement for farms and food businesses, and the role not just of third party audits, but also how group certification and self-certification schemes fit within compliance activities.

NSAC looks forward to continued participation in the FSMA implementation process to ensure a regulatory framework that supports strong public health goals, while simultaneously supporting thriving family farms, sustainable agricultural operations, and local and regional food systems that increase access to fresh, healthy foods.

We will continue to analyze the rules and their potential impacts, and will continue providing information on the rules through our FSMA website, blog, and press releases on this rule and the upcoming Produce Rule.


The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities.

Read more policy notes here on the NSAC website.

Louisiana Passes Good Food Legislation!

Two important food bills have just been passed in Louisiana. Our partners in the Louisiana Farm to School Alliance are celebrating their work on policy in the state, working closely with their legislatures.

Increasing Farm to School procurement, SB 184 will increase the "small purchase threshold", which is the maximum amount of money schools can spend on a contract to buy food items, without having to engage in a lengthy and complicated formal public bidding process with potential food providers. In Louisiana, the threshold was just $25,000, so most school food purchases required formal bidding, often prevents smaller-scale farmers from selling their food to schools.

SB 184 successfully passed this session and awaits signature in the governors office. The bill increases the "small purchase threshold" to the meet the federal threshold, which is the maximum amount of money schools can spend on a contract to buy food items, without having to engage in a lengthy and complicated formal public bidding process with potential food providers. This session with the support of Senators Thompson and Walsworth, SB184 passed with no opposition and will take effect August 1, 2015.

HB 761: Urban Ag Incentive Zone Bill successfully passed this session and is also awaiting signature in the governors office. The bill creates urban agriculture incentive zones and reduces taxes on land used for urban farming. HB 761 encourages private landowners in urban areas to provide their land for use as farms. This bill also greatly reduces expenses associated with acquiring land for many urban farmers and in turn supports the many initiatives throughout Louisiana to grow more local food. 

The Farm to School Act of 2015

Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization

Congress revisits child nutrition program legislation approximately every five years in a single omnibus bill known as the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act, or Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization for short (CNR). The last CNR is set to expire in September 2015, setting the stage for Congress to write a new bill in early 2015.

The CNR authorizes federal school meal and child nutrition programs including the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, among others. The last CNR in 2010 was groundbreaking: For the first time, the legislation supported farm to school directly by providing $5 million in annual mandatory funding for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm to School Grant Program. A major victory for farm to school champions across the country, this program funds competitive grants and technical assistance for farm to school activities that increase the use of and improve access to local foods in schools. 

The demand for the Farm to School Grant Program is more than five times higher than available funding, so we are excited to announce that the Farm to School Act of 2015 has been introduced in Congress. In order to build on the USDA Farm to School Grant Program’s success, the next Child Nutrition Reauthorization must include increased funding for the program. Demand for the USDA Farm to School Grants outweighs the current available funding by more than five times.

The Farm to School Act of 2015 will continue and expand upon the successes of the USDA Farm to School Grant Program by:

  • Fully including preschools, summer food service program sites and after school programs on the list of eligible entities;
  • Increasing annual mandatory funding from $5 million to $15 million to better meet the high demand and need for this funding;
  • Increasing access among tribal schools to farm-fresh and traditional foods, especially from tribal producers; and
  • Improve program participation from beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. 

Show Your Support

Do you represent a school, nonprofit organization, business or advocacy group interested in supporting the Farm to School Act of 2015? If so, please add your organization’s name to the National Farm to School Network’s organizational sign-on letter to Congress. SIGN UP HERE!

Are you a parent, teacher, farmer or concerned eater? Sign this letter of support for the Farm to School Act of 2015 to tell Congress that farm to school is a powerful tool for supporting our kids, our farmers and our communities! SIGN UP HERE!

Learn More

The National Farm to School Network (NFSN) and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) are partnering to advance farm to school priorities in the 2015 reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act (CNR 2015), with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms. Visit their respective websites to learn more.

Farmers and Ranchers: Sign Up for Conservation Stewardship Program

Deadline extended! Farmers and ranchers have until March 13 to sign up for nation’s largest federal conservation program!

Washington, DC February 23, 2015 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended the sign-up period for the 2015 edition of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) – the federal farm bill’s largest working lands conservation program. Farmers and ranchers now have two additional weeks – until March 13 – to complete the initial application form.

Coinciding with this two-week extension, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has released a new, updated version of its CSP Information Alert, with step-by-step sign-up and enrollment details. The Information Alert now includes program choices ranked by conservation and environmental benefit.

CSP rewards producers for the conservation and environmental benefits they produce on their working agricultural lands; all private agricultural land, including cropland, pasture, and rangeland, is eligible to enroll in CSP.  For example, CSP contract-holding farmers can receive payments for actively managing, maintaining, and expanding conservation activities like cover crops, rotational grazing, ecologically-based pest management, buffer strips, and the transition to organic farming. 

Details on this year’s program are available for free in an Information Alert published this week by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Farmers and ranchers must submit initial applications to their local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office by Feb 27 to have their applications considered for 2015. Applications will be scored and ranked based on farmers’ current and planned on-farm conservation activities, and the applications offering the highest level of environmental benefits will be awarded CSP contracts.

CSP contract holders that enrolled in 2011 are now in the final year of their five-year contract and are therefore eligible to renew for another five years. Initial requests to renew must be submitted to local NRCS offices by March 31.

CSP is the nation’s largest conservation program by acreage and is widely popular among farmers and ranchers. Since the program began in 2009, nearly 70 million acres of farm and ranch land have been enrolled in the program.

Producers are encouraged to fill out the NRCS’ Self-Screening Checklist to help determine if CSP is right for their farm.

Action Alert: Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) Comment Period Deadline is JANUARY 20

The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is a critical federal program that helps farmers manage their lands sustainably and the program is in trouble. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) asks for anyone or any organization interested in resource conservation, sustainability, beginning farmers, small-acreage farmers, or fiscal responsibility to take a few minutes to:

  • Prepare and submit comments to USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
  • Help spread the word to farmers about the comment period.

NSAC has developed several tools and resources to help you or your organization get the word out:

  • CSP action toolkit — need the basics? Want to know where to start? Need ideas for outreach? You'll find issue basics and materials here!
  • CSP comment template for organizations — here is a template you can customize! Filling it out won't take long at all.
  • CSP farmer comment template — another short template. It can be found online here:  AND it is linked on NRCS' CSP landing page.
  • CSP sample action alert — need ideas for where to start for an alert? Sample (with social media) is here!
  • CSP landing page — NSAC launched a CSP landing page that has two main actions: 1.) asking folks to SUBMIT COMMENTS! and 2.) asking folks to sign a letter to Chief Weller that mirrors our asks. Most important action is to submit comments, as duplicate letters and petitions don't count for as much as individual comments. The letter is intended to help draw in folks who might not be engaged enough on the issue to submit comments but who still care.
  • If you are working on any press outreach and want talking points, details, questions or help — email Sarah Hackney,, or call 202-547-5754.