Friday, August 31, 2012

Willie celebrates a farmer's 100th birthday!

JenIn 1994, a severe drought across the Southeast spurred Farm Aid to organize a farmer-to-farmer emergency haylift to bring donated hay to farmers who had nothing left to feed their livestock. Willie Nelson himself helped to unload the trucks stacked with hay and it was then that he made the acquaintance of Ms. Fannie Simnacher, an Austin, Texas, cattle rancher who was feeling the effects of drought on her own farm. She and Willie were even featured in a 60 Minutes segment on TV about the drought.

In August, Ms. Simnacher, who still lives in the farmhouse she was born in and still has cattle with the help of a hired hand, celebrated her 100th birthday. Her birthday wish was to see Willie Nelson again. The good folks at Meals on Wheels made sure one of their favorite clients got her wish, contacting Farm Aid to see if we could help make Fannie's 100th birthday a special one.

Willie, of course, was more than willing to make that happen and the meeting took place last weekend, just before Willie's show at The Backyard in Austin. Willie and Ms. Simnacher chatted backstage for a bit, and then she and her granddaughter got to watch the concert from backstage.

Ms. Simnacher, with Willie, her granddaughter Joan, and Joan's boyfriend Jeff.

We are so happy to not only know that a farmer we met back in 1994 is still keeping cattle down there in Texas (including a prized bull named after Willie!), but that we were able to be a small part in making her 100th birthday wish come true!

In a news story about her 100th birthday, the centenarian said that the secret to living old is loving God and getting outside to enjoy the sunshine. Possibly being a life-long Willie Nelson fan helps too!

Ms. Simnacher, from all of us at Farm Aid, happy birthday! You are an inspiration!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Francisca's Farm and Food Roundup

Francisca border=According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), this year’s net farm income will reach $122.2 billion. Payouts from the federal crop insurance program will compensate for destroyed crops, for those who have insurance. Farms that escaped the drought’s clutches will earn 39 percent more on products like corn and soybean, whose prices have risen with the drop in production. Grain producers have already increased their prices. Economists are set to mark 2012 as the most profitable year for (certain) farmers.

Meanwhile, small farmers are sending in pictures to media outlets to show the drought’s ripple effect on crops and livestock.

Duke Farms and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey (NOFA-NJ) are launching an incubator farm program in 2013. NOFA-NJ understands that beginning farmers might not have access to farmland, equipment or training. The incubator program will place new farmers on 140 acres of Duke Farms’ land and provide education on farming techniques. For applications and more information on the program, visit the NOFA-NJ website at www.nofanj.org.

Recently, the USDA announced that it would be accepting applications for its Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG). The USDA has allotted $14 million for the VAPG awards. Funding is used to help producers develop products that add value to the agriculture community. Priority may be given to beginning farmers or ranchers; socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers; family farmers and many more. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has published the Farmers’ Guide to Value-Added Producer Grant Funding, which will include program rules and hints for applicants. The guide can be downloaded for free. Applications for the VAPG awards are due on October 15.

In La Encanada, Peru, peasant farmers are protesting against the $5 billion Conga project. The project would destroy four mountain lakes located in Peru’s highlands to build an open-pit gold mine. Farmers depend on the lakes to grow crops and nourish their animals. Leaders of the Conga project, including U.S.-based Newmont Mining Co., have plans to build reservoirs to replace the lakes. Even so, 78 percent of the highland’s residents are opposed to the project while only 15 percent approve.

The USDA has extended emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands. Famers and Ranchers can now remain on CRP lands until November 30th, at no additional rental cost. Producers must file for extension with their local Farm Service Agency office.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has been working to improve procedures and lessen requirements for disaster aid. Late last week, the Secretary announced plans to modify emergency loans, so that livestock producers can apply earlier in the season. The USDA is also determined to file provisions with the federal crop insurance program to allow haying or grazing of cover crops.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Phish & Neil Young

MattThis week's Music Monday features the Farm Aid debut of Phish performing in 1998. The band was joined on-stage by Neil Young for a couple songs, including a nearly 20-minute version of Neil's classic song "Down By the River". Check that out with five other songs from their performance from October 3 at the Tweeter Center in Tinley Park, Illinois below:

Find more than 500 Farm Aid videos on our YouTube channel.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Francisca's Farm and Food Roundup

Francisca border=Sorghum, a cereal grain that originated in Africa, is slowly gaining popularity in the United States. The grain has deep roots and waxy leaves that allow it to survive harsh weather. Since the drought has ravaged most U.S. corn crops, some researchers are urging the agriculture community to shift its focus from corn to a more durable crop.

All over the world, farmers are struggling with this year’s arid weather. Climate change is expected to increase the intensity and duration of future droughts. The World Meteorological Organization has summoned ministers and other officials to a March 2013 convention in Geneva to discuss drought policies. The organization plans to establish measures to decrease the world’s water consumption and increase conservation.

In Courtland, California, state and federal officials have announced plans to build twin tunnels underneath the Sacramento River’s delta. The tunnels will take water from the delta and deliver it to huge farms and densely populated areas in Central and Southern California. Supporters of the $14 billion project argue that the pipelines will improve the environment while providing water to California’s economically vital regions. Courtland’s small farmers are opposed to the twin tunnels because they will reduce the amount of water available to locals and cause damage to fish and farmland by raising salt water levels.

When the Montgomery Board of Education attempted to evict Nick Maravell from the organic farmland he leases in order to build another soccer field, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley offered support. Governor O’Malley wrote a letter to the county executive and the board’s president admonishing the motion to destroy Nick's Organic Farm and the soil that could be “a priceless asset to the education, health, and well-being of generations of Montgomery students.” Nick Maravell filed a lawsuit and after a year of court proceedings, a county judge ruled to hold the school board’s decision. While the ruling is promising, it only provides short-term relief. Nick and his daughter, Sophia Maravell, hope to start a farmer-training program that teaches sustainable practices, but they cannot achieve this goal unless the Board of Education dismisses the idea of eviction altogether.

President Obama has directed the USDA to buy approximately $170 million worth of pork, lamb, chicken and catfish to help farmers and ranchers in drought affected areas. The Department of Agriculture plans to use the purchases for federal food nutrition programs. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack expects the USDA’s investment to help stabilize the global food market and deliver some relief to farmers struggling with skyrocketing feed costs.

Researchers at McGill and Utrecht University have published their findings on the depletion of aquifers. Several food-producing regions around the world depend on underground aquifers to nourish soil, crops, and animals. However, unsustainable irrigation practices and human consumption have decreased the water sources at rapid rates. It can take thousand of years for the underground waterways to refill. In the U.S., about 27 percent of irrigated farmland relies on the Ogallala, but in some counties the aquifer is dropping by two feet per year. The Upper Ganges that sustains farm irrigation in Pakistan and India is receiving less than half of the rain it needs to replenish its water supply. To reverse the depletion, farmers have been using water conservation practices like crop rotation, center pivot or drip irrigation.

California is poised to vote on Proposition 37, the first-ever state-based initiative that requires labels for genetically modified foods. Opponents of the initiative have shelled out nearly $25 million to defeat the proposal, claiming that Prop 37 will cause a rise in groceries and taxes and hurt farmers. Supporters of the food initiative, who have been able to raise only about $2.4 million, argue that Proposition 37 will inform consumers on what they are eating and build trust in the food industry.

According to weather experts, nine to 15 inches of slow and steady rain is the only cure for this year’s drought. Richard Heim, a climatologist at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, explains that if the required amount of rain fell quickly and in a short span of time, it would be of no use to drought stricken farmers. Flash floods would result from rapid rainfall, leaving little time for soil to absorb moisture. Many experts are waiting for an El Nino formation, which would deliver precipitation throughout the United States. There is a more than 75 percent chance of El Nino developing this year.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Willie Nelson

MattAnother Music Monday brings another new year of Farm Aid concert videos: 1998! That year's concert was held on October 3 at the Tweeter Center in Tinley Park, Illinois (also the home of Farm Aid '97 and Farm Aid's 20th Anniversary Concert in 2005). We'll start things off from that year properly with Farm Aid President Willie Nelson's performance. Check out his set below, featuring nine songs in this video playlist:

Find more than 500 Farm Aid videos on our YouTube channel.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

"Their pastures are parched and their hay is running out."

KariThe worst drought in more than fifty years is burning pastures and withering crops across the country, putting every family farmer at risk. And there's no end in sight.

Every day, the Farm Aid hotline rings with calls from farm families in need. We hear from farmers who are struggling to feed their animals. Their pastures are parched and their hay is running out. Farmers growing fruits and vegetables tell us they are without crop insurance and have nothing left in the fields to sell. Bare fields mean they'll have no income for the rest of the year.

Drought Map August 2012

Farm Aid activated our Family Farm Disaster Fund to respond to the crisis immediately. So far we've granted $15,000 in emergency assistance for farmers and to push for long-term solutions to disasters like this one. With your help, we can do more. Your gift of $50 or more will go directly to a farm family in need.

Drought is a unique kind of disaster. It's slow to arrive and long to recover from, leaving farmers helpless... able only to watch as their crops wither and die. Please join us in bringing hope to farm families by giving a gift today.

We can't afford to lose a single family farmer. Those farmers most at risk are just the ones we need on the land, strengthening local communities and economies, growing good food and protecting our soil and water. Lend your support today and let family farmers know you stand by them.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Farm Aid 2012 Auction begins August 16!

KariFarm Aid is once again partnering with Auction Cause to bring you unique Farm Aid 2012 experiences and signed memorabilia!

Auction Cause is the leader in cause marketing campaigns, branding and fundraising on eBay. With their partnership, we have raised significant funds to support our mission of keeping family farmers on the land, while delivering fans incredible opportunities to enjoy your concert weekend even more.

The official Farm Aid 2012 auction will begin this Thursday, August 16, and run until Sunday, August 26. Bid early and often! All proceeds benefit Farm Aid and our work to keep family farmers thriving.

Sample items in the auction include:

Backstage tour for 2 at Farm Aid 2012

2 front row VIP seats to Farm Aid 2012

Photo pit seats for each of the headlining sets at this year's show

00-DB Jeff Tweedy model Martin Guitar

Monday, August 13, 2012

Farm Aid Music Monday Celebrates Farm Aid IV with Bonnie Raitt, Don Henley, John Denver & more

MattThis week's Music Monday has no overarching central theme other than to celebrate the music from Farm Aid IV! Relax, think back on life in 1990 and enjoy a grab-bag of videos from that April 7 in Indianapolis, with performances from Bonnie Raitt & John Hiatt, Don Henley, Kris Kristofferson, Lyle Lovett, Alan Jackson, Carl Perkins and John Denver.

Find more than 500 Farm Aid videos on our YouTube channel.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Woody at 100

AliciaWho can say if it’s coincidence or fate that this year’s historic drought occurs on the centennial of Woody Guthrie’s birth? What’s for certain is he would have had something to say about it.

No stranger to personal hardship or a hard day of honest work, he was immensely empathetic with those who suffered in his time. And the Dust Bowl of the 1930s left a deep and lasting impression on him.

Sparked by prolonged drought that was only marginally worse than this year’s (check out this graphic for some context) and years of short-sighted land management practices, the Dust Bowl wrecked havoc on the country’s farm population. The High Plains region was hit hardest, an area that included Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. Homesteaders had been drawn there by rising wheat prices, extremely cheap land and the promise of some of the world’s most fertile soils hidden underneath enormous swaths of grassland. But the prairie that took millennia to form was lost in a fleeting set of growing seasons under mechanical plows and a failure to steward the soil from harvest to harvest.

By the 1930s, dust storms overtook the skies, worsening each year and moving tons upon tons of soil across the country. More than 100 million acres were depleted of precious soil, and by the middle of the decade, people left the prairie in droves, no longer able to make a living off the land. The devastation in the countryside reverberated throughout the country, which was already grappling with the Great Depression.

As the country wrestled with dynamics not at all foreign to us today – speculators, bankers, overwhelming debts, unemployment and controversial land practices – Woody was able to fashion these social and political currents into powerful, cathartic and ultimately iconic music. While he was no politician, he viewed the hardships around him as manifestations of important power inequities in the country:

"And there on the Texas plains right in the dead center of the dust bowl, with the oil boom over and the wheat blowed out and the hard-working people just stumbling about, bothered with mortgages, debts, bills, sickness, worries of every blowing kind, I seen there was plenty to make up songs about. . . Then I got a little braver and made up songs telling what I thought was wrong and how to make it right, songs that said what everybody in the country was thinking. And this has held me ever since."

I’d be willing to bet that Woody Guthrie has inspired many, if not all, of the artists who have graced the Farm Aid stage during our 27 years, and especially our Board Artists Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Dave Matthews. They understand that the change we need in our farm system takes a nimble response to immediate crises paired with behavioral and political change rooted in a long-term vision for the country. Like Woody, they see that we’re all in this together.

But none of them have seen a drought like this year’s.

As you likely know, most of the country is enduring moderate to extreme drought, the largest area of the contiguous United States affected by such dryness in nearly 60 years. 1,584 counties in 32 states have been declared primary disaster areas. While experts don’t anticipate another dust bowl, crop forecasts are abysmal while livestock farmers struggle to feed and water their animals. The impact is deep enough to threaten thousands of farms and ranchers nationwide and jolt our food system this year and in years to come.

The whims of Mother Nature are entirely out of our control, but how we manage our land is not. With any natural disaster of this scale, we all must pitch in to provide immediate relief for those in crisis (check out Farm Aid’s Family Farm Disaster Fund to help out). But the onus is on us to craft a food and agricultural system that can be resilient in the face of disasters and that values intergenerational sustainability over short-term gain.

Said Woody’s daughter, Nora, recently about his legacy:

“My feeling is that he makes himself heard and known when he is needed, and boy, is he needed now. Everything he wrote about — political corruption, corrupt bankers, foreclosures, mentioning the environment in the dust-bowl ballads — is all in our face.”

Maybe it’s fate. Maybe it’s coincidence. But we’d be doing ourselves a huge disservice if we don’t revisit Woody Guthrie’s legacy at this historic moment and confront the challenges before our country head-on.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Francisca's Farm and Food Roundup

Francisca border=Instead of a five-year farm bill, the House passed a short-term $383 million package of loans and grants for livestock producers and a few specified farmers. The short-term package is meant to replace already expired relief programs that would have reimbursed farmers for lost livestock, aided with forage allocation and provided aid to producers of crops. But farmers and ranchers are calling for a full Farm Bill, rather than a stop-gap measure. We'll have to wait until Congress comes back from recess in September though.

On Tuesday, President Obama held a meeting about the government’s response to the drought. He urged Congress to pass the five-year Farm Bill. Unfortunately, Congress will not be making any decisions until they come back from recess, four weeks from now. In the meantime, Obama has directed the USDA to allocate an additional $30 million to crop and livestock farmers in designated disaster areas.

Could there be a silver lining in this year’s drought? William G. Moseley, a professor of geography at Macalester College, explains that the drought has the potential to spark major initiatives in agribusiness. Our focus on corn production, he argues,results in limited crop options, soil degradation and increased drought vulnerability. Corn is a formidable and profitable presence in the global market. So, government policies promote its production. However, this has caused over-reliance on a crop that is heavily susceptible to drought. To shift America’s fixation on corn, Moseley proposes lowering floor price supports to a broader range of crops, and incentivizing mixed crop and livestock farms by giving direct payments for fodder production. He also suggests new reforms in the international food system so that it is more accessible to small businesses.

Several studies suggest a connection between the recent rise in earthquakes and hydraulic fracking. Last year, states across the Midwest endured 134 quakes. At the University of Texas, Cliff Frohlich, a senior research scientist, has published new findings on the topic. He explains that it is specifically the disposal of fracking wastewater that is correlated to increased seismic activity. Earlier this year, Ohio oil and gas regulators credited the state’s twelve earthquakes to the injection of gas-drilling wastewater into the earth.

Some farmers and crop scientists believe that climate change is an unstoppable force. So, agriculturists and consumers have to adapt to the new environment and focus on engineering hardier animals and plants designed to survive tough weather conditions. Scientists are breeding cattle with animals from Africa and India that developed a natural tolerance to drought conditions. Corn seeds are being manipulated to produce large roots that are able to absorb more water. Researchers are also trying to isolate genes that allow certain plants to recover quickly from drought. For now, it is unclear if these engineered plants can survive the most severe weather.

In Montgomery County, Maryland, the agriculture economy has certainly diminished. Thirty years ago, sales of crops and livestock totaled $537 million. In 2007, sales were reported at $37 million dollars. Many aspiring farmers are wary of starting up their own farms because of the potential for financial ruin. County officials have launched a pilot program to provide help to new farmers. The New Farmer Pilot Project will train young farmers and allow them to use privately owned land to grow sustainable crops and livestock for five years or more. Applications for the program will be accepted until September 4th.

India has also been experiencing its share of severe weather. Just a few weeks ago, government officials were reporting on the abysmal amount of rain produced during this year’s monsoon season. Indian farmers have been facing animal and crop dehydration for the last several months. To help its farmers, the Indian government has opened protective shelters for cows and are supplying several villages with drinking water. Unfortunately, now there are flood warnings throughout the country because of recent rain in Maharashtra. Citizens have asked the government for boats, life jackets, and trained swimmers to save people and cattle from overflowing waters.

A heat wave across much of Europe will also affect the global agricultural outlook.


Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Crop Insurance, Farmer Income and the Drought

JenLast week I checked in with Scott Marlow, executive director of our partner organization Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI), on the issue of crop insurance. The media has repeatedly reported that the vast majority of farmers have crop insurance and would weather this historic drought just fine. But we know from the calls we're receiving on our hotline that that is simply not the case. Here's what Scott had to say:

On July 31, the Wall Street Journal online ran an article entitled “Crops Hurt, But Farmers Will Still Get Paid.” The article begins “A historic drought across the middle of the U.S. is shriveling crops—but not many farmers' incomes.” Citing USDA statistics that 70% of crops are covered by crop insurance, this article is part of a growing voice that crop insurance means that there is no financial emergency behind this historic drought. Numbers like these look good from behind a desk, but not from behind the wheel of a tractor. Here’s why.

The Covered 70%
Certainly crop insurance for commodity farmers and strong commodity prices over the last few years help – and will keep some farmers from losing their farms. That is what crop insurance is designed to do. But looking behind the numbers shows a more complicated story.

Let’s start with the 70% coverage number. That 70% number is by acreage, not number of farmers or crop value, and it only includes crop acreage, not livestock. In addition, 70% coverage of farm acreage means farmers have coverage at some level, but the level of loss coverage is not more than 85% of anticipated income, and often much lower. Bottom line, having crop insurance does not make any farmer 100% covered. Not even close.

Farmers have the same problems with their crop insurance that all of us have with our home or car insurance. Crop insurance does not cover all of the loss. The highest rate of coverage (think about your car insurance deductible) is 85% of the anticipated income from the crop. Crop insurance coverage ranges between 85% of the value of the crop all the way down to catastrophic coverage that is just 27.5% of expected income, which doesn't pay the bills.

Corn is a good example of the best case scenario. Approximately 90% of corn acreage across the affected area has some level of crop insurance. According to the corn crop budget at Iowa State, the net return on corn at a price of $6.25 per bushel is around 32%, with the remaining 68% needed to cover the farmer’s cost of production. So in the very best case, 85% crop insurance coverage means the farmer loses almost 50% of their net income. If we take away 50% of your income for this year, would you feel like there is no emergency?

Many farmers also “book” their corn or beans at the beginning of the season to lock in prices, contracting to deliver a certain amount of the commodity at harvest at a specific price. Farmers with crop failure face having to buy corn or soy at inflated prices to replace the crop they didn’t grow in order to fulfill that contract.

The Uncovered 30%
There is also an assumption that the 70% is spread across all of agriculture. The 30% of uninsured crop acreage includes some uninsured commodities, but also includes most of the fruit and vegetable acreage. Because the value per acre of vegetables and specialty crops are usually much higher than corn or soybeans, that 30% of acreage represents much more than 30% of farm income. Again using Iowa as an example, the rate of crop insurance participation by acreage for corn is 90%. The rate of crop insurance participation for tomatoes is 0%, because there is no crop insurance available for tomatoes in Iowa.

The disaster assistance program designed for specialty crops - the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program or SURE - expired in September of 2011. There is a program that provides benefits for uninsured crops - the Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program or NAP - but it only provides catastrophic benefits or 27.5%, so the return is often not worth the cost of the time spent signing up and the premium paid by the farmer.

The Rest of Agriculture
The 70% plus the 30% still doesn’t represent all farmers. While farmers who grows corn or soy may be helped by crop insurance and high prices, farmers who have to buy corn or soy, like for livestock feed, are far worse off. Anyone who grazes livestock right now is hurting since their pastures stopped producing weeks ago. Dairy or cattle farmers who should be harvesting excess hay for winter are instead buying expensive feed. Their income is based on being able to graze their animals and put up hay for the winter, and right now they can do neither.

The two programs that were passed in the 2008 farm bill to help livestock farmers - the Livestock Indemnity Program and the Livestock Forage Program - which help with losses of animals and forage respectively, also expired at the end of the 2011 fiscal year - last September. The two crop insurance policies available for livestock producers are very new, and have very low participation rates.

Anything more than wholesale
Disasters also hit very hard on the fastest growing segments of agriculture, those who sell crops into higher value local and specialty markets like farmers markets and organic. USDA disaster assistance programs provide benefits at the wholesale conventional price, which covers a much lower percentage of anticipated income for specialty or direct market farmers.

Fortunately, for the first time this year, organic corn, soybean, cotton and processing tomato growers were able to get crop insurance with an option to purchase benefits based on the organic price rather than the conventional price. But often specialty market producers are left to deal with disaster losses on their own.

Price versus Value
Finally, even if the crop insurance really did cover 70% of the farm losses, it does not address the effects of the drought on people and communities. Drought is a cruel disaster. Farmers watch their crops shrivel and die before their eyes over time. Livestock producers face having to buy feed with cash that they don’t have. Unlike a storm, you never know when a drought is going to end.

The farmers in this drought are facing decisions right now that have no good answer. We can put a price on the sale of livestock, but what is the cost of selling off a herd with genetics that a farmer worked for a lifetime to get right? We know that the stress of dealing with this drought will have significant adverse effects on the individuals, families and communities across the area.

Of course we need to make sure that the help we provide as a country reaches those with the greatest need. But make no mistake, there is no farmer who is well off in this drought, and some are facing absolute devastation. These are our neighbors and families, they are feeding our nation and they need our help. Farmers don’t need someone telling them they are better off than they think.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Farm Aid Music Monday, Celebrating Farm Aid IV in 1990

MattThis week's Music Monday takes us back to 1990. With all the performers from that April 7 in Indianapolis, I'm sure we'll have lots more videos from Farm Aid IV. But today I'll focus on music from our three board artists at the time, Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp (Dave Matthews joined the board of directors in 2001). Leading things off is Willie Nelson performing a trio of songs, "Whiskey River," "Stay All Night," and "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain."

Next up is Neil Young, who had his own set that night, but also performed with Crosby, Stills and Nash. Here they play "This Old House."

And finally, here's John Mellencamp with "Paper in Fire" (after being introduced by then-boxing heavyweight champion Buster Douglas, proving once again that you never know who's going to show up on a Farm Aid stage):

Find more Farm Aid videos on our YouTube channel.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

7,864 and growing!

Hilde border=If you haven’t made it to a farmers market yet this summer, this week’s your week!

In celebration of National Farmers Market Week, August 5th-11th, markets across the nation will be hosting fun activities such as cooking demos, pie contests and games for the whole family.

And from the looks of US Department of Agriculture’s just released National Farmers Market Directory, you are better positioned than ever to find a farmers market close to home!

The online directory lists 7,864 markets across the country, a 9.6% increase since just last year. Considering there were only 2,863 markets listed in 2000, there’s much to celebrate in the coming week.

Farmers markets are a wonderful way to support local family farmers and to access fresh, healthy foods. So venture out, enjoy a market near you and let us know what delicious bounty awaits!

Friday, August 03, 2012

Francisca's Farm and Food News Roundup

Francisca border=Last week, House majority leaders moved to delay the 2012 Farm Bill for one year. Majority representatives instead proposed an extension bill that would cut conservation programs by approximately $761 million. The House also announced its plan to establish an interim legislation that would provide aid to farmers devastated by the drought. The 2012 Farm Bill would have covered disaster assistance for such farmers. Farmer advocates and supporting organizations began immediate efforts to rescind the new bill. This week, Congress announced its decision to throw out the extension bill.

Sherry and Chris Vinton run a cow-calf ranch in northeast Nebraska. This time last year, the Vintons would have received eight or nine inches of rain. Unfortunately, this year’s drought has delivered less than two inches of rainwater to the Vintons’ pasture. Most of the grass and low plants used to feed the cows have died. Without suitable grazing lands for their animals, Sherry and Chris have begun to sell off their animals by the truckloads. The drought has left numerous ranchers in the same position as the Vintons. Rancher advocates and government officials are trying to determine the best way to aid ranchers. Buying American beef instead of cheap imported beef will relieve some financial burden on ranchers. However, with the mounting evidence that suggests climate change is largely responsible for this year’s drought, researchers believe that curbing climate change is the best way to provide long-term aid to ranchers.

Livestock farmers are being hit especially hard by the drought. Unable to feed their animals because of dying grasslands, farmers are forced to buy fodder on the open market at inflated prices. Those who cannot afford to purchase feed are either reducing their herds, with many contemplating leaving the farming business altogether.

According to researchers, the drought has already caused a decline in Iowa and Midwest economies. In Iowa, the drought has significantly reduced farmer income and increased commodity costs for livestock and ethanol producers, and food processors. As a result, jobs in the manufacturing industry will diminish, as will sales of farming equipment. In a month’s time, Iowa’s economy has dropped from 68 to 62.1. During the same span of time, nine mostly Midwest states have experienced an 8.5 point decline in economy. Economists expect recent declines to spill over into other industries because the agriculture business is so interactive.

And, now for some lighter news, a dairy farmer in Memphis is milking camels!
Would you drink camel milk?