What does the EPA’s waters of the U.S. proposal mean for my farm?

Posted on | April 18, 2014 | No Comments

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rule on the Clean Water Act definition of “waters of the U.S.” has garnered a great deal of attention from the agriculture community — as well as some misinformation. Here are some myths and facts about the proposed rule, according to the EPA:

What it does:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rule will not add to or expand the scope of waters historically protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA).
  • The proposed rule will not regulate groundwater or tile drainage systems, and it will not increase regulation of ditches, whether they are irrigation or drainage.
  • Any normal farming activity that does not result in a point source discharge of pollutants into waters of the U.S. still does not require a permit.
  • If you were not legally required to have a permit before, the rule does not change that.

MYTH: The rule would regulate all ditches, even those that only flow after rainfall.

  • The proposed rule does not expand regulation of ditches.
  • The proposed rule would actually regulate fewer ditches than are currently covered under the 2008 Guidance.
  • For the first time, the agencies are clarifying that any ditch that does not connect to the tributary system or any upland ditch built wholly in uplands that flow less than year round are never jurisdictional.
  • Ditch maintenance activities do not require a CWA permit because they are exempt.

MYTH: This is the largest land grab in history.

  • Fewer waters would be covered under this rule than were protected in the 1970s.
  • The CWA is written and applied to protect clean waters, the lifeblood of communities, businesses, agriculture, energy development, and hunting and fishing across the nation.

MYTH:  Those 56 conservation practices may be exempt from 404 but not other parts of the Clean Water Act.

  • The 56 conservation practices were selected because they only involve section 404 discharges – dredged or fill material, and because they protect/enhance water quality.
  • The agencies are eager to promote landowner practices that help to enhance environmental protection and protect the nation’s clean water.
  • The agencies are clarifying that operators are exempt from the need to obtain a 404 permit when they follow any of these 56 conservation practices – practices that are good for farmers and for clean water.

MYTH:  EPA is increasing the number of jurisdictional waters by including ephemeral and intermittent streams as waters of the United States.

  • Ephemeral and intermittent streams have been covered under the Clean Water Act since the 1970s.
  • The agencies are clarifying that ephemeral drainages under tillage and grassy swales on farm fields are not waters of the United States.
  • Over 60% of tributaries nationwide have ephemeral or intermittent flow – the CWA recognizes that the health and water quality of larger streams, lakes and rivers depends on protecting the smaller streams and creeks that flow into them.

MYTH:  EPA is taking control of the pond in the middle of the farm.

  • The proposed rule does not change jurisdiction over farm or stock ponds.
  • The rule does not change the existing exemption Congress created for farm or stock ponds which are covered by the CWA.
  • Farmers and ranchers can continue to use and maintain their farm and stock ponds as they always have – this does not change.

MYTH:  Groundwater and drain tiles will be regulated under the CWA.

  • For the first time in regulation, the agencies are making clear that groundwater, including groundwater in drain tiles, is not covered by the CWA.
  • The agencies are also making clear that swales, erosional features, rills and gullies are never regulated.

MYTH:  Farmers need a permit for cows walking across a stream or wetland.

  • Farmers do not need a permit for cows walking across a stream or wetland.

Top five reasons you should “root” for soil health farmers on Earth Day 2014

Posted on | April 17, 2014 | No Comments

by Ron Nichols, USDA National Resources Conservation Service

View the original post here.

What's underneath? Healthy soil has amazing water-retention capacity. USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service is celebrating Earth Day by highlighting the importance of soil health.

 

Earth Day is next Tuesday.  To meet the growing sustainability challenges of the 21st Century, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is reminding people that many of the solutions are right at our feet — in the soil.

Here are the top five reasons NRCS says why on Earth Day 2014 you should “root” for soil health farmers:

5. A lot of people are coming to dinner. We all rely on the soil for our food and fiber. By the year 2050, an estimated 9 billion people will join us at Earth’s dinner table, meaning we’ll have to grow as much food in the next 40 years as we have in the past 500.

The Soil Health Solution: Improving soil health increases the productivity and function of our soil (including nutrient uptake to plants), which offers increased food security in a growing world.

4. There are fewer acres of land to grow the food we need. Globally, millions of acres of cropland are lost to development or resource degradation.

The Soil Health Solution: Improving soil health naturally can protect our working lands from erosion and desertification and ensure that our food-producing acres stay fertile and productive.

3. Weather extremes like drought and climate change pose increasing food production challenges.

The Soil Health Solution: Healthy soil is more resilient soil, with greater infiltration and water-holding capacity, which make farms more resistant to periods of drought. And since it holds more water, healthy soil helps reduce flooding during periods of intense rainfall.

2. There is growing competition for water and other food production resources — and many resources are limited (or in some cases finite) in their supply.

The Soil Health Solution: Healthy soils help optimize those inputs and maximize nutrient use efficiency. In addition, healthy soil keeps production inputs like fertilizers and pesticides on the land and out of our streams, lakes and oceans.

1. We can repair and rebuild it. For years, it was believed that a certain amount of cropland soil erosion was inevitable.

The Soil Health Solution: By using conservation techniques like cover crops, no-till and diverse crop rotations, an increasing number of farmers are proving that we can actually build our soils — and, in some instances, increase soil organic matter by as much as 3-4 percent. In the process, farmers are actually using less energy, maintaining or increasing production and improving their bottom lines. Meet some of those farmers.

In fact, there are many more reasons why soil health is important to all of us on Earth Day — and every day. Learn more about the basics and benefits of soil health and how NRCS is helping our nation’s farmers “Unlock the Secrets in the Soil.”

 

Healthy soil retains water, and is a key to the need to feed the world's estimated 9 billion people by 2050. (NRCS photo)

 

 

Family farms play key role in achieving the 25x’25 renewable energy vision

Posted on | April 16, 2014 | No Comments

by 25x’25 executive committee co-chairs Read Smith, a Washington state grain grower and former president of the National Association of Conservation Districts, and Bart Ruth, a Nebraska farmer and former president of the American Soybean Association

While the United Nations’ declaration of 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming cites the worthy role of family farms in alleviating hunger and poverty, providing food security, protecting the environment and improving livelihoods, the 25x’25 Alliance can also attest to their value in the development of renewable energy and in enhancing our nation’s energy security.

The 25x’25 Alliance is a coalition of agriculture, livestock, forestry, energy, business, civic, labor and governmental groups. The alliance holds that by 2025, America’s farms, ranches and forestlands will meet at least 25 percent of our nation’s energy needs with renewable resources, including biofuels, biomass, wind energy, solar power, geothermal energy and hydropower, all while providing a safe, ample and affordable supply of food, feed and fiber.

We are lifelong farmers who have had the good fortune of sustaining our own family operations and seen the benefits that family farms bring to a community. We contribute to the financial strength of the community by obtaining credit from local banks and purchasing most of our inputs, including fertilizer and equipment, from local businesses. We sell most of our products through local or regional markets, keeping the money within the community.

Family farmers are more solidly engaged in local community activities. They are responsible stewards of the land who live on or near the land they farm and, therefore, work to preserve and protect now and for future generations not only the land and livestock they tend, but their surroundings as well.

They virtually guarantee the preservation of green space, helping ensure that their land is not turned into housing or commercial developments, or into an industrial site.

Family farms also have a competitive advantage by positioning themselves over the generations to better buy land, invest in larger and more modern equipment and facilities, and diversify their business opportunities.

As part of that diversity, family farms over the past decade have taken the lead in promoting and accelerating renewable energy, taking advantage of these opportunities to add new revenue streams, while boosting the local economy and, on a broader scale, improving our environment and enhance the nation’s energy security.

As founding members of 25x’25, we have seen family farmers move to the forefront in the adoption of new land management practices and the use of new seed technologies to produce record levels of biofuel feedstocks in increasingly efficient and environmentally sustainable ways.

Livestock operations run by families spearhead the implementation of anaerobic digesters that convert animal waste into a fuel that helps power their operations and, in many cases, feeds electricity into the local grid.

Family farmers have led the way in availing land for the siting of wind turbines and solar farms that offer cleaner power alternatives while earning money through leasing agreements for projects that have minimal impact on their crop or livestock operations.

Much has been made in some media circles over what some have characterized the “demise” of family farms. While farms are getting larger – USDA’s Economic Research Service says the midpoint acreage for U.S. cropland (at which farms are either larger or smaller) close to doubled since the early 1980s, from about 590 acres to just more than 1,100 – it should be understood that nearly 97 percent of all U.S. farms are family-owned. And they represent 87 percent of all agriculture value generated.

While advances in crop, pesticide and equipment technology have reduced labor needs and driven the increase in farm size that, in turn, drives up returns, the principles of family farming have remained constant on those operations. The commitment to community and to a sustainable way of producing food, feed, fiber and, more recently, fuel, is paramount.

It is that dedication that family farmers bring to their operations that results in the best of outcomes, including innovative ways of producing renewable energy that will help meet the 25x’25 goal and benefit all of society.

Happy Tax Day from NFU

Posted on | April 15, 2014 | No Comments

by Lauren Becker, NFU intern

“In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” – Benjamin Franklin

Happy Tax Day, everyone! April 15 has rolled around again and here at NFU we hope you’ve completed your filing with Uncle Sam. Tax day is a deadline for personal income tax and for businesses, and it’s also a good time for an overview on action Congress has taken or is in the process of taking on tax issues.

The Senate Finance Committee has approved a bill to extend a series of expired and expiring tax provisions (called the EXPIRE Act). For farmers, the bill extends tax credits for biodiesel, cellulosic biofuels and energy efficiency improvements, and maintains the $500,000 maximum deduction for farm machinery. The also extends the renewable energy production tax credit (PTC) and investment tax credit (ITC) through Dec. 31, 2015.

However, the legislation does continue tax loopholes for the largest corporations, including oil companies that have already reaped $20 billion in tax breaks.[1] The House Committee on Ways and Means is expected to introduce a tax extender bill in the upcoming weeks as well.

We continue to hear cries about the so-called “death tax” in the news. The estate tax bill was passed in January 2013, making a $5 million exemption permanent. In reality, only a small number of family-owned farms and businesses owe any estate tax at all.[2] Agriculture and small businesses that meet use-qualifications have the benefit of a “special use valuation” that allows them to be assessed at the productive value rather than the fair market value, and thus not fall under the taxed category.[3] Opponents of the current tax policy greatly inflate the claims of any estate tax impact on America’s farmers and ranchers.

Lastly, beginning farmers state tax credit programs offer a boost to new farmers. Iowa and Nebraska offer generous beginning farmers tax credits to promote success for new farmers, and also provide tax credits for leasing equipment. Several states have also created a tax-free bond program which assists beginning farmers in purchasing land and equipment. These tax programs are in addition to several loan programs offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for beginning farmers and ranchers.

Whether you’re a new or veteran farmer, a small or large-scale farmer, one exploring biofuel production or energy efficiency, U.S. farm tax provisions can benefit you!


[1] Americans United for Change, “Tax Day is Payday for Oil Companies.” April 15, 2014. www.americansunitedforchange.org

[2] Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Myths and Realities about the Estate Tax,” Huang, Chye-Ching and Nathaniel Frentz, August 29, 2013. http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=2655

[3] Agweb, “Plan Your Estate,” Darrell Dunteman, March 22, 2014. http://www.agweb.com/Plan_Your_Estate_NAA_Darrell_Dunteman/

 

Self-reliance is the goal of Farmer Group 5 in Guédé Chantier, Senegal

Posted on | April 11, 2014 | No Comments

by Daryll E. Ray and Harwood D. Schaffer, Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tenn.

Read the original post at agpolicy.org.

In a conversation Harwood had with the Deputy Mayor of Guédé Chantier, Senegal, Amadou Sy, the Deputy Mayor talked about a recent meeting he had with the presidents of the various farmers’ groups. In that meeting he learned that Farmer Group 5 had CFA 11.5 million (approximately US$ 24,000) in a savings account while the other groups had nothing approaching that amount.

A couple of days later, Harwood had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Abu Samba Sow, the President of Farmer Group 5. He explained that the current farmer groups were established in 1993 when the dike was constructed around the community, covering up some fields thus necessitating a reassignment of fields to members of the community. The community was divided into 2 sections with each deciding on their own organizational pattern.

Section 1 established 5 groups and Group 5 elected Sow as President. As he says, “In my vision, I structured the organization of the group into three levels: the General Assembly, the Executive Board, and the Advisory Board. The most important group is the General Assembly. I was the President from 1993 to 2002 and then wanted to retire. So I called a meeting of the General Assembly and told them I wanted to rest. That created a big stir in Group 5 and the General Assembly said, ‘No, you cannot resign! What we will do is elect you as President and you choose the bureau members.’ I tried to say no, no, no, but finally what you cannot resist, you must accept.

“As for the management of my group, I really had to do it, though it was beyond my strength. To help me, I appointed bureau members and these appointments were validated by the General Assembly. The General Assembly asked the people holding office to exercise a strict discipline. The Executive Board and the 5 sub-groups I established, each led by a chief, had a precise set of tasks they were to achieve.

“The other farmer groups in Guédé Chantier are dependent upon the bank, but this is not true for Group 5. After a couple of years, group 5 decided that they couldn’t go without a savings account so they started one. The group expects each hectare to contribute to the financial security of the group. To accomplish their goal of financial security the group decided on their own set of rules.

“There are two categories of fines. Someone who does not work or misbehaves is fined for misbehavior. If the rules are broken, the leader determines the amount of the damage according to the seriousness from CFA 5,000 to CFA 50,000. These fines are put into the savings account. The group has community fields of 15 Ha and the profit from these are also put into the savings account. Part of our rules are that each campaign must pay its own debt. If you grow rice, you pay from that campaign not tomatoes.

“Every time we harvest, when the last person finishes their harvest, the deadline for payment is the next Monday. People are required to pay their debt with either cash or the crop immediately following harvest. Those who do not pay on time are fined. The sanction is different if they use the crop to feed their family or if they use it to invest in another plot of land outside the group, they are charged a percentage of the debt.

“Then everything we get from sanctions and fines goes into the account when we finish. We then harvest the weeds and sell them to the herders. This also goes into the savings account.

“Then we have boxes to carry tomatoes for weighing and the charges for the boxes are put into the account. All we have in common goes into the savings account.

“At the end of the harvest, we evaluate everything that did not work from a technical or financial perspective.

During the cool season (January – April), farmers in Guédé Chantier, Senegal plant tomatoes, maize, cabbage, onions, and okra. The field in the foreground is tomatoes. The fields in the center and back of the picture contain maize inter-planted with various vegetable crops. Many of the trees in the background are mango trees which were in bloom during Harwood's February visit. They will bear fruit later in the year.

“Last Saturday (February 8, 2014) we had a General Assembly and I invited a director of the bank who spent the day with us. During our last evaluation we realized that we had CFA 11.5 million. For the new crop we have a loan from the bank for approximately CFA 25 million and CFA 8 million from the group bank account. 28 percent of the cost of putting in the new crop comes from the savings of the Group 5. The interest we will pay back to the bank is CFA 1.5 million. We realized that if this interest rate was going back into our savings account, we could soon fund our own loans. Our objective is to fully fund our farming activities.

“The transparency of the leadership group is very important. We have three campaigns a year: dry, rain, cool. We meet at length three times a year as the General Assembly before sowing. The leadership visits each field visit three times during each campaign. The Executive Board calculates the dues for each person in the group and that money is put into the savings account. The General assembly meets at least 9 times a year plus the annual meeting and the Executive Board schedules a meeting whenever necessary.”

One of the goals that the community leaders and Harwood set for themselves is to find ways for the other farmer groups to learn the self-management tools that Group 5 has developed. In that way the farmers can exercise greater control over their financial and agricultural destiny. If the groups have adequate financial reserves, then they can finance crops other than those the bank is willing to finance—rice, tomatoes, and onions—and find additional ways to improve the financial and nutritional stability of Guédé Chantier.

Daryll E. Ray holds the Blasingame Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Policy, Institute of Agriculture, University of Tennessee, and is the Director of UT’s Agricultural Policy Analysis Center (APAC). Harwood D. Schaffer is a Research Assistant Professor at APAC. (865) 974-7407; Fax: (865) 974-7298; dray@utk.edu and hdschaffer@utk.edu; http://www.agpolicy.org.

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National Farmers Union was founded in 1902 in Point, Texas, to help the family farmer address profitability issues and monopolistic practices. NFU works to protect and enhance the economic well-being and quality of life for family farmers, ranchers and rural communities through advocating grassroots-driven policy positions adopted by its membership.
Learn more at nfu.org

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