Organic Farmers: Be heard through the Organic Seed Survey

It’s the peak of the growing season, with farmers out on their land plucking off tomatoes and digging up carrots. But come winter, these farmers will be tucked away in their offices planning next year’s crop. Will they use organic seeds? How will they source them?

Since 2008 the top eight global seed firms have gobbled up 70-plus smaller seed companies. Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta control over half of the market—a sharp increase from the mid 1990′s when the top three seed corporations controlled 22 percent of the industry.[1] (Check out this excellent infographic for more). That consolidation over seeds – the genetic source of all the food we eat – has had dramatic impact on family farmers, and organic farmers in particular.

The Organic Seed Alliance’s national seed survey aims to understand the impact of those most affected by this consolidation: organic farmers. Every five years, OSA’s survey results highlight the needs of organic farmers and the availability of organic seeds and seed quality to inform future policy and research. The findings are published in their State of Organic Seed report.  View the 2011 report here.

OSA’s last survey gathered responses from 1,027 organic farmers in 45 states and demonstrated a lack of availability and quantity of organic seeds. Nearly 80% of respondents said they were having some degree of difficulty sourcing organic seeds. Contributing factors included: concentration in the seed industry, cutbacks in plant breeding programs, and disagreement and confusion over how to implement the National Organic Program. Concentration in the industry is particularly problematic for organic farmers, as it leads to a dearth of organic seeds and varieties.

OSA’s national seed survey is vital in determining the barriers and the opportunities in the organic seed industry and in discovering how farmers are using, or not using, organic seeds.

If you are a certified organic crop producer, please consider taking this confidential survey.

The deadline for responding is October 3, 2014. Access the survey here.

Sources:

1. Wendy, Banks (2013). “Biotech Infographic Shows Global Consolidation Of Seed Industry.” The Sleuth Journal. October 15, 2013. Available:http://www.thesleuthjournal.com/biotech-infographic-shows-global-consolidation-seed-industry/

Land Transfer, Succession and Tenure Resource Roundup

The average age of farmers in America is 57, a figure that consistently is on the rise. As a result, farmland succession is becoming of greater concern while beginning farmers are simultaneously struggling to find affordable farmland. Luckily, there are plenty of resources available for farmers that can help with land transfer, tenure and succession planning.

International Farm Transition Network (IFTN) 

The IFTN website lists all land link organizations by state. Land link currently exists in 23 states as a resource that connects farmers that are seeking land with farmland that is for sale or lease. Oftentimes, these programs assist farmers with lease negotiation and can even provide financial support during the process. Some land link programs offer succession planning training or resources.

California FarmLink offers an extensive online list of resources available to farmers seeking to buy or sell land.

Land Trust Alliance

The Land Trust Alliance offers an online map with listings of all land trust organizations by state. A land trust is an organization that works to conserve land through helping with the process of easement attainment or management. An agricultural easement is an important tool in dealing with succession, allowing farmers to dictate what their land is used for after it is sold. This can be invaluable to a farmer by restricting development on the land after it is passed on so it is farmed in the future.

The Greenhorns

 The Greenhorns offers an Access to Land guide that provides links to resources focusing on incubator farms, farm link programs, lease agreements, agricultural and conservation easements and land tenure.

Agrarian Trust

The Agrarian Trust resource page contains a growing list of resources that can help with many aspects of land access, transfer and succession planning. Some of the categories covered in this list include: accessing land, financing and financial planning, agricultural mediation and legal services, succession planning, and much more!

Land for Good

This 2013 Resource Spotlight highlights succession guides that are available to assist with the farm succession process. The publications cover everything “from setting goals to understanding legal and financial terms used in farmland and business transfers.”

The site’s Toolbox page also contains resources pertaining to land access, tenure and transfer separated into the following categories: farm seekers, farm transfer planning, landowners, educators and advisors and communities.

Land Stewardship Project

The Land Stewardship Project, in partnership with the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, Farmers Legal Action Group, National Center for Appropriate Technology and the United States Department of Agriculture, developed the Farm Transitions Toolkit. This comprehensive guide provides step-by-step information and advice on the transition process.

Are you a beginning farmer with questions about land access? Check out our Beginning Farmer and Farm Start-Up Resource Guides for more information!

Finding USDA grant and loan opportunities

The most difficult form of aid for farmers to reach is by way of funding. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and many of its associated agencies have grant and loan opportunities available for farmers. Check out the programs below to see if any are right for you, and get those applications in before it’s too late.

Rural Development:

Rural Energy for America Program

Eligibility:

  • Agricultural producer or rural small business
  • Additional restrictions may apply

This program is intended to help “install renewable energy systems such as solar panels or anaerobic digesters, make energy efficiency improvements such as installing irrigation pumps or replacing ventilation systems, and conduct energy audits and feasibility studies.” There are three grant or loan programs under the Rural Energy for America Program including The Renewable Energy System and Energy Efficiency Improvement Guaranteed Loan and Grant Program, The Energy Audit and Renewable Energy Development Assistance Grant Program and The Feasibility Studies Grant Program.

National Resources Conservation Services Financial Assistance Programs: 

Environmental Quality Incentives Program

Eligibility:

  • Control or own eligible land
  • Comply with adjusted gross income limitation provisions
  • Be in compliance with the highly erodible and wetland conservation requirements
  • Develop a National Resources Conservation Services Environmental Quality Incentives Program plan of operations

This program is intended to provide support for producers and landowners working to “deliver environmental benefits such as improved water and air quality, conserved ground and surface water, reduced soil erosion and sedimentation or improved or created wildlife habitat.”

Conservation Stewardship Program

Eligibility:

  • Control or own eligible lands
  • Agree to meet or exceed stewardship threshold for at least one additional priority resource concern by end of contract
  • Additional restrictions may apply

Funding from the Conservation Stewardship Program is meant to support producers in the maintenance and improvement of conservation systems and activities. Payments are made based on “conservation performance.”

Agricultural Management Assistance Program

Eligibility:

  • A producer in one of the following states: Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia or Wyoming
  •  Own or control eligible lands
  • Agree to implement and maintain conservation practices for the life of the practice

This program is designed to assist producers with conservation as a means to manage risk and address resource issues.

Farm Service Agency Loans:

Click here to find your local Farm Service Agency.

Farm Operating Loans and Microloans

What it’s for: Livestock and feed; farm equipment; fuel, farm chemicals, insurance and other operating costs, including family living expenses; minor improvements or repairs to buildings; refinance certain farm-related debts, excluding real estate

Farm Ownership Loans

What it’s for: Purchase farmland; construct and repair buildings; make farm improvements

Emergency Farm Loans

What it’s for: Restore or replace essential property; pay all or part of production costs associated with the disaster year; pay essential family living expenses; reorganize the farming operation; refinance certain debts, excluding real estate.

Rural Youth Loans

What it’s for: These loans are designed to support individual youths in their projects through 4-H clubs, FFA or other like-minded organizations. These loans can be used to fund the purchase of livestock, seed equipment and supplies; the purchase, rent or repair of needed tools and equipment; operating expenses for the project.

Note that some Farm Service Agency loans are appropriated to assist minority or women farmers and beginning farmers and ranchers.

National Institute of Food and Agriculture Grants Available to Individuals:

Agriculture Food Research Initiative – Foundational Program: Agriculture Economics and Rural Communities

Application Deadline: 4/28/2014

Eligibility:

  • 1862 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1890 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1994 Land-Grant Institutions
  • For-profit Organizations Other Than Small Businesses
  • Hispanic-Serving Institutions
  • Individuals
  • Native American Tribal Orgs, not Federally recognized Tribal Governments
  • Nonprofits with 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Nonprofits without 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Other or Additional Information (See below)
  • Small Business
  • State Agricultural Experiment Stations
  • State Controlled Institutions of Higher Ed

The purpose of the grant is to expand on research and analysis of sustainable agricultural practices in rural areas.

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – Foundational Program: Agriculture Economics and Rural Communities

Application Deadline: 4/28/2014

Eligibility:

  • 1862 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1890 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1994 Land-Grant Institutions
  • For-profit Organizations Other Than Small Businesses
  • Hispanic-Serving Institutions
  • Individuals
  • Nonprofits with 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Nonprofits without 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Other or Additional Information (See below)
  • Private Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Small Business
  • State Agricultural Experiment Stations
  • State Controlled Institutions of Higher Ed

Its purpose is to discover innovative ideas strategies to sustainably improve the quality of rural life and/or agricultural production.

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – Foundational Program: Animal Health and Production and Animal Products

Application Deadline: 5/1/2014

Eligibility:

  • 1862 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1890 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1994 Land-Grant Institutions
  • For-profit Organizations Other Than Small Businesses
  • Hispanic-Serving Institutions
  • Individuals
  • Nonprofits with 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Nonprofits without 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Other or Additional Information (See below)
  • Private Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Small Business
  • State Agricultural Experiment Stations
  • State Controlled Institutions of Higher Ed

Applicants of this grant should intend to tackle an area of the Program Area Priorities in the Animal Health and Production and Animal Products. For more information and a complete description click on the link above.

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – Food Security

Application Deadline: 6/12/2014

Eligibility:

  • 1862 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1890 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1994 Land-Grant Institutions
  • For-profit Organizations Other Than Small Businesses
  • Hispanic-Serving Institutions
  • Individuals
  • Native American Tribal Orgs, not Federally recognized Tribal Governments
  • Nonprofits with 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Nonprofits without 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Other or Additional Information (See below)
  • Private Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Small Business
  • State Agricultural Experiment Stations
  • State Controlled Institutions of Higher Ed

The grant is designed to support projects that develop and enhance “sustainable, integrated management strategies that reduce pre and post-harvest losses caused by diseases, insects and weeds in crop and animal production systems.”

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – Foundational Program: Critical Agricultural Research and Extension

Application Deadline: 8/7/2014

Eligibility:

  • 1862 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1890 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1994 Land-Grant Institutions
  • For-profit Organizations Other Than Small Businesses
  • Hispanic-Serving Institutions
  • Individuals
  • Nonprofits with 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Nonprofits without 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Other or Additional Information (See below)
  • Private Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Small Business
  • State Agricultural Experiment Stations
  • State Controlled Institutions of Higher Ed

Its intent is to immediately implement solutions related to critical problems behind efficient production through partnerships among “researchers, extension experts and producers.”

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – Dual Purpose with Dual Benefit: Research in Biomedicine and Agriculture Using Agriculturally Important Domestic Species

Application Deadline: 9/24/2014

Eligibility:

  • 1862 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1890 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1994 Land-Grant Institutions
  • For-profit Organizations Other Than Small Businesses
  • Hispanic-Serving Institutions
  • Individuals
  • Nonprofits with 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Nonprofits without 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Other or Additional Information (See below)
  • Private Institutions of Higher Ed
  • State Agricultural Experiment Stations
  • State Controlled Institutions of Higher Ed

The purpose of this funding is to “utilize agriculturally important domestic species to improve human health and animal agriculture through the advancement of basic and translational research deemed highly relevant to both agricultural and biomedical research.”

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – Foundational Program: Exploratory

Application Deadline: 9/30/2014

Eligibility:

  • 1862 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1890 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1994 Land-Grant Institutions
  • For-profit Organizations Other Than Small Businesses
  • Hispanic-Serving Institutions
  • Individuals
  • Nonprofits with 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Nonprofits without 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Other or Additional Information (See below)
  • Private Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Small Business
  • State Agricultural Experiment Stations
  • State Controlled Institutions of Higher Ed

Funding is intended to enhance “innovative ideas” that will place the US in the forefront of the worldwide agricultural industry.

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – Foundational Program

Application Deadline: 9/30/2014

Eligibility:

  • 1862 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1890 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1994 Land-Grant Institutions
  • For-profit Organizations Other Than Small Businesses
  • Hispanic-Serving Institutions
  • Individuals
  • Native American Tribal Orgs, not Federally recognized Tribal Governments
  • Nonprofits with 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Nonprofits without 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Other or Additional Information (See below)
  • Private Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Small Business
  • State Agricultural Experiment Stations
  • State Controlled Institutions of Higher Ed

This program is to support grants in one of six Agriculture and Food Research Initiative priority areas, which include: “Plant Health and Production and Plant Products; Animal Health and Production and Animal Products; Food Safety, Nutrition, and Health; Renewable Energy, Natural Resources, and Environment; Agriculture Systems and Technology; and Agriculture Economics and Rural Communities.”

 This information was taken from the USDA website. For more information visit: http://1.usa.gov/1hTfobz

 

Food and farm webinar roundup

What is a webinar, you ask? A webinar is essentially an online educational video that typically discusses a specific topic. Many organizations listed in our Farmer Research Network online search tool provide this type of resource to assist agricultural producers. While some of these webinars require advanced registration, other videos are archived for farmers and ranchers to watch anytime! From conservation tips and tools to learning to start a farm, there are plenty of agriculture webinars available to farmers. Here are some trusted websites with webinars that can help:

National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA) 

ATTRA, a division of the National Center for Appropriate Technology, maintains an ongoing archive of its webinars focused on different areas of sustainable agriculture. Want to learn how to build a better relationship with your lamb processor? How about organic farm conservation? With 55 archived webinars and a growing library, this is the site to visit for all things sustainable.

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Many branches of the USDA developed webinars to assist and educate producers. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) created a library of various videos related to conservation. These webinars span topics ranging from “Planning for Floodplain and Riparian Area Special Environmental Concerns” to “Conserving Pollinators While Addressing Other Resource Concerns.” Each webinar is hosted by a lineup of experts, many of which are USDA employees.

The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) developed a series of webinars that air twice a month from January through June of 2014 focusing on farm to school programs. All of these videos are archived in an FNS library in addition to a host of other webinars from the past two years.

The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service created an ongoing series of fruit and vegetable webinars archived here.

The USDA’s Forest Service developed the “Invasive Plants—Issues, Challenges and Discoveries Webinar Series” intended for landowners, agriculture professionals and scientists. This seven-part series will run through May, 2014, and information on each can be found here.

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)

While NSAC doesn’t have a library of archived webinars, the organization hosts several training webinars throughout the year. These training sessions cover many different topics, like how to market your agricultural business through building connections with the media or this overview of cover crops based on updated USDA termination guidelines. To stay up-to-date on the latest NSAC webinar, check out its website or like the organization on Facebook.

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)

The different SARE branches created varying series of webinars. North Central SARE offers webinars focusing on greenhouse energy, cover crops, building local sustainable foods and irrigation energy.  Southern SARE provides a webinar on “Grafting for Disease Management in Organic Tomato Production.” Farmers and ranchers can also order archived webinar series from Northeast SARE focusing on marketing for profit or farmland transfer and access.

Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN)

WFAN has a library of webinars that focus on empowering female farmers. These webinars cover a diverse range of topics within this realm, but each is meant to give women the tools they need to succeed. That may be on a policy level, such as the “Policy—When The Personal Becomes Political” video, which engages women leaders to explain how individuals can further policy goals. There are also more abstract videos, like this webinar that discusses the power of blogging.

Farm Commons 

Farm Commons creates and archives webinars focused on dealing with legal issues that can impact farm operations. The organization supplements these videos with downloadable resources. These webinars cover topics relevant to beginning and advanced growers alike, with titles ranging from “ Starting a Farm” to “Community Supported Agriculture Legal Issues.”

Rodale Institute 

While the Rodale Institute hasn’t released any webinars yet, stay tuned! The organization is in the works of creating a schedule of webinar trainings. In the meantime, Rodale developed a page with helpful videos from its conferences and workshops.

 

 

New and Improved NRCS Web Soil Survey

If you need details about the soils on your farm, look no further than the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Web Soil Survey. Using this online tool you can map out the soils on your land and learn important information to ensure crop nutrition, soil fertility and soil and water conservation activities. This tool is especially useful for beginning farmers and new farm occupants so that they can get a better sense of the land that they will farm.

NRCS recently announced the latest version of the web soil survey. The new version includes improved maps, increased Area of Interest acreage, and upgraded options for changing map properties. You can also access the survey online 24 hours a day.

FDA’s proposal to the Food Safety Modernization Act threatens family farmers and sustainable practices

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that was passed by Congress in 2010 was the first major update to federal food safety laws in 72 years. Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released proposed laws to implement the provisions in the FSMA. These new rules leave out crucial aspects of the bill that were initially created to protect small, mid-sized and sustainable farmers.

While there needs to be an up-to-date and feasibly implemented food safety law, the FDA’s current proposal would force many family farmers to pay significant compliant costs. These fees could cost farmers up to half of their profits without many of the protections currently allotted to them. If passed the law potentially threatens local food sources, placing any farm with a profit of over $500,000 on the same level as any industrial agricultural conglomerate. The proposal also ignores Congress’ initial mandate that the FSMA must comply with The National Organic Program, making it difficult for farmers to implement natural or organic practices.

At this year’s concert, Farm Aid teamed up with our resource partner, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), to form a petition that concertgoers could sign against the FDA’s proposal. You can take a stand for family farmers and sustainable agriculture by signing that petition here. There is a comment period on the proposed rules until November 15, so NSAC created a comprehensive guide to form comments to the FDA for consumers and farmers alike supporting local food systems and family farmers.

Conservation Stewardship Program Deadline Extended to June 14

The deadline for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) has been extended to June 14th, 2013. The CSP is a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that aims to protect natural resources and the environment on land in agricultural production. This program supplies farmers and ranchers with the tools they need—both technical and financial—to employ conservation activities on their land, as well as support existing projects. This year the NRCS’ goal is to accept 12 million acres into the program.

For more information about CSP, visit the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s CSP factsheet and their Farmer’s Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program, where information about eligibility, step-by-step enrollment guidance, and helpful hints can be found.

Conservation Stewardship Program passes Congress — Apply Now!

In the first four enrollment years for CSP (2009-2012), more than 39,000 farmers and ranchers operating over 50 million acres of farm and ranch land that is now under five-year, renewable CSP conservation contracts. Annual CSP payments are currently $680 million a year!

The CSP is a working lands conservation program administered by the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and available on a nationwide basis. CSP offers technical and financial assistance to farmers for adopting and maintaining high standards of resource conservation and environmental stewardship.  Assistance is geared to both the active management of existing conservation systems and for implementing new conservation activities on land in agricultural production.  Find the enrollment alert here!

Application forms are available at your local NRCS state offices and farmers should visit their local service center to sign up.  State offices will have information on priority resource concerns for your state and agents available to help farmers.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has created an essential guide to help farmers learn how to apply for the CSP and includes a list of organizations that can assist with the application process.  The Land Stewardship Project has a useful and up-to-date fact sheet.

On-Farm Water Stewardship Resources

Water conservation practices hold incredible potential for reducing farmer’s use of increasingly expensive and precious water resources.

The Ecological Farming Association’s Water Stewardship Project provides education and outreach materials about implementing on-farm water conservation measures, including a variety of resources, and videos case-studies.

The California Agricultural Water Stewardship Initiative also offers a variety of resources for water stewardship practices, including a helpful overview of different water stewardship approaches and practices and an extensive library of publications, technical services agencies, organizations and policy papers on the topic.

We also recommend checking out the USDA’s California State Natural Resources Conservation Service YouTube videos, providing a quick glimpse into some of the Agency’s most popular conservation opportunities.