USDA Under Secretary Ed Avalos urged the National Grange to become involved in crafting a solution to the second adverse ruling on Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) by the World Trade Organization (WTO). Avalos said Secretary Vilsack would welcome the Grange’s input. Under the WTO ruling, it’s not a question of whether the U.S. must change its stance on COOL but how such changes can prevent retaliatory trade practices by Canada and Mexico. The Agricultural Marketing Service, which is the lead U.S. charged with COOL implementation, reports directly to Avalos.
National Grange President Ed Luttrell and Legislative Director Burton Eller met October 21 in Washington, DC with National Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman and Public Policy Director Dale Moore. They discussed the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling against the U.S. Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) law and the regulations issued by USADA which were successfully challenged by Canada and Mexico . The WTO ruling opens the door for trade sanctions by Mexico and Canada against US products entering those countries. Both organizations pledged to work toward a solution to COOL that will be WTO compliant and prevent sanctions against U.S. goods and services. Both organizations are committed to continuing the fight against the proposed EPA and Corps of Engineers Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) regulations. They also discussed potential legislative agendas for the post-election lame duck session of congress as well the anticipated political and regulatory climates in Washington for 2015.
Hopewell Grange honored the Sacred Heart-Griffin High School football team and boosters from Springfield, Illinois as the winner of their non-member community service winner this year. On Nov. 17, a deadly tornado devastated the town of Washington, Illinois. While several players and their families “lost everything” and more than fifteen Washington football players lost their homes or were displaced because of the tornado, the football season continued. Less than a week later, Washington High School and Sacred Heart- Griffin High School played a Class 5A playoff semifinal game. After learning of the tornado’s destruction, Sacred Heart-Griffin football coach and athletic director Ken Leonard hosted a team meeting with Bob Brenneisen, the Sacred Heart-Griffin High School assistant principal and assistant coach. They asked their football families to help the Washington team. Anne Dondanville and Michele Reavy, two freshman football moms were instrumental in organizing the volunteers. The Sacred Heart-Griffin High School community sent water and organized nine charter buses for Washington fans, as many had vehicles that were destroyed or inaccessible. The Springfield school gave more than $75,000 to Washington, and provided a pregame snack and postgame dinner for the team and its families. The footballs used by Sacred Heart-Griffin during their Saturday’s Class 5A championship win belonged to the Washington team. Last spring on awards assembly at the end of the school year, Gary and Elaine Hecathorn, President and community service chairman of Hopewell Grange presented the plaque for winning the Hopewell non-member award. This past September, they again made the same trip to Sacred Heart- Griffin’s homecoming assembly to present the plaque for winning the Illinois State Grange non-member community service award. This is the thank you that Hopewell Grange received from Sister Margaret Joanne, Principal of Sacred Heart – Griffin School.
Thank you for the award. You have brought good, positive attention to our students. We are proud of them and their service. Thanks for coming to our assembly/pep rally. May God bless all farmers and those who work hard, love the land, and provide food for our tables. Blessings to you and The Grange.
- New Whole-Farm Revenue Protection Insurance Premium Subsidy Established
WASHINGTON, Oct. 3, 2014 — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Risk Management Agency (RMA) today announced that a premium subsidy has been established to offer more affordable protection to eligible diversified farm operations, as part of the new Whole-Farm Revenue Protection insurance policy. Read more
- USDA Invests Nearly $118 Million to Support America’s Specialty Crop Producers
MIAMI, Fla, Oct. 2, 2014 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced nearly $118 million in grants to strengthen markets for specialty crops, such as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, horticulture and nursery crops. The grants were authorized through the 2014 Farm Bill as part of an effort to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops and provide resources to strengthen American agriculture. The Secretary made the announcement in Florida. Read more
- To Ensure the Best Outcomes for Rural Americans, Better Provisions Needed in Federal Broadband Plan
Today’s global economy demands that every participant have access to reliable, high-speed Internet in order to attain a level playing field to actively participate in the virtual business marketplace. Although rural America constitutes 15% of our total population, it is these men and women and families who keep food on our tables, fuel in our cars and provide energy for our homes and businesses. We owe it to them to implement the infrastructure to provide broadband internet services. Americans living in rural areas still lack access to this vital resource. Read more
We urge our State Grange partners who have not already done so to submit comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in opposition to the proposed rule which would essentially expand EPA and Corps of Engineers jurisdiction over all waters of the United States. Practically all farmers, ranchers, land owners, rural small businesses and rural homeowners will be affected should this regulation become final as proposed.
EPA has been given regulatory powers over navigable waterways by Congress. The proposed Waters of the U.S. regulations will give EPA and the Corps new jurisdiction over most rural lands and surface water in America. With such authority, the EPA and Corps would have the legal right to oversee land use and production practices all across the rural landscape. This is not necessary. All waters of the U.S. are not threatened, endangered or impaired. For those waters that are below current standards, EPA already has ample statutory authority to take action on a situation-by-situation basis. This proposal is increasingly bring viewed as a regulatory overreach by the executive branch of the federal government.
We urge you to file your State Grange comments by Friday, November 14. Please encourage all Pomona and Community Grangers to file comments as well. Ask EPA to withdraw the proposal. CLICK HERE for instructions about writing, addressing and filing (either by mail or email) comments.
The Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy sent a formal letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and the Corps Maj. Gen. John Peabody urging them to withdraw the proposed rule. The SBA Office of Advocacy says the proposed rule is in error because:
1) The Agencies use the incorrect baseline for Regulatory Flexibility Act certification
2) The rule imposes costs directly on small business
3) The rule will have significant economic impact on small business
4) The limited economic analysis which the agencies submitted with the rule provides ample evidence of a potentially significant economic impact
5) The Office of Advocacy advises the agencies to withdraw the rule
In other action, a coalition of 63 business group members of the Waters Advocacy Coalition sent a nine-page letter to McCarthy and Secretary of the Army John McHugh outlining their “serious concerns” such as:
1) The agencies continue to issue new explanations throughout the comment period creating a moving target for public comment
2) Separate from the proposed rule-making, the agencies are redefining the “ordinary high water mark” without the required public notice and comment
3) The Scientific Advisory Board has raised serious concerns with significant components of the proposed rule
4) EPA maps that rely on U.S. Geological Service data depict only a portion of the land and waters subject to the proposed rule
5) The agencies have failed to engage the States and the small business community
2014 Farm Bill Required Policy Offers Diversified Farms More Affordable Protection
WASHINGTON, Oct. 3, 2014 — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Risk Management Agency (RMA) today announced that a premium subsidy has been established to offer more affordable protection to eligible diversified farm operations, as part of the new Whole-Farm Revenue Protection insurance policy.
Whole-Farm Revenue Protection, required by the 2014 Farm Bill, will be offered through the RMA managed federal crop insurance program. The new policy will offer fruit and vegetable growers and producers with diversified farms selling commodities to wholesale markets, local and regional markets, farm identity preserved markets, or direct markets, more flexible, affordable risk management coverage options.
“Crop insurance options continue to adapt to meet the farm safety net needs of today’s farmers,” said RMA Administrator Brandon Willis. “Whole-Farm Revenue Protection insurance will expand options for specialty crop, organic and diversified crop producers, allowing them to insure all the crops at once instead of one commodity at a time. That gives them the option of promoting crop diversity and helps support the production of a wider variety of healthy foods.”
MIAMI, Fla, Oct. 2, 2014 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced nearly $118 million in grants to strengthen markets for specialty crops, such as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, horticulture and nursery crops. The grants were authorized through the 2014 Farm Bill as part of an effort to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops and provide resources to strengthen American agriculture. The Secretary made the announcement in Florida.
“Specialty crop grants provide a major boost to the rural economies,” said Secretary Vilsack. “Today’s announcement is another example of how USDA is implementing the Farm Bill to deliver critical tools producers need to successfully grow, process and market high-quality products.”
Sales of specialty crops total nearly $65 billion per year, making them a critical part of the U.S. economy. The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), will provide $66 million to state departments of agriculture for projects that help support specialty crop growers, including locally grown fruits and vegetables, through research and programs to increase demand. In addition, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is awarding $51.8 million in grants through its Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI). SCRI supports the specialty crop sector by developing and disseminating science-based tools to address the needs of specific crops.
The New England Grange Building was host to Grange members and dignitaries during the “Big E” in West Springfield, MA.
“USDA Deputy Under Secretary of Agriculture Elvis Cordova paid a visit to the New England Grange Building during the Eastern States Exposition in September. Referred to as the big “White House”, the Grange Building plays an important role in the Big E’s agricultural heritage. It was built through the cooperation of the six New England Granges (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont) and dedicated during the Hurricane of 1936. Inside, fair-goers learn about agriculture, farm families and community service, see prize-winning exhibits, and shop at the Grange Country Store. The Big E is located in West Springfield, Massachusetts.”
By Joan C. Smith, President, Potomac Grange #1
Today’s global economy demands that every participant have access to reliable, high-speed Internet in order to attain a level playing field to actively participate in the virtual business marketplace. Although rural America constitutes 15% of our total population, it is these men and women and families who keep food on our tables, fuel in our cars and provide energy for our homes and businesses. We owe it to them to implement the infrastructure to provide broadband internet services. Americans living in rural areas still lack access to this vital resource.
Historically, rural areas have been the last to gain access to new conveniences. Broadband Internet, however, is not merely a convenience—it is essential to the business of agriculture, farming and ranching and nearly every other aspect of life in rural America. Rural communities are profoundly and adversely affected by poor access to high-speed Internet. Right now we have the chance to change that once and for all with appropriate reforms during Phase II of the Connect America Fund (CAF) plan; it’s up to the Federal Communications Commission to make the right choices.
There’s a lot at stake with the CAF initiative, so we must get it right; the consequences, good or bad, could stretch over decades. The National Grange has always advocated for updating rural infrastructure, as it did for the railroads and rural postal delivery, and now the emphases is with rural broadband Internet. Modern farming and ranching is like any other business; it relies heavily on technology and information. Dairy production and crop yields can be monitored and data shared in real time between different farms and the marketplace. Commodities prices can also be followed to help determine what crops to plant and when to harvest.
CAF was first developed in 2011, with the goal of connecting as many as 7 million un-served rural Americans by 2017 and all of the country’s 19 million un-served individuals living in rural areas by 2020; yet it still is not finalized and hasn’t even begun to be put into practice. CAF calls for $1.8 billion in funding, but how best to use this funding to effectively build out broadband infrastructure to rural areas is the real issue at hand. Regrettably, it seems significant changes need to be made to the existing plan during Phase II to deliver the most essential outcomes.
The plan is centered on more than doubling required download speed from 4 Mbps to 10 Mbps. That would be fantastic, but it won’t make a big difference if other related aspects of the CAF plan are not improved as well.
Consider the way in which broadband coverage is measured. Right now, “Census blocks” are used, and as long as part of the block has access, it is counted as being covered. Yet within each “block” there are households left without the service, perpetuating the digital divide for those individuals and families while keeping up the appearance of closing the gap in access. Higher standards and independent verification of different providers’ broadband coverage claims can ameliorate this problem.
Moreover, unlicensed, fixed Wireless Internet Services, or WISPs, are being treated as suitable alternatives to real facilities-based fiber infrastructure, not true. The FCC’s regulatory assumption is that a WISP provides reliable connectivity to an entire area, but that just isn’t accurate. Capacity can be very limited in these networks, and there are issues like line-of-sight (LOS) and spectrum interference. WISPs really aren’t acceptable as primary infrastructure, but can be useful in a supporting function.
Providers still need better incentives to build out the infrastructure to reach rural areas, the most isolated, and hard-to-reach areas. Connect America Fund (CAF) resources can be used to share some of the financial burden for those efforts. Providers should be held to elevated but reasonable standards and need enough flexibility to handle the unexpected hindrances that are bound to occur with a project like this.
Finally, let’s extend the planned funding period to a full ten (10) years to ensure this work is steadily and properly carried out.
Perhaps most important, our families and communities can be strengthened through better access and higher download speeds. Jobs can be created and local economies improved. Services that eliminate some travel over large distances in many rural areas, such as telemedicine and distance learning, can save energy, develop a better rural workforce and improve quality of life. The majority of our nation’s farmers and ranchers are small business owners, internet utilization informs them of new agricultural technologies to enhance their production thereby providing higher yields to meet our growing demand for food, fiber and fuel.
Rural Americans need and deserve equal access to top-notch broadband Internet service. As a fifth-generation Granger myself, I urge the FCC to enact the “right rules and regulations” to get the most out of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity Connect America Fund (CAF) Phase II represents.
Joan C. Smith is President of Potomac Grange #1, Washington, DC. The National Grange, founded in 1867, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan fraternal organization that advocates for rural America and agriculture. With a strong history in grassroots activism, family values and community service, the Grange is part of more than 2,100 hometowns across the United States.