here are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.
Aldo Leopold

28 September 2005

FSA Offices Targeted for Closure

Another sign of the times.

Nearly one-third of Farm Service Agency offices targeted for closure
By Jerry Hagstrom, CongressDailyPM

The Agriculture Department late Friday sent members of Congress a state-by-state chart showing that it plans to close 30.3 percent, or 713, of the 2,350 Farm Service Agency county offices in the 48 continental states.

These offices, which were created in the 1930s, certify farmers for farm programs and pay out farm subsidies and disaster payments. The number of offices to be closed was higher than the 655 listed in an internal USDA memo obtained by the Associated Press earlier this month. Revelations of that memo led the Senate last week to amend the fiscal 2006 Agriculture appropriations bill restricting the USDA's authority to close county offices.

The USDA sent the information on the number of offices the FSA wants to close to Capitol Hill only hours after Agriculture Secretary Johanns issued a news release that FSA Administrator Jim Little, a longtime civil servant, had resigned to work on hurricane relief efforts.
Full story: http://www.govexec.com/story_page.cfm?articleid=32410&dcn=e_gvet

23 September 2005

Country Life and Incompleteness

In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed a Commission on Country Life, with Liberty Hyde Bailey as its chair. Bailey described the country life movement as �the working out of the desire to make rural civilization as effective and satisfying as other civilization. � The Commission held thirty public hearings throughout the country, circulated over half a million brief questionnaires, and held numerous other meetings. Its report, edited by Bailey, was printed in 1911 and republished in 1944. The Commission offered three recommendations: a nationalized extension service, which was formalized by the passage of the Smith-Lever Act in 1914; continuing fact-finding surveys, fostering the development of agricultural economics and rural sociology in universities and the federal government; and a campaign for rural progress.

Bailey always saw agriculture as an academic discipline. To him, the fundamental purpose of education was to serve the people, and he believed that the resolution of agricultural problems was as important as cultural, ethical, and legal issues.

�I like the man who has an incomplete course�.If the man has acquired a power for work, a capacity for initiative and investigation, an enthusiasm for the daily life his incompleteness is his strength. How much there is before him! How eager his eyes! How enthusiastic his temper! He is a man with a point of view, not a man with mere facts. This man will see first big and significant things; he will grasp relationships; he will correlate; later he will consider the details.� � Liberty Hyde Bailey

(Photo-Liberty Hyde Bailey with Hortorium Specimens, 1949. Cornell University)

19 September 2005

There is a Yeoman...

A diligent, dependable worker.

A farmer who cultivates his own land, especially a member of a former class of small freeholders.

14 September 2005

Updates on Disaster and Ag

Here is a potpourri of ag disaster resources for your reading pleasure:

The newest issue of Southern SAWG's Newsletter contains disaster-related information at:

Farmers' Legal Action Group (FLAG) has written a book, Farmers' Guide to Disaster Assistance, which describes federal disaster assistance programs that are available to help farmers, such as housing and grant assistance offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, disaster unemployment assistance, federal crop insurance, the noninsured crop disaster assistance program, the Emergency Conservation Program, disaster assistance programs for livestock producers, Emergency Loans from the Farm Service Agency, the Disaster Set-Aside program for existing loans from Farm Service Agency, Small Business Administration Disaster Loans, as well as brief discussions of bankruptcy and federal income tax issues as they relate to losses caused by natural disaster.
The fifth edition of the Farmers' Guide was published in October 2004.
Updates are posted on the FLAG Web site.


A limited number of bound copies of the book are available without charge for family farmers affected by Hurricane Katrina who contact FLAG and request a copy. Generally, a bound copy of the book is available for $40 per book, and orders can be placed by calling FLAG's office at 651-223-5400 or by visiting the FLAG Web site at

(This information, from Jill Kruger at FLAG), is somewhat subject to change, based on what Secretary Johanns and Congress do in response to Katrina.
Also, to clarify, the Emergency Hurricane Supplemental appropriations Act referred to in these documents is the one passed last fall to address damage caused by the series of hurricanes that struck Florida and the southeastern region last year.)






Tuesday, September 13, 2005
CONTACT: Barry E. Piatt
or Rebecca Pollard (Senator Dorgan's Office)
PHONE: 202-224-2551


Lawmakers Introduce Bills to Assist Producers Hurt By Natural Disasters

As the emergency relief effort continues in the Gulf Region, more than 100 family farmers and ranchers from across the nation joined Senators Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan, and Congressman Earl Pomeroy today to announce the introduction of emergency legislation to assist agricultural producers hurt by Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters this year. Members of the National Farmers Union (NFU) and the North Dakota Farmers Union (NDFU) joined the lawmakers to unveil the Emergency Agriculture Disaster Assistance Act of 2005. This bill will provide disaster assistance to crop and livestock producers across the country who have suffered production and quality losses due to devastating weather conditions.
"We are hearing that Hurricane Katrina could cost the nation's agricultural sector more than $2 billion. That's on top of weather-related disasters that have already wreaked havoc on farms and ranches across the nation," the delegation said in a joint statement. "Without question, this year has brought a series of hits from which many family farmers will have difficulty recovering.

But this bill will give them a fighting chance." Weather-related disaster losses have affected more than half of the counties in the United States including over two-thirds of the counties in North Dakota. In addition to the extensive loss of crops and livestock in the Gulf, the nation's farmers and ranchers have also faced drought in the Midwest, flooding in the Plains region, crop infestations and livestock diseases. The spike in energy prices has also hit agricultural producers especially hard. Higher fuels prices mean additional costs to produce fertilizers, operate farm machinery and ship goods to market.

"Farmers and ranchers are facing low commodity prices, rising input costs due to skyrocketing fuel prices, and weather related disasters," NFU President Dave Frederickson said. "I am encouraged to see the North Dakota delegation and others introduce this legislation, which will help ease these burdens at his critical time."

The legislation includes several provisions to provide relief, including a crop disaster program, an extension of the Livestock Assistance Program, and an additional $100 million in Emergency Conservation Program funds.

Cosponsors of the Senate bill include Mark Dayton (D-MN), Ken Salazar (D-CO), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Tim Johnson (D-SD).

Emergency Agriculture Disaster Assistance Act of 2005 Summary of Key Components

Agricultural Production Loss - Addresses weather-related farm and ranch production losses and resource management needs.

Provides payment for producers who lose over 25% of their production, either due to actual crop loss or market discounts due to quality. Provides for livestock feed assistance and payments for loss of livestock

Emergency Funding:
Does not require reductions in other agriculture programs to pay for assistance.

Provides additional funding for the Emergency Conservation and the Emergency Watershed Protection Programs.

Economic Assistance:
Addresses escalating input costs such as energy prices, market uncertainties caused by Hurricane Katrina and increasing demands on state food assistance programs.

Specialty Crop / Nutrition Assistance:
Makes grants to states to supplement food banks and other nutrition assistance programs. Promotes agricultural markets with a priority on specialty crops. Allows for economic assistance to specialty crop producers.

Extends the Milk Income Loss Compensation (MILC) program for one year.

Program Crops:
Provides supplemental payments to program crop producers equal to 20% of their 2005 farm program direct payment. Extends maturing commodity marketing loans for program crops for up to 6 months.

13 September 2005

Farms for City Kids

Just found out about "Farms for City Kids," a hands-on educational program for urban children that focuses on practical learning and teamwork as kids care for farm animals and crops. They are trying to instill in children with such lasting values as responsibility, self-confidence and the satisfaction of facing and overcoming challenges. By educating city kids about agriculture, something that is so different from their everyday lives, they hope to make an impression that will last a lifetime.

Check 'em out at:

11 September 2005


He reminded me today, that today was today. "It will not be forgotten" I said under my breath, rising to greet the day. He said, crowing louder than usual, "Live today, as everyday, like it was your last."

08 September 2005

Alarm Growing on Storm's Cost for Agriculture

The New York Times
September 8, 2005
Alarm Growing on Storm's Cost for Agriculture

CHICAGO, Sept. 7 - Two weeks from the beginning of harvest season, there is a mounting sense of alarm over a potential financial blow to American farming. Farmers in the breadbasket states rely on barges to carry their corn, soybeans and wheat down the Mississippi River, but cannot be certain that the Port of New Orleans, a crucial link to export markets that was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina, will reopen anytime soon.
In the gulf states, the storm left farmers reeling from numerous other problems, including a lack of electricity to restore chicken and dairy plants to service, and a shortage of diesel fuel needed for trucks to save dying cattle stranded on the breached levees.
For all of them, it is a race against time.

Farmers in some states in the Midwest had already endured the worst drought in almost 20 years. The storm, moreover, flattened sugar cane and rice fields in the South. And farmers nationwide must pay more for fuel to bring the harvest in and transport crops, lowering the profit they will earn when they sell them. Now Hurricane Katrina is adding to the pain by threatening to curtail exports.

In all, the hurricane will cause an estimated $2 billion in damage to farmers nationwide, according to an early analysis by the American Farm Bureau Federation. The estimate includes $1 billion in direct losses, as well as $500 million in higher fuel and energy prices.
Midwestern farmers are threatened by additional losses. Farmers are clearing out stored corn and soybeans to prepare for this year's harvest, which they normally begin exporting at the end of September. But the hurricane caused substantial damage to waterways and grain-handling facilities, and hundreds of barges have been backing up on the Mississippi River with no place to go.

The latest blow to the farm economy comes at a delicate time for the Bush administration, which has been pushing to trim farm subsidies to comply with mounting pressure from the World Trade Organization to level the playing field for producers in developing countries.
The post-Katrina troubles of American farmers could make it tougher for the administration to push through an overhaul of subsidies that is being sought by developing countries. That, in turn, could affect the administration's effort to win new export markets for American production.

Some 27 percent of American farm receipts come from exports.

Higher transportation and logistical costs - including diesel fuel, rail costs and barge rates - are slicing prices producers get for a variety of commodities. Corn prices, for example, have dropped 15 to 20 cents a bushel, or about a 9 percent decrease, based on Wednesday's price of $2.17 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade, said Jerry Gidel, an analyst at North America Risk Management Services in Chicago.

The farm sector's problems are in sharp contrast to its good fortune last year. Driven by record-large crops, high beef prices and generous farm subsidies, net farm income hit a record $82.5 billion in 2004. Now the hurricane will put disaster relief programs into play and depress commodity prices, leading to billions of dollars more in government payments to farmers.

Next week, the House and Senate Agriculture Committees are expected to issue reports on how they plan to cut $3 billion in Agriculture Department programs from the federal budget.
Farm groups have been pushing for any trims to take place in the food stamps and conservation programs, while the Bush administration has proposed ending the cotton subsidy program, which the World Trade Organization has ruled illegal in parts after complaints from Brazil and other cotton producers.

But the devastation wrought by the storm - and the ensuing economic impact on farmers both near the gulf and several states away - could alter the debate in Washington and hamper crucial trade talks scheduled for a December meeting of the World Trade Organization in Hong Kong.

"Without question, this makes the reforms that a lot of the rest of the world would like to see happen here in the U.S. a lot more difficult," said Clayton Yeutter, a former secretary of agriculture and United States trade representative. "The general psychology of the event is clearly negative."

In recent weeks, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has been crisscrossing the nation talking to farmers. His message is the need to reduce farm subsidies both to open more export markets to American farmers and to comply with international free trade agreements. "There is a real conditioning going on here," said Keith Bolin, a corn and hog farmer and president of the American Corn Growers Association, who attended a session last week in Decatur, Ill., three days after the hurricane. "Get used to less, get used to less. That's the message."
After two failed efforts at trade negotiations in the so-called Doha round, another failure in Hong Kong could be devastating to developing countries, which are desperate to lift their economies through access to markets in Europe and the United States.

The World Trade Organization is working to remove $280 billion in subsidies among the world's richest countries. Of that, American taxpayers and consumers paid $47 billion to farmers last year, an amount equal to about 20 percent of farm receipts, according to the World Bank.

But Mr. Yeutter and others said the emotional and financial impact of the hurricane on farmers will be tough to ignore in Washington.

The American Farm Bureau Federation estimated that Louisiana would lose two million tons, or 20 percent, of its sugar cane crop. That would reduce the total United States sugar harvest by 3.5 percent, according to the analysis.

In Franklinton, La., a milk-processing plant is struggling without power to dump 60,000 gallons of stored milk that has gone bad. At some nearby Louisiana dairy farms, farmers have continued to milk cows, but with nowhere to sell the milk, they have simply dumped it down the drain.

Some 25 million pounds of milk at plants in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi could be lost over the next month if the plants do not return to operation soon, said Michael Danna, a spokesman for the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation.

Louisiana sugar cane farmers are worried that they may have to delay delivering their crop to mills while they wait for fields to dry long enough to apply an agent that ripens sugar cane, increasing the sugar content and making the crop more salable.

The delay could put the farmers dangerously close to the onset of winter frost, Mr. Danna said.
In Covington, La., thousands of cows are stranded in two feet of brackish water on the levees near New Orleans. Mike Strain, a veterinarian and co-owner of the Strain Cattle Company, struggled Wednesday to find a plane to airlift hay into the area to give his remaining 400 head of cattle "enough strength and energy to get them out of there." Already, well more than half of the 1,100 animals in his herd have perished, costing his company $2 million in uninsured losses.

"The timetable for survival is diminishing rapidly," said Dr. Strain, who is also a state legislator. "The death loss of cattle in southeast Louisiana will be 80,000 to 100,000 head when it's all tallied. That's 50 to 70 percent of the herd here, and that's before disease sets in."
Dr. Strain's rescue efforts are being severely hampered is a lack of diesel fuel to move the cattle to a ranch 100 miles north. "There is no fuel in the service stations that have power. That's just unconscionable."

Government officials are hoping for the best. Mr. Johanns, the agriculture secretary, said Wednesday that he was encouraged by the progress so far in restoring the flow of commerce on the river. He said ships are moving again and the majority of grain elevators in the region are resuming operations, at 63 percent of capacity.

"We are assuring our international customers that we expect minimal disruptions," Mr. Johanns said in a statement. He said workers were focused on restoring power, ensuring adequate staffing and reinstalling navigational aids to allow safe passage of ships.
Given a nighttime curfew, little electric power and potentially hazardous and disease-ridden working conditions, the issue of who will operate the ports remains unclear, with some analysts saying the military or National Guard may have to step in.

A union representative expressed confidence Wednesday that such severe measures would not be needed. The International Longshoreman Association's more than 500 regular New Orleans dock workers - nearly all of them evacuated to other cities - could be ready to work there "immediately,"said Benny Holland, vice president of the union. Additional workers are available, if needed, from regional ports, like Gulfport, Miss., that are not operating, he said.
Most nations that import large amounts of agricultural commodities shipped through New Orleans and other gulf ports have plenty of stockpiles to ride out any disruption in shipping, the Agriculture Department's chief economist, Keith Collins, said in an interview. "I don't think any of them are in any kind of jeopardy," he said.

China, the largest buyer of United States soybeans, for instance, is estimated to have 4.1 million tons on hand, equal to about 10 percent of its annual consumption. Japan, the biggest foreign buyer of American corn, has about 1.3 million tons in storage. "That's a typical number for them,"Mr. Collins said.

Some of the slaughtered chicken in storage at ports in New Orleans and Gulfport was lost, but production, which totals about 8.8 billion broilers a year in the United States, is little affected.

06 September 2005

Measuring Farmers' Agroecological Resistance to Hurricane...

In October of 1998, Hurricane Mitch, one of the Caribbean�s five most powerful hurricanes of the twentieth century, slammed into Central America causing US$ 6.7 billion dollars in damage to infrastructure and industry (primarily agriculture)� an amount approximately equal to 13.3% of Central America�s GNP. Mudslides and landslides washed away crops, animals, buildings, roads and bridges. Topsoil, lost from hillside farms, silted rivers that overflowed their banks, flooding fields and urban areas. Over 10,000 people died and 3 million were displaced or left homeless. The environmental damages were incalculable. Countries hardest hit were Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Most observers agree the unprecedented magnitude of the disaster is the consequence of decades of deforestation, non-sustainable agricultural practices and other forms of environmental degradation that left the region exceptionally vulnerable to an erosive event.

While first reports regarding agricultural damage simply indicated that the levels of destruction were massive, subsequent on-site observations began to reveal a more subtle, differentiated pattern. Farms using what are commonly understood to be �sustainable� practices appeared to have suffered less damage than their �conventional� neighbors. These farms belonged to smallholders working within a multi-institutional, regional movement for sustainable agriculture known in Central America as Campesino a Campesino (Farmer to Farmer). The farming practices commonly encountered in Campesino a Campesino included a wide range of soil conservation and sustainable cultivation methods, tested and promoted by smallholders for nearly thirty years. Some of the most common sustainable practices included soil and water conservation methods, reduced or discontinued use of chemical inputs, cover crops, agroforestry, intensive, in-row tillage, organic fertilizer and pesticides, and different forms of Integrated Pest Management.

In general, these sustainable farms exist as islands and archipelagos within a greater, conventional �sea.� Therefore, while often localized and geographically fragmented, they provided an excellent opportunity to compare agroecological resistance to the hurricane of sustainable and conventional farms. The presence of Campesino a Campesino, made up of farmers and technicians experienced in farm experimentation and farmer to farmer training, also provided the opportunity to carry out an extensive, participatory, action research project in the low, medium and high impact areas of Hurricane Mitch. Several researchers with years of experience working in the Campesino a Campesino Movement designed a study and wrote a proposal. World Neighbors, an NGO working in the region, agreed to sponsor the project, helped to find funding (Ford, Summit, Rockefeller and Inter-American Foundations), and provided administrative support.