Hong Kong Market Reopens for U.S. Beef

From the USDA:

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the United States and Hong Kong have agreed on new terms and conditions that pave the way for expanded exports of U.S. beef and beef products to Hong Kong.

“This is great news for American ranchers and beef companies,” said Vilsack. “Hong Kong is already the fourth largest market for U.S. beef and beef product exports, with sales there reaching a historic high of $823 million in 2013. We look forward to expanded opportunities there for the U.S. beef industry now that all trade restrictions are lifted,” Vilsack said.

Under the new terms, Hong Kong will permit the import of the full range of U.S. beef and beef products, consistent with access prior to December 2003. The new terms become effective today, June17, 2014. Previously, only deboned beef from all cattle and certain bone-in beef from cattle less than 30 months of age could be shipped from the United States to Hong Kong. Earlier this year, Mexico, Uruguay, Ecuador and Sri Lanka also lifted their longstanding restrictions to provide full access for U.S. beef and beef products.

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Two New USDA Conservation Programs are Open for Application by Farmers

The 2014 Farm Bill has yielded two new conservation programs at USDA which have opened their application processes to begin spending up to $368 million across the country to restore wetlands, support outdoor recreation opportunities and boost rural economies.

The new programs are Agricultural Conservation Easements Program (ACEP) and the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP).

ACEP is the consolidation of three former programs – the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program, the Grassland Reserve Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program—into one to make conservation efforts more efficient while strengthening tools to protect land and water according to a USDA release.

ACEP contains two primary components. The first, agricultural lands, provides funds to those eligible for the purchase of agricultural land easements that protect the agricultural use and conservation value of eligible land.

Both ACEP programs have application for funding deadlines in early June 2014. Please check with your regional or county Farm Services Agency office for complete information.

The second is the wetland reserve component which provides landowners funds to purchase an easement and for restoration of wetlands and improving habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. USDA said that lands that are eligible for a wetland reserve easement include farmed or converted wetlands that can be successfully and cost-effectively restored.

VPA-HIP is a competitive grant program that enables state and tribal governments to increase opportunities for landowners of private lands to make their land available for public recreation.

Landowners may learn more from their regional or county Farm Services Agency or by visiting the Natural Resources Conservation Service online.





Final Data in 2012 U.S. Ag Census – Lots to Consider

agcensuspostEarlier today USDA held an online event to unveil updated and final data from the agency’s census of U.S. agriculture concluded in 2012. From USDA, here are some takeaways from the updated numbers:

  • 22% of all farmers were beginning farmers in 2012. That means 1 out of every 5 farmers operated a farm for less than 10 years.
  • Young, beginning principal operators who reported their primary occupation as farming increased from 36,396 to 40,499 between 2007 and 2012. That’s an 11.3% increase in the number of young people getting into agriculture as a full-time job.
  • 969,672 farm operators were female—30% of all farm operators in the U.S.
  • The number of farms ran by Latino farmers increased from 82,462 in 2007 to 99,734 in 2012. That 21% increase reflects the changing face of America as a whole.
  • 70% of all farms in the U.S. had internet access in 2012, up from 56.5% in 2007, but there is more work to be done to expand internet access in rural America.
  • Farmers and ranchers continue to lead the charge towards a more sustainable energy future. 57,299 farms reported using a renewable energy producing system in 2012. That’s more than double the 23,451 operations that reported the same in 2007. Solar panels accounted for 63% of renewable energy producing systems on farms, with 36,331 farms reporting their use.
  • Nearly 150,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide are selling their products directly to consumers, and 50,000 are selling to local retailers. Industry estimates valued local food sales at $7 billion in 2011, reflecting the growing importance of this new market to farm and ranch businesses.
  • Total organic product sales by farms have increased by 82% since 2007, from $1.76 billion in 2007 to $3.1 billion in 2012. Organic products were a $35 billion industry in the United States in 2013.

If you want pore over the full report with lots of tables and charts covering everything from hogs to Christmas trees, click here.

If you want to explore USDA’s other Ag Census related docs, including issue specific info and tools for getting the data you want, check out their Ag Census page.

Action Alert: Please Comment on Proposal to Relax Beef Imports from Brazil

We have a chance until April 22nd to affect a rule pending at USDA which would relax current restrictions on the importation of livestock, meat, and animal products from a region of Brazil that has been affected by Foot and Mouth Disease.

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Specialy Crop Farmers Get New Opportunities with Expanded Farm Storage and Facility Loan Program

As part of a broader range of changes to USDA FSA Farm Loan Programs, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture has announced a major expansion in the Farm Storage and Facility program.

Storage and facility loans provide low interest financing to farmers who are wish to upgrade or expand their operations. The changes to this particular loan program include 23 new categories of eligible equipment for fruit and vegetable producers. Notably, Farm Storage and Facility loan security requirements have been eased for loans between $50,000 and $100,000.


Previously, all loans in excess of $50,000 required a promissory note and additional security, such as a lien on real estate. Now loans up to $100,000 can be secured by only a promissory note.

USDA suggests small and mid-sized farmers check out this page for more information about specific tools and resources available to them.

For more specific information about FSA programs including the Farm Storage Facility Loan Program, visit your FSA county or regional office. You can also find FSA online.

Vilsack says farm loan program modifications will create more flexibility for new and existing farmers

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced several changes to USDA FSA Farm Loan Programs earlier this week. The changes come immediately as a result of passage of the 2014 Farm Bill.

Changes that will take effect immediately include:

  • Elimination of loan term limits for guaranteed operating loans.
  • Modification of the definition of beginning farmer, using the average farm size for the county as a qualifier instead of the median farm size.
  • Modification of the Joint Financing Direct Farm Ownership Interest Rate to 2 percent less than regular Direct Farm Ownership rate, with a floor of 2.5 percent. Previously, the rate was established at 5 percent.
  • Increase of the maximum loan amount for Direct Farm Ownership down payments from $225,000 to $300,000.
  • Elimination of rural residency requirement for Youth Loans, allowing urban youth to benefit.
  • Debt forgiveness on Youth Loans, which will not prevent borrowers from obtaining additional loans from the federal government.
  • Increase of the guarantee amount on Conservation Loans from 75 to 80 percent and 90 percent for socially disadvantaged borrowers and beginning farmers.
  • Microloans will not count toward loan term limits for veterans and beginning farmers.
  • Additional modifications must be implemented through the rulemaking processes.

“Our nation’s farmers and ranchers are the engine of the rural economy. These improvements to our Farm Loan Programs will help a new generation begin farming and grow existing farm operations,” said Vilsack.

“(This) announcement represents just one part of a series of investments the new Farm Bill makes in the next generation of agriculture, which is critical to economic growth in communities across the country.”

Check out this FSA fact sheet on the loan program modifications.

Conservation Payments Delayed by Shutdown Are On The Way

From USDA:

Farmers waiting for their Conservation Security or Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) payments should receive them in the coming days. The shutdown of the federal government delayed some of the $907 million in payments from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to CSP participants who have enrolled millions of acres to improve the overall conservation performance of their operations.

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Visack: Taking New Steps to Care for the Land and Water

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s Weekly Column:

VilsackpostNatural resource conservation is paramount to the ongoing strength of our nation. Healthy soil contributes to agricultural productivity. Healthy forests clean our water and air. Vibrant waterways are critical for our health, for transportation and for trade. Investments into conservation spur job growth and community development, particularly in rural areas.

This is an uncertain time for USDA conservation activities. Congress has not yet passed a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that would continue to invest in conservation efforts, while providing rural America with certainty regarding many other important programs.

As we continue urging Congress to provide a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill, USDA this week took several new steps to strengthen conservation across the country.

[Read more...]

Survey: U.S. Consumers Support COOL

From the Consumer Federation of America earlier this week:

Survey results, released today by the Consumer Federation of America, show that a large majority of Americans continue to strongly support mandatory country of origin labeling for fresh meat and strongly favor requiring meat to be labeled with even more specific information about where the animals were born, raised and processed.

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson was quick to tout the survey findings.

“The survey results are a further indication of what we have known for some time: Consumers overwhelmingly want to know more about the origins of their food, and farmers and ranchers want to provide this information,” said Johnson.” These findings, coupled with the recent withdrawal of two short-sighted amendments to the Senate and House’s respective farm bills that would have negatively impacted Country-of-Origin Labeling, are promising indications that country-of-origin labeling is vitally important and here to stay.”

CFA’s survey also found that 87 percent of respondents favor USDA requiring labels on meat which state in which country or countries the animal was born, raised and processed. In some cases, animals processed for consumer food products may actually be born in one country and raised and/or processed in different nations.

Mandatory Country-of-Origin Labeling, also known as COOL, was passed as a part of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 and amended in the 2008 Farm Bill, going into effect in 2008, with regulations being put forward in 2009.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) recently required the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) to adjust its rules requiring American retailers to label certain foods with the country (or countries) in which the animals are born, raised, or slaughtered. The WTO said that while the United States can require meat labeling, current U.S. COOL rules do not meet WTO standards. The WTO has given the United States until May 23, 2013, to bring its COOL rules into compliance.

On March 8, USDA submitted a proposed amended rule on COOL compliance to bring the U.S. into compliance with WTO. You can follow the process and view comments which were submitted on the proposed rule here.

The telephone survey was undertaken by ORC International May 9 – 12 , 2013, using a split sample of landlines and cell phones. The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points. The survey results are available here and the survey methodology is available here .

USDA wrapping up 2012 Census of Agriculture – Don’t miss your chance to give them the facts straight from the farm

With the window to respond to the 2012 Census of Agriculture officially closing on May 31, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is urging farmers and ranchers not to miss this opportunity to be counted and help determine the future of farming in America. USDA has already received more than 2 million completed Census forms.

“Our nation needs your help to ensure that decisions about U.S. agriculture accurately represent you, your communities, and your industry,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “For every 158 people in America there is one farm. I urge you to take action today and respond to the Census – your country is counting on the information to help ensure a continued supply of food, fiber and fuel for generations to come.”

The Census of Agriculture, conducted only once every five years, is the only source of consistent and comprehensive agricultural data for every state and county in the nation. It looks at farms, value of land, market value of agricultural production, farm practices, expenditures, and other factors that affect the way farmers and ranchers do business. The information is used by agribusinesses, town planners, local governments, and policy makers, as well as farmers, ranchers, growers and others to shape farm programs, boost rural services and grow the future of farming.

“Agriculture in America is an industry built on tradition, honor and pride,” said Vilsack. “We have heard this from the farmers and ranchers who completed their Census of Agriculture form. It’s not too late for those who have not yet responded to join the generations of producers who participated in the Agriculture Census since it was first conducted in 1840. Only you can continue to provide the facts straight from the farm.”

The 2012 Census will provide a complete picture of agriculture that will be used to shape the future of agriculture, rural America, and the lives of those USDA serves for years to come. The deadline to respond to the Census of Agriculture is only a few weeks away on May 31. USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) may contact producers by phone or in person to collect Census information since time is running out.

Farmers and ranchers can also return their forms by mail or online by visiting a secure website, www.agcensus.usda.gov. Federal law requires a response from everyone who receives the Census form and requires NASS to keep all individual information confidential.

For more information about the Census, including helpful tips on completing your Census form, visit www.agcensus.usda.gov or call 1-888-4AG-STAT (1-888-424-7828). The Census of Agriculture is your voice, your future, your responsibility.