In 2016, there was more than 290 million acres of farmland enrolled in and covered by the federal crop insurance program. Crop insurance is an important tool that allows farmers to manage the many extraordinary risks of farming, including the weather.
Most of us expected proposed budget cuts from the Trump Administration’s proposed FY2019 budget, but the hit to the federal government’s support of crop insurance was unwelcome. As AGDAILY reported, the Trump administration suggested “reductions in the federal crop insurance program through a cap on adjusted gross income (AGI) and a reduction in premium subsidy, and elimination of the Foreign Market Development program and Market Access Program.”
If you’re not familiar with the crop insurance program, I have written about and described how it works here. In short, the federal crop insurance program creates a unique partnership between the federal government and private enterprise. Through the Risk Management Agency, the government sets which rates can be charged for coverage, determines eligibility criteria, and underwrites some of the loss. It also helps farmers by paying a portion of the annual premiums, as well as some of the insurance company’s overhead costs for administering those policies. In return, the federal government obtains a of portion of underwriting gains in years where there are not as many claims. In order to participate, farmers usually agree to abide by certain conservation practices.
Crop insurance is so important because it helps farmers manage risks from things completely outside of their control, such as the weather. Without government involvement, the premiums for these insurance policies would be prohibitively expensive. In lean years, where the profit margin is very small, those insurance proceeds can be the difference between a family farm continuing or completely going out of business.
While the United States has cut direct subsidies for farmers, the crop insurance program is a unique solution for managing risks and protecting our nation’s food supply. Cutting the program just for the sake of cutting something should not be an option.
Don’t get me wrong, I completely and fully support governmental financial responsibility. The United States is running a pretty serious debt, to the tune of some $20 trillion. While we do a pretty job ignoring it, there may come a day when we need to actually address it. However, we should not make across the board cuts to a really good program that supports our nation’s food supply simply for the sake of making cuts.
Instead, we should focus on making reforms that continue to deliver the same or higher quality services while decreasing the overall cost. For example, maybe we need to do a better job of determining when an insurance claim is payable. Maybe we need to reevaluate what types of production methods are insurable. Maybe we can find ways to streamline the process of obtaining coverage and dealing with claims that will allow us to decrease costs.
Reducing federal support for crop insurance benefits, especially when most farmers are struggling to make ends meet, is simply not a viable solution. Unfortunately, the idea of making meaningful reforms seems to be increasingly unlikely as the partisan divide in Washington, DC continues to grow. But finding innovative ways to cut spending without gutting programs is exactly what we need to accomplish.
Crop insurance is a vital tool for family farmers trying to manage all of the extraordinary risks of farming. Fully funding it protects our nation’s family farmers and our homegrown food supply.
Do you find yourself without a date on Valentine’s Day? Don’t worry, I’ve got your back….with farmer pick-up lines!
While browsing the internet in hopes of inspiration for a post today, I stumbled upon the Twitter hashtag #FarmerPickupLines. Because there is always (always) a way to relate everything back to farming; right? I’ve compiled a list of the less raunchy ones here (you’ll have to go directly to the source to get the other kind) for you convenience.
Caution: I cannot guarantee nor recommend this approach in finding a date, but I would be more than happy to hear all about your attempts!
The Farm Bill is a massive piece of legislation that influences the vast majority of food policy in the United States. It covers everything from crop insurance to marketing and nutrition assistance. Unfortunately, passing such an important piece of legislation through Congress is difficult to accomplish, even in the least partisan of times.
But that is exactly what Congress needs to do in 2018 – pass a new farm bill.
USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue has been touring the country talking to farmers and others with an interest in the 2018 Farm Bill. Based on those conversations, Perdue has compiled a list of legislative principals for moving forward. In a press release, Perdue said:
These principles will be used as a road map – they are our way of letting Congress know what we’ve heard from the hard-working men and women of American agriculture. While we understand it’s the legislature’s job to write the Farm Bill, USDA will be right there providing whatever counsel Congress may request or require.
At this point in the game, these act as more generalized guidance for the upcoming Farm Bill. While Perdue’s list is short on specifics at the moment, it demonstrates the USDA’s priorities for the 2018 Farm Bill.
Here are some of the highlights I find most interesting:
Protect the integrity of the USDA organic certified seal and deliver efficient, effective oversight of organic production practices to ensure organic products meet consistent standards for all producers, domestic and foreign.
The organic seal has come under some fire lately because it is unclear that products with the organic label were actually raised pursuant to the program requirements. This is especially true with foreign imports, which is a main source of certain grains. Last year, I called for the USDA to fix the problem, or get rid of the organic certification. Allowing the problem persist causes a number of problems for agriculture, including calling into question the legitimacy of any of our programs and certifications. Hopefully, with this guideline in place, we can start to see some of the needed corrections implemented.
Recognize the unique labor needs of agriculture and leverage USDA’s expertise to allow the Department to play an integral role in developing workforce policy to ensure farmers have access to a legal and stable workforce.
Immigration is a huge issue right now. The uncertainty caused by the on-going debate in the nation’s capital are causing labor shortages across the country and farm needs aren’t being met. Farmers need a solution that gives them access to the labor required to get the job done, and also brings migrant workers out of the shadows and into a legal status. Making this a priority allows the USDA to present those issues to Congress as the debate continues.
Ensure USDA is positioned appropriately to review production technologies if scientifically required to ensure safety, while reducing regulatory burdens.
I read this to mean, among other things, biotechnology. There has been rumor that the USDA and FDA want to work together to streamline the process of reviewing and approving new GMO crops. This would be really awesome because the current process takes an average of 10 years and millions of dollars. If the USDA and FDA can work together, it would go a long way toward reducing the price and making it faster.
We’re still nowhere near getting a bill passed, but I think this is a pretty good start.
You can read all of Secretary Perdue’s legislative priorities here.
Wayne Pacelle is out as Chief Executive of the Humane Society of the United States! Although don’t let the news here fool you: Pacelle’s resignation was not because he or the HSUS board of directors thought the allegations against him warranted his removal.
In fact, hours before the resignation, the board voted 17-9 to keep Pacelle on at the helm of the organization. Amazingly, the board just didn’t find the allegations credible, even though settlements had been previously made to former employees that were demoted or dismissed after speaking about Pacelle’s conduct to others. Sources reported that “a majority of the board members calculated that cutting ties with Pacelle would do more damage to the nonprofit than keeping him in the post.” The board decided that Pacelle, who has held the position since 2004, had done such a good job expanding notoriety of the organization and largely increasing profits the allegations just weren’t sufficient to get rid of him.
Let that sink in for a second: the allegations of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment were not enough to get rid of Pacelle because he was making the organization so much money.
Not everyone was satisfied with the board’s reasoning. In fact, several people resigned their positions after the vote, including the HSUS Director in Iowa, who found it sick that the organization was prioritizing money over female employees. Reportedly, others also found the evidence compelling and were “stunned” by the vote. In case you’re wondering, The Washington Post reported: “The Humane Society investigation interviewed 33 witnesses, including Pacelle, outlining complaints from a former intern who said Pacelle kissed her against her will in 2005; a former employee who said he asked to masturbate in front of her and offered her oral sex in a hotel room in 2006; and a former employee who said he stopped by her office late one night in 2012 and asked her to salsa dance with him.”
But, you know, money.
Given the shady tactics HSUS employs to raise money and market itself to the public, I’m not surprised. HSUS uses all of those adorably heart-wrenching commercials of abused and neglected cats and dogs to induce folks to donate. In reality, less than 1% of HSUS’ annual budget actually goes to local humane shelters. Instead, HSUS takes the cash and puts it to work for the organization’s ultimate goal: ending animal agriculture. From state to state, ballot measures are offered up to voters with the mask of helping animals, though they usually have more sinister motives. All the while, HSUS is laughing all the way to the bank.
Forwarding that agenda is apparently more important than protecting female employees. How can an animal rights organization really stand by that principle? For all the talk of love and compassion for animals it spouts, HSUS cannot even create a safe environment for the women working to advance its own cause. HSUS is willing to look the other way while this happens, going so far as to pay off employees that do stand up and say something. The message here is clear: if you bring us lots of money, you get a free pass.
Yet, they think animal farmers are the bad guys??
Pacelle might be gone, but this entire drama raises important questions about the priorities of HSUS and the animal rights movement.
As the average of age of farmers continues to rise, it is really important to support those young farmers that are just starting out. These Millennial farmers are the future of the industry, and it isn’t exactly easy getting started. Even for my brother, who obviously has such a big head start on other non-farm kids, there is a struggle to figure out how he’s going to take over and grow into the role.
On a related note, I recently wrote about what Millennials as a generation want out of their food choices. You can read that article here.
The times are changing for organic companies that want to use fear to market their products!
Stonyfield learned it the hard way this week. The organic food company posted this video on its Facebook page:
The video asks the questions “What are GMOS?” and then has children providing answers. The kids say things like GMOs “sound monstrous” and that GMOs are when scientists take fish genes and insert them into vegetables. Of course, none of it is true. Well, Stonyfield caught heck for the video, receiving hundreds of comments denouncing the company for spreading misunderstanding, using fear as a marketing tactic, and manipulating children.
Apparently, Stonyfield can throw bombs all day at family farmers, but weren’t ready to actually be called out on it. The company responded with this follow-up post on their Facebook page:
You’ve probably seen that we stirred up quite a bit of conversation in the last few days around the topic of GMOs, with some suggesting that our community’s valid concerns about GMOs are “anti-science” and ill-informed.
Admittedly, it’s hard to “weed” out who is just a troll and who is genuine on social media, but we do acknowledge that some of the comments are from concerned people with reasonable and well-intended questions. We’re glad that these individuals are also vested in our food system and adding to the important conversation about how our foods are processed. If no one cared, that would really be upsetting to us.
And so, to these folks we would like to respond and be very clear about our position on GMOs:1. We do not believe that eating GMOs has been proven harmful to your health.
2. The majority of GMO crops used by farmers today require the use of toxic herbicides. The use of glyphosate, which has been categorized as a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization, has increased nearly 15-fold since so-called “Roundup Ready,” genetically engineered glyphosate-tolerant crops were introduced in 1996. (source: https://www.ewg.org/…/study-monsanto-s-glyphosate-most-heav…).
3. We believe consumers have the right to choose whether or not to support the above practices, and that the only way this can happen is if food companies that use GMO ingredients or that feed their cows GMO feed declare this on their packaging.
4. Since USDA Organic regulations forbid the use of GMOs, we will continue to rigorously avoid their use and we are proud to offer consumers this choice in the dairy aisle.
We have arrived at this position through due diligence, and we appreciate the importance of a constructive fact-based scientific debate. For those truly committed to advancing the health of our families and our planet, we welcome the conversation and appreciate your taking the time to reach out.
-The Folks at Stonyfield Farm
It’s a pretty sorry response to the outrage, but does reveal the true intentions of the company. Even though Stonyfield doesn’t believe eating GMOs is harmful, they are more than willing to keep manipulating children to scare people. They are willing to lie to their customers to move their product. They know full well being non-GMO does not make their product better in any way, yet they are more than happy to act like it does if it sells. Does anyone actually feel comfortable buying from a company like that?
The response also includes some pretty substantial and glaring lies. Allow me to clarify those:
Stonyfield Myth: “It’s hard to ‘weed’ out who is just a troll and who is genuine on social media.”
Just because someone supports biotechnology does not mean they are a troll. Nor is it fine for Stonyfield to throw out that accusation, especially at its own customers. I’ve dealt with that accusation ever since I started writing about agriculture. No, we aren’t trolls, we aren’t shills, and we aren’t mouthpieces. What is clear is that Stonyfield is willing to trash anyone that questions its crummy marketing tactics.
Stonyfield Myth: “The majority of GMO crops used by farmers today require the use of toxic herbicides.”
It is hard to quantify how Stonyfield defines “majority” here, but that is irrelevant because it’s just not true. Some genetic modifications give crops the ability to withstand the use of herbicides. But even those crops, namely Round-Up Ready crops, do not “require” farmers to use herbicides. It is simply an option that allows us to control weeds. This statement has no other purpose than to link “GMO” with the scary sounding “toxic herbicide.”
Stonyfield Myth: “The use of glyphosate, which has been categorized as a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization, has increased nearly 15-fold since so-called ‘Roundup Ready,’ genetically engineered glyphosate-tolerant crops were introduced in 1996.”
This statement is also just a complete untruth. Glyphosate was categorized as a “probable carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is an agency of the World Health Organization (not WHO itself). However, that classification has been solidly disputed by many government agencies and private organizations, including the World Health Organization, and many have pointed out significant biases in the people who conducted that review. By the way, yes, the use of glyphosate has increased since the introduction of Round-Up Ready crops, but the overall use of herbicides has decreased.
Stonyfield clearly wasn’t really to get schooled on their advertising, but these type of marketing techniques are being called out now. For example, when Hunt’s tried to brag about its non-GMO tomatoes, Facebook users took it to them as well. The message is clear: fear-based marketing it not going to work anymore. For far too long, organic marketing has used conventional farmers as their punching bag. No more. What I found particularly compelling was a comment from one of Stonyfield’s customers that indicated she was no longer purchasing their products, despite the fact that her kids really enjoyed them, because of this tactic. Other companies should take note.
That being said, I want to say a big THANK YOU to all the people that commented on Stonyfield’s original video post (you know, the folks Stonyfield calls “trolls”). Five years ago, something like that never would have happened. As family farmers, it is nice to have so many people on our side that are willing to stand up to this nonsense. Please know that it IS appreciated.
Times are changing and, this time, for the better.
The USDA’s Economic Research Service has published a report that compares the food and food spending habits of Millennials with other generations. Using data from Information Resources, Inc.’s Consumer Network dataset, the report paints a picture of Millennials and food, a relationship which will shape the food industry in the decades to come.
Here were a few of the key findings:
Millennials consume food in a restaurant or bar around 30 percent more often than any other generation. Millennials spend significantly less time eating at home than do any of the older generations.
Among all generations, Millennials devote the smallest share of food expenditures to grains, white meat, and red meat. Though Millennials spend less on FAH (food-at-home) in total, they allocate more proportionately to prepared foods, pasta, and sugar/sweets than any other generation. Millennials have a stronger preference for fruits and vegetables compared to older generations.
Millennials purchase more ready-to-eat foods; nearly two-thirds of Millennials reported buying some form of prepared food within the prior 7 days, suggesting a preference for time savings
Millennials place more importance on convenience and experiential attributes. For example, Millennials shop more frequently at gas stations; use same-day delivery services; and are
more likely to buy organic food, hot sauce, energy drinks, and artisanal alcohol beverages.
Millennials also maintain similar expenditure shares for prepared foods and allocate more of their food budgets to sugar and sweets as they become wealthier. They also spend less, proportionately, on grains than older generations and more on pasta.
Millennial preferences for convenience may be a principal characteristic of the generation.
Are you surprised?
As a Millennial myself, I’m not. Our lives are steeped in technology and convenience. We crave more than the mundane, we want experiences and excitement. We want to optimize time with friends, connections, and our free time. We want to feel good about our purchases, even if they are easy. Convenience is key.
Food is no different.
Millennials crave convenience in their food and meal choices. Millennials want experiences connected with food and meal choices. Generally, I would add that Millennials want their food choices choices to be meaningful, which is related to the “experience.” This is a trend seen more in non-food retail. Millennials want to purchase from companies that have a story, not just products. For example, they prefer to purchase socks from a company that sells socks and donates to sock related charities, rather than just a company that sells socks.
These themes are likely the reason we see so many of the delivery meal-kit services, such as Hello Fresh and Blue Apron. These services allow young people to eat fresh, healthy food while minimizing the work that goes into it. To top it off, these meal-kits create the experience of preparing tasty foods from scratch. Commercials for these services usually show a young couple working together to create some spectacular dinner masterpiece. No doubt this is also why so many of the meal-kits boast about organic ingredients or helping farmers. The meal-kit services have found a way to create a product that services all Millennial pieces: convenience, experiences, and good feelings.
These themes also explain why Millennials are more apt to eat out. It combines convenience of eating out with the opportunity to experience something new and enjoy the company of friends. Hence the reason more trendy restaurants are offering more feel good options like “farm to table.”
Of course, no sector of food does “feel good” marketing better than organic. To me, the fact that Millennials are more likely to choose organic food over conventional is a sure sign this marketing is working, despite being so misleading. Millennials are more apt to purchase an organic product because it makes them feel like it is the healthier option. Millennials will buy an organic product because the farm and its products are perceived at being better. Millennials want to purchase the organic product because it speaks to the sense of experience; purchasing from a local farmer that makes you feel good. Of course, buying a package of organic cookies isn’t any healthier or better for the environment, but it makes you feel better about it.
While so many people are quick to dismiss Millennials as a fussy and soft generation, we have to remember that these are the future customers of food. Millennials are making choices about food purchases and their influence over the market will continue to grow over time. Where Millennials are willing to spend their dollars is precisely where the market will take us. That is why it is so important to find ways to talk to them about agricultural issues.
Honestly, I think the story of conventional agriculture is the Millennial dream, even if it isn’t quite as successful in marketing itself. We’re family farmers that have been around for generations. We care about our farms, including the soil and water, because we want to pass it along to our children. We take pride in growing affordable, quality produce. Supporting conventional agriculture supports all of those “feel good” concepts. Most importantly, the bounty of our crops is the reason we are even able to have such conveniences in food. Without it, food would be much more expensive.
Now, we just have to let the Millennials in on the secret.
Food products should not be labeled as “non-GMO” if there is no GMO counterpart for that product.
That was the measure approved by delegates at the annual American Farm Bureau Federation convention this month. Measures approved by the nation’s largest farming organization ranged across a series of topics important to agriculture, from crop insurance to trade to immigration. The measures taken up at the national convention start at the county level before being approved at the state level.
In 2018, the delegates decided to support a measure limiting which products can utilize the non-GMO status. Unfortunately, we see non-GMO labels on all sorts of products that have no GMO alternative. For example, Hunt’s boasts that all of its tomatoes are non-GMO, but there are no genetically modified tomatoes commercially available. By default, all tomatoes are non-GMO. The measure would prohibit Hunt’s from using the non-GMO label for its products.
Canada already has a law prohibiting the use of a non-GMO label if there are no GMO alternatives. Apparently, the law is rarely, if ever, enforced.
I’m so happy to see this resolution reach the national stage. In fact, I dedicated my first AGDAILY article to this very idea so many moons ago. Slapping a non-GMO label on every single product in the grocery store is confusing for consumers, demonizes a safe and important technology, and is extremely misleading. It needs to stop.
Seriously, when we have cat litter that boasts a non-GMO label, we have gone way too far.
Now, passage of the measure does not mean that it will become law (you know, Congress…), but it does mean the issue is gaining traction. It means that it becomes part of the AFBF platform. It means people can legitimately talk about it as a possibility. It means we could actually have clarity on labeling. It means the option is on the table.
It means we’re a little bit closer to the happy day when such a measure is actually passed.
You can find more of the measures passed at the AFBF convention on AGDAILY.