No amount of clean living and eating can entirely avoid it: We all have toxic chemicals in our bodies, according to the Center for Disease Control. Exposed through the air, water, food and consumer products, we are bombarded everyday by these toxic chemicals. Fortunately, a new movement in chemistry is working to stop toxic chemicals before they start—in the laboratory.
The first event convened by the Minnesota Green Chemistry Forum and partners at the University of Minnesota: Adding Value through Green Chemistry conference, was held at the Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs last week. Nearly 200 representatives from government, business, academia and nonprofit organizations gathered to share ideas about how to advance the practice of green chemistry in the state.
U.S. livestock and poultry markets are some of the most concentrated in the world. Just four companies control 83 percent of the beef production, four control 66 percent of pork production, and another four control 58 percent of poultry production. You know the companies: Tyson, Cargill, Swift/JBS, Smithfield, Pilgrim's Pride.
Over the last several decades, these companies have established themselves as pillars of industrial food production. The result has been devastating for farmers, ranchers and rural communities.
Since 1980, the U.S. has lost nearly 600,000 hog farms and more than half a million cattle farms, according to USDA. Farmers and ranchers are making less and less of the food dollar spent in the grocery store. Unfair contracts, retaliation, secrecy and deception are now common in U.S. meat and poultry markets.
In June of this year, the USDA published new draft rules designed to reign in the market power of these companies and ensure fair competition in livestock and poultry markets. They are taking public comments on the draft rules until November 22. You can read IATP's comment here. We think these new rules are a good first step - and long overdue.
In a special issue of Radio Sustain, we interview poultry farmer Mike Weaver, rancher Gilles Stockton, R-CALF President Bill Bullard, and agriculture columnist Alan Guebert to find out more about the potential impact of these new rules.
Take a listen to Radio Sustain. Then, take few minutes to send a letter to the USDA by November 22 in support of our farmers and ranchers. To build a more sustainable and resilient food system - we need more independent farmers and ranchers – not fewer.
"It's hard to think green when you're in the red," says IATP's Jim Kleinschmit, as he describes the challenge for farmers routinely trapped by a precarious bottom line. In a short film by Stonyfield Farm, Jim explains how a new program created by IATP in 2006, helps companies involved in the emerging bioplastics industry to support farmers growing corn more sustainably - including no genetically modified crops, no cancer-causing pesticides like atrazine and improved soil management.
You can read more about the Working Landscapes program in our press release below.
IATP applauds Stonyfield Farm’s purchase of Working Landscapes Certificates
New program pays farmers premium for more sustainable practices
MINNEAPOLIS – The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) applauds StonyfieldFarm’s decision to purchase Working Landscapes Certificates (WLC)—a program that rewards farmers by linking sustainable corn production with bioplastics.
The adoption of the WLC program by Stonyfield, the world’s largest organic yogurt maker, in conjunction with their introduction of a new bioplastic packaging line, means support not only for better plastic, but also for better farming practices. Through the purchase of WLCs, the company is providing support for more sustainable corn productionon over 500 acres in Iowa. IATP created the Working Landscapes program in 2006.
“This innovative, market-based mechanism allows companies to link their purchase of bioplastics to support for more sustainable crop production locally,” says Jim Kleinschmitof IATP, who heads the WLC project. “This extra payment makes clear to farmers that companies and consumers care about, and are willing to pay for, more sustainable farming and its benefits for the environment.”
The Working Landscapes Certificates program was created by IATP to address a core issue: linking the emerging biobased market to more sustainable farming. Bioplastics, which are currently made from corn, provide a more environmentally sound alternative to petroleum plastics if they support sustainability goals throughout their production, use and disposal. Currently, however, direct sourcing of more sustainably produced feedstock crops for the production of bioplastics is logistically and financially difficult. So the WLC program provides an alternative mechanism for companies like Stonyfield to support farmers who want to grow corn more sustainably.
To be eligible for the WLC program, farmers agree to undertake certain production practices, including: planting only non-genetically modified seed varieties; excluding the use of atrazine and carcinogenic chemicals; and using soil fertility testing and residue management to avoid soil erosion and water quality issues.
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy Page 2These sustainable practices are quantified as a “good”—a Working Landscapes Certificate—that a company like Stonyfield can purchase, in a quantity linked to the amount of corn needed to produce the bioplastics the company uses. Participating farmers were paid $60 an acre in 2010 to implement these sustainable practices. This payment is in addition to the market price the farmer receives for the corn itself.
“As a company constantly looking for ways to improve its environmental performance, this program builds more sustainable practices into our production,” said Nancy Hirshberg, Stonyfield Farm Vice President for Natural Resources. “Supporting the environmentand farmers are two touchstones for our company.”
You can find out more about the Working Landscapes program at http://www.workinglandscapes.org. You can find out more about Stoneyfield’s involvement in the program at http://www.stonyfield.com/MadeFromPlants/.
While floods from earlier this summer have receded in Iowa, rivers are bursting in Minnesota from last week's downpour of rain. Flooding, heat waves and other extreme weather over the last few months has had a devastating affect on agriculture in the U.S., Russia, Mexico, Pakistan, China and elsewhere. These weather events are consistent with global climate change—and they are not waiting for a new global climate treaty, or a U.S. climate bill.
In a commentary published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune today, IATP President Jim Harkness writes about the need to include farmers—on the front lines of extreme weather—in developing climate policy. Jim and IATP's Shefali Sharma will be in Tianjin, China next week at the UN climate talks, connecting with more farm organizations concerned about climate change. Read the full commentary in the Star Tribune.
Last month, IATP and some of the Midwest's leading rural thinkers and doers got together for the Midwest Rural Assembly in South Souix City, Nebraska. Participants exchanged ideas on how to address the gamut of challenges facing rural communities, including the loss of jobs and young people, inadequate health care and education, and other issues related to rewewable energy, agriculture and natural resources.
At the Midwest Rural Assembly site, we've posted a series of video interviews with many participants, blog reports on the rich discussions and the fantastic photo slideshow below. Look for many of these ideas and initiatives to continue to bloom throughout the rural Midwest in the coming years.
The challenges of providing adequate health care for rural residents has been a common theme throughout the Midwest Rural Assembly. Stephanie Larson of the Center for Rural Affairs discussed how the recently passed health reform law could benefit rural communities.
Many farmers are self-employed and must travel great distances to find health care. There are too few doctors in rural areas. Additionally, one in five farmers has medical debt. Larsen outlined several provisions in the new health care law that will help address these issues.
Many aspects of the new health care law will take affect in 2014; however, some aspects of the law will be implemented more immediately. As of July 1, 2010 insurance companies must permit adult children under the age of 26 to remain on their parents insurance plans. Additionally, patients who fall into the Medicare “donut-hole,” a gap in prescription drug coverage that patients must cover out of pocket, will receive $250 to apply to drug costs that would not be otherwise covered. Also starting July 1, the government, at either the state or federal level depending on the state’s preference, will create “high-risk pools” for people with pre-existing and chronic conditions who have been uninsured for six months or longer.
September 23, 2010 is another important implementation date of the health reform law. Larsen reported that after September 23, insurance companies will no longer be able to use rescissions, a term that refers to denying patients health insurance based on previous health conditions or errors in paperwork, even if their premiums have been paid.
Additional aspects of the law will continue to be phased in beginning in 2011 and continuing through 2014. Some of these aspects relevant to rural communities include incentives for health care providers to increase primary and preventive care, incentives for doctors practicing rural medicine, a 50-percent discount on drugs that fall into the Medicare prescription drug benefit program donut-hole, and a provision that will require nearly all Americans to obtain health insurance either through programs like Medicare or Medicaid, government provided vouchers, or private coverage.
By Wade Hauser
Thinking regionally and strengthening connections with urban centers are essential to strengthening economic activity in rural communities, Victor Vasquez, U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development told participants at the Midwest Rural Assembly today.
Vasquez talked about the need to think regionally on economic development, and to institutionalize that thinking in policy discussions. In particular, it's important for rural communities to strengthen connections with larger cities. "When it comes to food or fuel, you can’t walk into a store without finding something that has a relationship to rural America," said Vasquez. "The next few years are going to be tough due to the budget situation. We’ll hear more about what we can do to improve and how we can work together."
Vasquez outlined the key areas of focus for the USDA's Rural Development program in the next several years:
1. Local and regional markets for farmers through the Know your Farmer, Know your Food program. "We’ve seen nothing but success."
2. Expanding broadband access. It will make rural communities more competitive economically. "It’s not just about technology. It’s going to change the nature of education for children who live in poor, rural communities. It will change how they perceive education and the world."
3. Renewable energy. The Department is working closely with the Department of Energy and other partners to reduce and eliminate U.S. dependence on foreign oil. "Ultimately, this is how we view our natural resources and the environment and do things in a better way." He anticipated an enhanced level of collaboration with DOE that could result in more announcements supporting energy efficiency in the months to come.
4. Better land management. USDA oversees tens of thousands of acres of public land. The agency is studying how it can work better with the communities around that land, along with state and local governments, to increase economic development and better manage the land.
After outlining these key priorities, he returned to the need to think regionally, like the Midwest Rural Assembly is already doing. When asked how those outside the USDA can help support the efforts of the agency, Vasquez urged participants to continue to educate people about the importance of agriculture and rural communities to the economy and the country. "We need to convince people that agriculture and people in rural communities are a huge part of this economic engine" and continue moving forward.
The small town of Milan, Minnesota is trying an innovative approach to reduce it's energy burden. At the Midwest Rural Assembly today, Cheryl Landgren of the Greater Milan Initiative and IATP's Shalini Gupta told participants about setting up the first rural sustainable energy utility (SEU) to help reduce the town's energy costs while supporting larger community goals of job creation and population retention.
Homes and buildings in rural communities like Milan often use a lot of energy and are a high cost for rural residents. Winter heating bills are particularly tough on low-income residents. The Greater Milan Initiative is now setting up an SEU: a model developed by the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Delaware. SEUs create long-term community infrastructure around reducing energy usage and costs and promoting energy production where it is used.
The Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy at IATP is continuing work with the Greater Milan Initiative to get this new SEU off the ground. Look for more details soon.
Thinking about getting back to your roots and farming/ranching? Well you might get help from an unlikely place—the farm bill. The 2008 farm bill established several new loans and grants specifically designed for beginning farmers. There might be something for you whether or not you are looking to go organic.
Traci Bruckner (Center for Rural Affairs) sat down with several of us at the Midwest Rural Assembly to talk about provisions in the last Farm Bill focused directly on beginning farmers and ranchers. She mentioned the Land Contract Guarantee Program, Direct/Guaranteed Loan and several other programs directed towards sustainability.
She cited a South Dakota grass-fed beef rancher who was able to get reimbursed for 90 percent of his expenses to establish his grass forage, new fencing and a watering system for each paddock through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
But it may not be that simple. Lou Anne Kling and Loretta Jaus mentioned that some farmers who were eligible for various conservation programs were denied grants. And that is where the expertise of Bruckner comes into play—she works with farmers/ranchers to help them navigate the sometimes convoluted realm of Farm Bill grants and loans.
So if you are thinking about starting up a farming or ranching operation the farm bill might be a great starting place. And if you are starting to look at the Farm Bill then Bruckner is a great resource.
By Andrew Gross
The flooding in rural Iowa was terrible for the cattle, the corn and the people, but what about the wastewater treatment systems? Joe Dvorak and Dennis Siders from the Midwest Assistance Program have been thinking about Midwest wastewater system for years. At the Midwest Rural Assembly yesterday, they led a learning roundtable session to talk about the problems that rural Iowa faces and the water infrastructure challenges that we all face.
The day-to-day problems of aging infrastructure, lack of funds, declining budgets, and losing knowledgeable and skilled certified operators are all of major concern. Dvorak and Siders also noted that many small communities simply pay a flat rate for water coming into the town on a main pipe, but a lot of that water is lost to inefficient distribution systems and even holes down pipe from the main pipe meter. In a world where water is becoming the new oil, water inefficiency is no longer an option especially for rural communities.
So the answer is, well, complicated. Dvorak and Siders are clear: “keep track of your water.” And although the motto is simple, the implementation is anything but easy. Small communities are not keen on mandating water meters on end-usage sources because of the added cost. Plus local governments are not even charging the actual cost of the water usage because they don’t want to add any additional costs to struggling individuals. However, Dvorak and Siders maintain that through simple steps such as monitoring usage and plugging leaks to keep wastewater out and clean water in, small towns can lower their costs and conserve one of our most important resources.
Addressing water infrastructure in rural communities is very difficult, complicated and possibly expensive but still less than the cost of doing nothing.
By Andrew Gross