BOONE, Iowa — The more than $1 billion the federal government is devoting to voluntary efforts to reduce agriculture’s adverse effects on the environment is a better long-term strategy than mandating new rules for farmers, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said Tuesday.
While state and federal officials in the United States have tended to avoid implementing rules that might force farmers to radically change their long-held practices, the European Union has specific requirements about crop rotations, permanent pastures and the use of buffer strips and other conservation practices that improve soil quality.
Dutch farmers have protested some of their country’s efforts in recent years to limit pollution from agriculture, particularly proposals to significantly reduce the number of livestock raised in the country. The European Union also recently suspended some of its crop rotation requirements to increase production because of global food shortages caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Candidly, our view — and I’ve expressed this to EU officials — our view is that their approach may very well result in reduced production,” Vilsack said at the Farm Progress Show in Boone, in response to a question about whether U.S. farmers might eventually face similar requirements. He added: “I think our approach is better.”
Virginia’s General Assembly has in recent years debated whether certain agricultural practices that reduce runoff from farms should be voluntary or mandatory, particularly as the federal 2025 deadline for cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay looms. During the 2020 session, lawmakers weighed making both streamside fencing and nutrient management plans mandatory but ultimately settled on a voluntary course for the near future. The intensely negotiated final legislation included a clause, however, specifying that the practices will become mandatory if pollution reduction targets haven’t been met by 2025.
When asked to elaborate later about his comments, Vilsack said they pertained to organic farming and were the views of some European farmers. The European Green Deal seeks to increase the amount of farmland that is being managed to produce organic crops to 25% by 2030. The practice is more environmentally friendly but often produces lower yields.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has offered programs to expand organic farming in the United States but hasn’t set goals for converting farmland to organic. Vilsack said Tuesday that demand for U.S. agriculture products will continue to rise.
“The challenge is, how do you do it sustainably?” he said. “How do you increase production but at the same time do it in a climate-smart way?”
He stressed repeatedly that federal initiatives announced in the past two years seek voluntary participation.
Later in the day, U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, echoed those sentiments when he was asked about potential provisions of the upcoming farm bill: “We need to make sure we have voluntary conservation practices,” he said. “That is so crucial.”
Vilsack talked at length about the tremendous amount of federal funding available to support agricultural commodities that are produced in a way that reduces greenhouse gas emissions. In February, the USDA offered up to $1 billion to support new “climate smart” products.
He said the USDA will announce its first grant recipients in mid-September and hinted that projects proposed by universities in Missouri and South Dakota and by the Iowa Soybean Association will be among them.
Vilsack and the USDA have unveiled a flurry of new programs in the past two years with the goal of transforming aspects of American agriculture, especially to help reverse the consolidation of certain sectors into the hands of a few companies and to increase the number of farmers.
The USDA is also working to provide billions of dollars of debt relief to farmers who have struggled to make payments on farm loans: “The most important piece of this is keeping people on the land,” Vilsack told reporters last week about major legislation to aid agriculture.
The USDA recently announced it will distribute up to $300 million for projects that help farmers who have received limited help from the department in the past. Those groups of people have typically included new farmers and ranchers, those with low incomes and those of racial or ethnic minorities. Eligible projects for the funding would expand their access to land, money and markets, Vilsack has said.
The department is also offering up to $250 million to minority-serving colleges and universities to help educate food and agriculture professionals.
In June, Vilsack announced hundreds of millions of dollars of funding to support smaller, independent meat processors to help diversify that sector of agriculture, which over the years has become dominated by several large companies.
This story first appeared in the Iowa Capital Dispatch, a sister publication of The Virginia Mercury within the States Newsroom network.
by Jared Strong, Virginia Mercury
Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.
Farm-to-Fork Fast Track: The Rise of Short Food Supply Chains
The Sustainable and Economic Benefits of Bridging the Gap Between Producers and Consumers.
In an era marked by heightened environmental consciousness and a collective move toward ethical consumption, “local produce” is no longer just a farmers’ market catchphrase—it’s a critical component of modern sustainability efforts. A recent press release highlights an intriguing development in this space: the rise of short food supply chains. The concept, although simple, could revolutionize how we think about the food on our plates and its journey to get there. By minimizing the number of intermediaries between producers and consumers, short food supply chains promise economic gains for local farmers and a lower carbon footprint for all.
Short food supply chains enable local producers to sidestep the cost burden often imposed by multiple intermediaries, such as wholesalers, brokers, and retailers. This financial liberation boosts profit margins for farmers, enabling them to focus more on quality and potentially pass down cost savings to the consumer. For small-scale farmers who may lack the capital or infrastructure to compete with large industrial farms, this is an opportunity to level the playing field.
The environmental benefits of short food supply chains are manifold. Reduced transportation requirements directly translate to fewer greenhouse gas emissions. This concept aligns with the general trend of shrinking carbon footprints, becoming especially relevant given that food in North America travels an average of 1,600 miles from producer to consumer. Additionally, the practice incentivizes local producers to employ greener practices, such as organic crop production, further promoting environmental sustainability.
There are various formats that short food supply chains can take, including U-pick farms, farm-based shopping, home delivery, farmers’ markets, producer-hosted e-commerce sites, and subscription boxes. This diversity in options not only offers convenience but also adds a personal touch to the food shopping experience. Consumers can know exactly where their food comes from, potentially even meeting the people who grow it.
When consumers opt for these local, shortened supply chain options, the positive ripples are felt across the board. This kind of conscious shopping strengthens local economies by keeping money circulating within the community. The press release sums it up aptly: When you buy from producers that prioritize short food supply chain practices, you support both your environment and your local economy.
The rise of short food supply chains signals a promising shift toward more sustainable and economically fair food systems. While it may not completely replace the current industrial food systems overnight, it does offer a viable alternative that appeals to the growing number of conscientious consumers. So, the next time you see a farmers’ market, consider stopping by—not just for the fresh produce but also for the peace of mind that comes from knowing you’re contributing to a more sustainable and equitable food network.
The Imperative of Self-Care in America’s Most Hazardous Profession: Farm Work
National Farm Safety and Health Week Turns the Spotlight on Mental and Physical Well-Being in Agriculture.
National Farm Safety and Health Week, running this year from September 17 to 23, serves as a timely reminder of the often underestimated risks and challenges faced by America’s agricultural workers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, agriculture ranks as the most dangerous industry in the United States, with an alarming rate of accidents and fatalities, especially during harvest season. But how can those in this high-risk field better protect themselves, both mentally and physically?
In the world of agriculture, self-care starts with the basics—adequate protective clothing and staying hydrated. Given that tasks like planting and harvesting involve repetitive motion, experts recommend regular stretching exercises to ward off injuries. Physical therapist Dr. Karen Ellis advises, “Regular stretching isn’t just a good practice for those in sedentary jobs. It’s crucial for agricultural workers as it can prevent musculoskeletal disorders and repetitive strain injuries.”
While the focus often lies on physical safety, mental well-being is equally vital. Farm work comes with its set of unique stressors: unpredictable weather patterns, seasonal deadlines, and the very reality of depending on factors beyond one’s control. Incorporating mindfulness practices into daily routines can significantly help farmers maintain focus and reduce errors, which are often the precursors to accidents.
“Mental health can’t be sidelined when talking about farm safety,” says psychologist Dr. Sarah Turner. “The unpredictability of farming activities can lead to heightened stress and anxiety, potentially compromising attention and decision-making skills.”
This year, the organizers behind National Farm Safety and Health Week have allocated each day to specific focus areas:
- Monday, September 18: Equipment and Rural Roadway Safety
- Tuesday, September 19: Health and Wellness
- Wednesday, September 20: Priority Populations
- Thursday, September 21: Confined Spaces
- Friday, September 22: Brain Health
Each topic aims to shed light on essential yet often overlooked aspects of farm safety, reinforcing this year’s theme, “No one can take your place,” urging farmers to take the necessary precautions to protect both body and mind.
In an industry as hazardous as agriculture, self-care is not a luxury; it’s an imperative. As we observe National Farm Safety and Health Week, let’s recognize that behind the statistics are real people whose well-being impacts not just them but also the communities and economies they serve. Let us consider this a call to action for not only the farming community but also policymakers and industry leaders to take the necessary steps to ensure the safety and well-being of America’s agricultural workers.
Living Harmoniously With Farmers: Understanding and Respect
Living in the countryside offers a unique experience with its open spaces, affordable housing, and fresh air. However, it also means sharing the landscape with agricultural producers, whose activities can sometimes be disruptive. To foster peaceful coexistence, it is crucial to cultivate understanding and respect between rural homeowners and farmers. Here are some suggestions for harmonious living amidst the sounds of tractors and the aroma of farm activities.
- Educate Yourself: To avoid misconceptions and misunderstandings, take the initiative to educate yourself about agricultural practices. Explore specialized websites that provide insights into various farming activities. Moreover, engage in conversations with farming neighbors or local producers to gain firsthand knowledge. These individuals are often passionate about their trade and willing to share their experiences if approached with respect and curiosity. Building mutual understanding through respectful exchanges is essential for peaceful cohabitation.
- Practice Tolerance: Recognize that farmers strive to minimize disruptions for nearby residents. They employ measures to reduce noise levels, such as modifying machinery and adhering to government regulations. However, certain activities may still impact daily life temporarily. Cultivate a sense of tolerance and patience, understanding that inconveniences are part of the agricultural rhythm. Remember, the benefits of living in the countryside often outweigh the occasional disturbances.
In rural areas, fostering harmonious relationships between rural homeowners and farmers is vital for creating a sense of serenity and community. By educating ourselves about agricultural practices and engaging in respectful dialogue, we can bridge the gap between urban and rural lifestyles. Tolerance and understanding are key to appreciating the valuable contributions of farmers and embracing the charm of countryside living.
Protecting Crops: Effective Scare Tactics in Farming
Farming is a demanding profession, with farmers constantly adapting to the challenges presented by weather fluctuations and the ever-present risk of crop damage caused by animals. To safeguard their fields from destructive critters, farmers employ a range of scare tactics designed to deter them and redirect their attention elsewhere. In this article, we explore some of these tactics and their effectiveness in crop protection.
- Starting Guns: Migratory birds, such as geese, pose a significant threat to crops. To deter them, farmers often utilize starting guns. Emitting a loud, shot-like sound, these guns send a clear signal to birds that they are not welcome in the vicinity. Starting guns are typically employed during critical periods when the risk to crops is high, effectively discouraging avian intruders.
- Kites as Decoys: Farmers have devised creative methods to chase away pest birds like pigeons, crows, and starlings. One common approach involves using kites shaped like predatory birds affixed to telescopic poles. When the wind blows, these decoy kites flap and move, creating the illusion of a menacing presence. This visual deterrent helps keep birds at a safe distance from the crops.
- Sound Cannons and Ultrasonic Guns: Sound cannons, also known as bird bangers, provide an effective means of scaring off birds and mammals. Powered by propane gas, compressed air, or electronic systems, these devices emit alarming noises such as explosions and sirens. The startling sounds create an aversive environment for animals, encouraging them to seek refuge elsewhere. Additionally, ultrasonic guns emit high-frequency noises that are inaudible to humans but highly discomforting to rodents, such as rats and mice.
Crop Protection Importance: Birds and small animals can cause substantial damage to fruit, vegetable, and grain crops. Their foraging and feeding habits can result in significant financial losses for farmers. By employing scare tactics, farmers proactively protect their crops, ensuring a bountiful harvest and minimizing economic setbacks.
Scare tactics play an integral role in safeguarding agricultural crops from animal threats. Through the strategic use of starting guns, decoy kites, sound cannons, and ultrasonic guns, farmers effectively deter birds and small animals from damaging their fields. These innovative approaches create an inhospitable environment for pests, ensuring the preservation of crops and the sustainability of agricultural practices. The persistent efforts of farmers to protect their livelihoods and provide for our communities should be commended.
Navigating the Future of Agriculture: Addressing Current and Future Challenges
The agriculture industry is confronted with a multitude of challenges that demand innovative solutions and a forward-thinking approach. From extreme weather events and the scarcity of young farmers to the impact of diseases on crops and livestock, the future of agriculture requires careful consideration and proactive action. In this article, we delve into some of the most pressing challenges faced by the industry and highlight the need for sustainable solutions. If you are seeking a career that can make a meaningful difference for future generations, agriculture presents an enticing realm of opportunities.
- Meeting the Growing Demand for Food: With the global population projected to reach 10 billion by 2050, ensuring food security is a paramount concern. Agricultural systems must adapt and expand to meet the increased demand for nutritious and sustainable food. Embracing technological advancements and implementing efficient farming practices are crucial in addressing this challenge.
- Environmental Protection: Agricultural processes can have detrimental effects on the environment, depleting soils and polluting groundwater. These impacts disproportionately affect small-scale producers in developing countries. Sustainable farming practices, such as precision agriculture, organic farming, and agroforestry, aim to mitigate environmental damage and preserve ecosystems while ensuring long-term productivity and resilience.
- Accessible and Renewable Energy: Affordable energy resources are vital for the success and sustainability of agricultural operations. High energy prices can burden vulnerable farmers and impede progress. Embracing renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, can reduce costs, enhance energy efficiency, and contribute to a greener future for agriculture.
- Labor Shortages: Finding a sufficient workforce poses a significant challenge in the agricultural sector. While technology can automate certain tasks, its capabilities are currently limited. The industry must explore innovative ways to attract and retain a diverse workforce, including promoting agricultural education, supporting vocational training, and emphasizing the rewarding aspects of careers in agriculture.
- Climate Change Resilience: Extreme weather events, including droughts, floods, and heat waves, pose a significant threat to agricultural productivity. Adapting farming practices to withstand climate change impacts, such as implementing water conservation techniques, using drought-resistant crop varieties, and adopting climate-smart agricultural approaches, are essential for building resilience and ensuring food security.
The agriculture industry stands at a critical juncture, facing numerous challenges that require immediate attention and collaborative efforts. By addressing the growing demand for food, protecting the environment, embracing renewable energy, finding innovative labor solutions, and building climate change resilience, the industry can pave the way for a sustainable and prosperous future. If you are passionate about making a positive impact on future generations, consider a career in agriculture, where your efforts can contribute to global food security, environmental stewardship, and the well-being of communities worldwide.
Exploring local delights: Where to find and support local products
When you choose to buy local products, you contribute to the growth and vitality of your community while enjoying the freshest and most flavorful foods. Supporting local producers not only revitalizes the economy but also fosters a sustainable and environmentally friendly lifestyle. In this article, we highlight various places where you can conveniently purchase local products, ranging from public markets and food baskets to kiosks, U-picks, gourmet tours, online platforms, restaurants, and grocery stores. Embrace the opportunity to stock up on excellent products from your local producers and savor the unique flavors of your community.
- Public Markets: Explore the bustling atmosphere of public markets, where local farmers and talented artisans gather to showcase their fresh produce and unique processed foods. From farm-fresh fruits and vegetables to homemade preserves and baked goods, these markets offer a vibrant array of local delights.
- Food Baskets: Consider subscribing to garden baskets offered by local farms. These subscriptions provide a regular supply of freshly picked fruits and vegetables, and some even include additional products like meats, eggs, and dairy. Embrace the convenience of having an assortment of local products delivered right to your doorstep.
- Kiosks: Conveniently located along the roadside or on farms, kiosks provide a one-stop shop for a variety of delicious foods. Whether you’re seeking fresh fruits, homemade jams, or artisanal cheeses, these kiosks offer a diverse selection of local products. Some even offer self-service options, allowing you to explore and choose at your own pace.
- U-picks: During the summer and fall seasons, immerse yourself in the joy of picking your own fruits and vegetables. U-pick farms offer the opportunity to harvest strawberries, blueberries, artichokes, pumpkins, and more. Experience the satisfaction of selecting produce directly from the source while enjoying the farm ambiance.
- Gourmet Tours: Embark on culinary adventures with gourmet tours that highlight agritourism activities. These tours provide a chance to explore local producers, their farms, and the delectable products they offer. Immerse yourself in the rich flavors and traditions of your region while gaining insights into the production processes.
- Online Platforms: Take advantage of the digital age and discover an impressive variety of local products available for purchase online. Many local producers now offer their goods through e-commerce platforms, allowing you to conveniently support local businesses from the comfort of your own home. Explore the virtual marketplace and connect with your community’s culinary treasures.
- Restaurants: Indulge in the flavors of your region by dining at restaurants that prioritize local ingredients. Many establishments proudly feature dishes made from locally sourced products, offering a farm-to-table experience that celebrates the local culinary heritage. Keep an eye out for seasonal treats that showcase the freshest ingredients.
- Grocery Stores: Your local grocery store is often a treasure trove of local products. Look for shelves dedicated to showcasing goods from nearby businesses. Read labels and inquire about the origins of the products to ensure you’re supporting local producers. By choosing these items, you contribute to the local economy while enjoying high-quality provisions.
Supporting local producers is not only a delicious and rewarding experience but also an investment in the vibrancy of your community. By purchasing local products, whether from public markets, food baskets, kiosks, U-picks, gourmet tours, online platforms, restaurants, or grocery stores, you contribute to the livelihood of local businesses and foster a sustainable food ecosystem. Embrace the countless opportunities available to stock up on excellent products from your local producers and savor the unique flavors that make your community special.