Dairy farmers and UMass Extension question proposed state rules governing manure use

“If you impose these regulations, there will be no dairy farms left in the state of Massachusetts,” Tedd White, a West Hawley dairy farmer with 114 Holsteins, told officials at the third and final Department of Agricultural Resources hearing on proposed “plant nutrient application regulations” for manure, fertilizer, compost and other materials on 10 acres or more of agricultural and non-agricultural land.

“We keep our farms going because it’s in our blood, it’s our heritage. We’re trying to hang on. Dairy farmers aren’t billion-dollar corporations. They can’t afford secretaries to handle paperwork.”

That paperwork, White and other farmers said, includes detailed records of tests of soil and manure as well as a “nutrient management plan” to be developed and updated every three years in accordance with “best practices” developed by the University of Massachusetts Extension Service.

White, who said he was “flabbergasted” by the proposal, said he already has a management plan and the regulations would be “extremely onerous.” He said that narrowly restricting manure-spreading on his seven-plus generation farm to meet guidelines set by people in Boston who have never farmed “will run us out of business,” along with the state’s 149 other dairy farms.

Expressing “anger, sadness and disgust,” Gary Gemme, of Harvest Farm in Whately, said, “I can’t believe that my state would throw its farmers under the bus for some leniency from the EPA when those farmers are as tuned to pollution issues as any in the country.”

Gemme said that farmers understand how manure and other soil nutrients have to be applied to react with flexibility in changing weather conditions, specific varieties of vegetables and fields that are “swapped” from one crop to another or even between different farmers, “responding quickly and wisely to opportunities that do pop up.”

He added, “This whole process seems like an absurd joke to me,” especially in a state that uses what he calculated as 180 times more salt on its “acres” of roads than the farmers apply in nutrients.

Deerfield dairy farmer Peter Melnik criticized the ambiguity and impracticality of the proposal, especially since it ignores the kinds of decisions farmers routinely have to make when faced with conditions such as this past winter’s ice and cold temperatures.

“I won’t know until a week or so whether that (180 acres of) alfalfa made it through the winter,” he said. “If that alfalfa died, I may have to take that land and put that into a crop that requires manure. Am I going to have to defend myself when a neighbor says, ‘Why are you spreading on this field’ or someone looks at my manure management plan that says I shouldn’t be spreading there this year? … Making those quick decisions sometimes has to happen within weeks.”

The agriculture department — which developed the regulations in accordance with 2012 state legislation so that communities can cut nitrogen and phosphorous pollution to waterways to maximize federal Environmental Protection Agency credits — was supposed to have a comment period that ended Friday. But hearing officer Lee Corte-Real announced that the comment deadline has been extended for 60 days, following hearings already held in Boston and Lakeville.

While some called for that period to be extended to 90 days to allow time for the department to consult with UMass Extension, the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service and especially farmers themselves, Ashfield crop adviser Tom Carter told the hearing that 90 days is not long enough. He pointed out that the comment period coincides with farmers’ busy growing season. He urged that discussions on the details of the regulations should not even begin until Oct. 1.

“Fertilizer recommendations without yield goals are worthless,” said Carter, who also questioned how UMass Extension or the UMass soil test lab, already hard-pressed financially, would be able to keep up with the increased burden on farmers that these regulations would impose.

Carter called the proposal “totally unrealistic and a tremendous burden … on small and large growers alike. It will make well-meaning businesspeople into criminals.”

Katie Campbell-Nelson, a UMass Extension agent from Greenfield, described how her own research showed that manure management under the proposed regulations would result in more pollutants to water sources, not less.

She said soil sampling methods differ from crop to crop and with other factors, and described how the proposed regulations differ from UMass educational materials. There are also discrepancies with UMass Extension’s recommendations for late-season manure application, she added.

Campbell-Nelson called for the regulations to allow more flexibility in scientific advances, differences in nutrient sources, weather, crop type and other variants.

“Many variables impact nutrient management decisions, and they need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis,” said Campbell-Nelson.

Rather than increased regulations with stiff penalties, farmers and others urged the department to work on an education plan using the recommendations of UMass Extension.

In its testimony to the state, the 6,000-member Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation criticized the lack of coordination with UMass Extension on developing regulations, as the 2012 legislation prescribed.

“Certainly these regulations are not consistent with UMass published information, educational materials and outreach programs.

The requirements of this draft go well beyond UMass information and in some instances outright conflict with UMass guidelines,” the federation’s written testimony states. “The failure of the Department to work with UMass and ensure consistency with established efforts is the major, and root flaw of these regulations.”

On the Web: http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/agr/docs/draft-nutrient-management-regulations.pdf

 Source URL:http://www.gazettenet.com/home/11448057-95/dairy-farmer-warns-proposed-state-rules-governing-manure-would-put-him-out-of-business


Massachusetts Envirothon Resources

Having had the pleasure of speaking with some of the participants in this year’s Massachusetts Envirothon on the issue of Sustainable Local Agriculture in Massachusetts, I thought this list of blog posts might be useful to the participants.

LOCAL AND SUSTAINABLE FOOD AND FARMING BLOGS by Dr. John Gerber, UMass Professor of Sustainable Food and Farming

Is Sustainable Agriculture Sustainable?

Symbols and Perspectives Matter

Lets Get Practical

Why do I Care?

Is Walmart’s Version of Sustainable Agriculture Really Sustainable?

Social Equity Must Remain One of the Three Pillars of Sustainable Agriculture

Reflections on Sustainable Agriculture

Education for a Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable Agriculture Education – A Story?

Reflections on the Early Days

Is the Modern Food System in Collapse?

Dealing with Food Systems Collapse

Just Food Now: Public Opportunities and Responsibilities

Just Food Now: Taking Personal Responsibility

Local Food: Lets Get Serious Now

The Future of Sustainable Food and Farming

Sustainable Agriculture and the Public University

Sustainable Agriculture Jobs after College

Agroecology – Science for a Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable Agriculture 2011: A Year in Review

Want to help design a local food hub?

Occupy the Food System: Education and Policy

Occupy the Food System: A Sermon

Its the U.N. International Year of the Cooperative in Western Massachusetts

Agriculture is a business… AND a way to connect with the divine

Industrial Agriculture is a “Fix that Failed”

The U.S. needs 50 million new farmers – including home gardeners and homesteaders

NY Times: Farm Bill Reflects Shifting American Menu

WASHINGTON — The farm bill signed by President Obama last month was at first glance the usual boon for soybean growers, catfish farmers and their ilk. But closer examination reveals that the nation’s agriculture policy is increasingly more whole grain than white bread.

Within the bill is a significant shift in the types of farmers who are now benefiting from taxpayer dollars, reflecting a decade of changing eating habits and cultural dispositions among American consumers. Organic farmers, fruit growers and hemp producers all did well in the new bill. An emphasis on locally grown, healthful foods appeals to a broad base of their constituents, members of both major parties said.

“There is nothing hotter than farm to table,” said Representative Bill Huizenga, a Michigan Republican from a district of vast cherry orchards.

While traditional commodities subsidies were cut by more than 30 percent to $23 billion over 10 years, funding for fruits and vegetables and organic programs increased by more than 50 percent over the same period, to about $3 billion.

 Gravenstein apples being harvested in Sebastopol, Calif. The new farm bill gives fruit and vegetable farmers greater access to crop insurance, protecting them from the vagaries of weather. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times
Gravenstein apples being harvested in Sebastopol, Calif. The new farm bill gives fruit and vegetable farmers greater access to crop insurance, protecting them from the vagaries of weather. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Fruit and vegetable farmers, who have been largely shut out of the crop insurance programs that grain and other farmers have enjoyed for decades, now have far greater access. Other programs for those crops were increased by 55 percent from the 2008 bill, which expired last year, and block grants for their marketing programs grew exponentially.

In addition, money to help growers make the transition from conventional to organic farming rose to $57.5 million from $22 million. Money for oversight of the nation’s organic food program nearly doubled to $75 million over five years.

Programs that help food stamp recipients pay for fruits and vegetables — to get healthy food into neighborhoods that have few grocery stores and to get schools to grow their own food — all received large bumps in the bill.

The new attention and government money devoted to healthy foods stem from the growing market power of those segments of the food business, as well as profound shifts in nutrition policy and eating habits across the country.

“This is my fourth farm bill, and it’s the most unique I have ever been involved in,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, the Michigan Democrat who negotiated, prodded, cajoled and finally shepherded the bill through Congress over two and a half years. “Past farm bills pit regions against regions. I said that we were going to support all of agriculture.”

The bill also eased a 75-year-old restriction on growing and researching industrial hemp, paving the way for several states to begin pilot growing programs for this variety of the cannabis plant, which can be refined into oil, wax, rope, cloth, pulp and other products.

At the same time, hunting programs were protected in the farm bill, which attracted the rare approbation of the National Rifle Association. The bill also ties conservation requirements to crop insurance benefits, which many environmental groups praised. “I think this is the new coalition,” Ms. Stabenow said.

While still in the shadows of traditional farming, organics are the fastest-growing sector of the food business. Support for that movement has traditionally come from Democrats in Congress, but the organic farming provisions in the bill had broad support from both parties.

“We kind of overperformed with younger new members of Congress on both sides of the aisle,” said Laura Batcha, the executive director of the Organic Trade Association.

Ms. Batcha pointed to a provision sought by her organization to exempt organic producers from having to pay assessments for certain marketing programs, which received broad backing from both Republicans and Democrats. The support surprised her, she said, but showed the popularity of organic products.

“I think we should let consumers make their own decisions about what kinds of foods they purchase,” said Representative Reid Ribble, Republican of Wisconsin, who is a member of the House Agriculture Committee. “And if there’s a market for organic products, we should support it.”

Over all, healthy food has become more politically popular because of efforts to combat childhood obesity and diabetes and a growing national interest in the farm-to-table movement promoted by the first lady, Michelle Obama, and other national figures.

“The average member of Congress, whether they are urban or suburban, knows that is what their constituents want,” said Ferd Hoefner, the policy director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “Even the most ag-centric member of the Agriculture Committee knows that is what helps sell the bill when it gets to the floor.”

For farmers of fruits and vegetables, oddly referred to in ag-speak as specialty crops, the ability to participate in crop insurance programs, which were expanded as direct payments to farmers were ended, is a major victory.

John King, a co-owner of King Orchards, which specializes in Montmorency cherries in Central Lake, Mich., was previously able to get insurance only for his apples. His cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots and raspberries went uncovered.

In 2012, the combination of a bitterly cold winter and a March heat wave resulted in Mr. King’s greatest losses in the farm’s 34-year history, wiping out all of his stone fruit and a third of his apple crop. “Crop insurance did not even cover half my labor bill for the year,” said Mr. King, who has already signed up for the maximum insurance for 2014.

“Over the years the big-program crops have been able to get what they want while for specialty crops it has been, ‘Tough luck as you freeze,’ ” Mr. King said. “Well, we grow the stuff people eat and want to eat, and we do need some financial cover from this increasingly precarious weather situation.”

On the farm bill, Ms. Stabenow was able to come to an agreement with her Republican counterparts in the Senate as well as the House, where the most conservative members sought large cuts to the food and nutrition program that makes up about 80 percent of the bill.

Ms. Stabenow had to fend off the most conservative House members, who at one point wanted drug testing for food stamp recipients. (Ms. Stabenow told them that she would agree only if every recipient of farm bill dollars was also tested.) But she also had to deal with some liberals who pushed back against any cuts to the food stamp program, including a provision that had allowed some states to inflate residents’ food assistance by counting the costs of utility bills that residents did not actually have.

“I appreciate passionate advocates,” Ms. Stabenow said. “But I believe it helps to be the first one to call out situations where there is not accountability.”

Ms. Stabenow was so persistent, her colleagues, supporters and Senate aides said, that some senators began to fear her approach as she moved purposefully between the Republican and Democratic cloakrooms just off the Senate floor. The clerks there would bet over drinks whether she could get her bill passed.

In general, the bill reflects the diverse agricultural landscape of Ms. Stabenow’s home state, which plays a leading role in movements like community gardens in schools and offers a program that gives food stamp recipients double credit for food and vegetable purchases — a model for the federal farm bill.

“I give her a lot of credit,” Mr. Hoefner said. “She made it clear from the get-go that these items needed to be in the bill.”


A version of this article appears in print on March 9, 2014, on page A16 of the New York edition with the headline: Farm Bill Reflects Shifting American Menu and a Senator’s Persistent Tilling. Order Reprints|Today’s Paper|Subscribe

UMass agricultural programs ranked among top ten in the U.S.

SSA Logo -- blue on white with UMASSA recent ranking of the Top Agricultural Universities in the World put the University of Massachusetts at number 10 in the United States (and 11 in the world), according to the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings.  UMass was the only ag school in New England to make the top 50 and second behind Cornell for best in the East.

We were delighted of course,” says Stockbridge School of Agriculture Director, Dr. Wesley Autio, when asked about the “meteoric” jump in ranking.

The rankings are based on reputation among other university faculty and employers, and research productivity.  Being placed among the list of “best Ag schools” is  an certainly an honor.  Autio  continued; “of course, we think the nearly 150 year-old University of Massachusetts has always been among the ‘go to’ schools for excellent undergraduate education, but it is nice to get this recognition.

The University of California at Davis and Cornell are perennially ranked number one and two on this annual list.  The research budgets and industry grants of these large institutions far surpass UMass.  The rankings indicate that “reputation among other university colleagues in agriculture” put UMass in the top 10.

The Stockbridge School of Agriculture offers 8 Associate of Sciences degrees and 4 Bachelor of Sciences degrees, as well as opportunities for students to work toward graduate degrees in agriculture and related fields.  The Sustainable Food and Farming Program, which allows students to concentrate on farming and marketing, agricultural education and public policy has grown from just 5 students in 2003 to 100 today. Other Associate and Bachelor programs focus on all aspects of agricultural science, important in a rapidly changing world.

Here is the ranking of U.S. agriculture and forestry universities in 2014:

  1. UC-Davis
  2. Cornell
  3. University of Wisconsin-Madison
  4. Iowa State University
  5. University of California-Berkeley
  6. Oregon State University
  7. Purdue University
  8. Texas A&M
  9. Ohio State University
  10. University of Massachusetts

For the top 50 Agriculture and Forestry Program, see “rankings 2014.”

Autio believes that the international recognition of the Stockbridge School is long overdue and that “programs such as our herbal medicine program, the Student Farm, our draft horse classes, and our Permaculture Initiative for example, have really put us on the map.” Students are encouraged to get involved in real-world applications of their course work. Autio says, “we offer both a solid Bachelor of Sciences degree as well as lots of opportunities to gain practical experience in preparation for exciting and satisfying careers.” He concludes “our alums will certainly tell you that Stockbridge is among the top agricultural programs in the world.”

Information on the food and farming degree program is available on the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture web site: https://stockbridge.cns.umass.edu/SFF-BS.

Dr. Wesley Autio, Director

Can the U.S. celebrate the International Year of Family Farming (without embarrassment)?

iyffThe United Nations declared 2014 as the International Year of the Family Farming (IYFF) and approved the following objectives:

  1. Promote policies in favor of the sustainable development of Family Farming by adopting concrete and operative measures and strategies, making budgetary allocations in support of Family Farming.
  2. Re-enforce the legitimacy of the farming associations to represent the interests of Family Farming in support of the making of farming policies.
  3. Increase awareness among civil society of the role of Family Farming.
  4. Achieve recognition of the role of women in Family Farming and of their rights.
  5. Advocate and defend an international economy of food products based on rules which foster development and food security in all countries.
  6. Promote investigation associated with sustainable rural development giving it human and financial resource.

fafo_2014_02To achieve these objectives, representatives of Farmers’ Organizations five continents met in Abu Dhabi on January 21-22, 2014, with the intention of developing specific policy recommendations.

In the statement agreed during the meeting, the participants reaffirmed that “Family Farming can and must become the cornerstone of solid sustainable rural development, conceived of as an integral part of the global and harmonised development of each nation and each people while preserving the environment and natural resources”.

“However, for this to be achieved Family Farming requires genuine public support which is non-existent today in most countries. A support which ensures the access to and control of land, water and other natural resources, to nearby markets, credit, investment and agricultural extension as well as equitable responses to the specific needs of rural women and youth”, emphasize farmers’ leaders.

Family farming organizations agreed on five main demands to be forwarded to decision makers during the IYFF-2014.

farmersunionIn spite of the support for this effort by the National Farmers Union in the U.S., the track record of U.S. policy has been anti-farmer for the past 60 years.  Wenonah Hauter writes in Foodopoly, “After World War II, farmers became the target of subtle but ruthless policies aimed at reducing their numbers, thereby creating a large and cheap labor pool.  In more recent times, federal policy has been focused on reducing the number of farms as labor has been replaced by capital and technology.” 

U.S. federal farm policy has been markedly pro agri-business and anti family farmer, in spite of the rhetoric of U.S.D.A. administrators.  While this policy has resulted in cheap food (consumers in the U.S. expend less than 10% of their income on average toward food) the effect on all other aspects of society such as public health, environmental quality, rural community vitality, and the economic viability of the family farm has been decidedly negative.

It will take a remarkable turn around in public policy in the U.S. if we intend to participate in the celebration that is the International Year of Family Farming! 

To learn more and support the New England chapter of the National Farmers Union, please consider joining this progressive voice in support of family farms.

joinFor a more complete story see: Will the International Year of Family Farming slow the “cancerous” growth of industrial farming?

Mushroom Growing Workshop for Stockbridge Students – Registration Required

 Free Workshop for Stockbridge School of Agriculture Students

Saturday, April 12 from 1:00pm – 3:00pm

at the Wysocki House in front of the UMass Agricultural Learning Center (911 North Pleasant St. – north of campus toward Puffton Village)

willie4Join Stockbridge graduate, Willie Crosby from Fungi Ally, for a hands-on workshop to learn the basics of growing medicinal and culinary mushrooms in your backyard. The workshop will focus on methods of growing mushrooms on wood using 3 techniques. Participants will learn the procedures of inoculating logs, totems, and woodchip beds and get to implement each one. Upon completion of the workshop students will have the knowledge and experience to cultivate mushrooms using these methods at home.









To register for this workshop, send an email to John Gerber with a contact phone number.  Willie’s workshops generally cost $25 but this one is being provided to Stockbridge students free of charge.