Farm Bill Update from National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Blog
With the 2014 Farm Bill now expired without an extension in place, all eyes are now on the congressional leaders heading up the Farm Bill Conference Committee. The Committee leaders, which include Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee Pat Roberts (R-KS), Ranking Member Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Mike Conaway (R-TX), Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN), are currently working behind the scenes in an attempt to negotiate a new bill by the end of the year.
Negotiations have proven difficult because of the substantive differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The Senate bill, for example, was approved with broad bipartisan support, while the House only narrowly passed along partisan lines after initially failing on the House floor. The differences between the two draft bills can be found across nearly all twelve of the farm bill’s titles, including the conservation title.
Rye cover crops in Harford County Maryland. Cover crops are among the conservation practices supported by CSP. Photo credit: Edwin Remsberg, USDA.
Within the conservation title, the biggest split is on the future of the farm bill’s working lands conservation programs: the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program(EQIP). In the Senate bill, both major working lands programs are kept whole, and important policy improvements are made to each that increase access and environmental benefits. The bill also cuts funding for each program by equal amounts to help pay for a needed funding increase of agricultural conservation easements.
The House bill took a much different approach. The House proposes to eliminate our nation’s only comprehensive working lands conservation program, CSP, entirely. This elimination is justified by the claim that the House bill would transfer the key components of CSP to EQIP, along with a portion of CSP funding – a myth we refute in more detail below. While the House bill does transfer some CSP funding, it still cuts $5 billion in total conservation funding. The proposed elimination of CSP would also reduce agricultural sustainability and cut working lands funding from a large number of key agricultural states, denying farmers and ranchers access to comprehensive conservation support.
Please visit the NSAC blog to read more on the CSP and what's at stake in these negotiations!
Changing practices and implementing pollution controls can be expensive. The benefits of these measures are broad, but the cost is often borne by a limited number of parties. How can this cost be shared across the watershed that benefits from the changes? The Great Lakes Commission is testing a market-based approach in the Western Lake Erie basin* – stewardship credits.
“Many organizations and individuals are concerned about the health of Lake Erie. Harmful algal blooms have, in recent years, impacted local water supplies and upset the significant tourism economy. Stewardship credits are generated by agricultural producers who implement conservation practices to reduce the amount of nutrients (including phosphorus) leaving their fields and entering nearby waterways. The amount of nutrients reduced is translated into “credits” that can be purchased by “stewards.” Dollars invested in the purchase of stewardship credits pays for farmers’ efforts to reduce phosphorus contributions to waterways that flow into the Western Lake Erie Basin. Revenue from the sale of stewardship credits allows farmers to continue or increase those conservation efforts in the face of decreasing farm revenues. Stewards that buy credits can feel good knowing they are helping to improve water quality in Lake Erie.” source - Great Lakes Commission factsheet “How the Erie P Market Works for Stewardship”
The market for stewardship credits is just opening - the first purchase by an individual was made by LWV Upper Mississippi River Region’s chair, Gretchen Sabel, for her grandson Isaac’s eight birthday. Isaac lives with his family in the Sandusky River Basin in northwest Ohio, and will benefit from cleaner water as he grows up. Of course, an organization purchasing a large block of credits would have a lot more impact than this single purchase. You can learn more on the Great Lakes Commission’s Lake Erie P Credits page here and purchase credits directly by clicking here.
How do these stewardship credits work? This is a Credit Calculation Example Scenario that the Great Lakes Commission provides in the Framework for Water Quality Trading in the Western Lake Erie Basin (see full document here):
“Farmer Brown lives in Defiance County, Ohio where he owns and operates a 100-acre corn and soy bean farm. After hearing about the newly introduced Erie P Market, Farmer Brown decides to improve his field management practices and make some extra money. Working with the local conservation district, he designs and implements a conservation plan that includes: (1) no-till (2) 4R nutrient management (3) the installation of a filter strip along the down-slope boundary of his property, and (4) planting 50-acres of cover crops. Using regional climate data, the results of his Mehlich 3 Phosphorus tests, and other detailed knowledge of his farm’s characteristics, Farmer Brown calculates his Credits to be traded on the Erie P Market as follows:
As you can see, the purchase of Lake Erie P Stewardship Credits helps farmers directly implement changes to reduce the loss of phosphorus from their fields. By increasing the pool of capital available to make changes, groups and individuals can help be part of the pollution solution!
*Map of Western Lake Erie basin from Great Lakes Commission website:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead
On October 1, LWV Upper Mississippi River Region will host a discussion with leaders from LWV Jo Daviess County. We will talk about what they have accomplished in the Galena River watershed, and what we, as community leaders, can do throughout the Upper Mississippi Watershed. The public is invited to join us - we will gather at the Upper Mississippi National Refuge Visitor Center at N 5727 Co Rd Z in Onalaska, Wisconsin (10 miles north of La Crosse) at 12:30 for light refreshments, the discussion will start at 1pm. Additionally, this post on the LWV UMRR blog has info on related events in the area. Here's a link to our Facebook event - feel free to share it!
State officials are seeking public comment on a draft list of five water quality standards topics proposed as priorities for protecting Wisconsin’s lakes and rivers. Also under consideration is the development of standards for certain emerging contaminants that may need to be monitored and controlled to protect people and the environment.
Stakeholders are invited to comment on DNR’s draft priority list from August 28 to October 5, 2018. The draft report of the priorities, which includes the list and topic descriptions, is available on the DNR website here or go to the http://dnr.wi.gov and type in the search words “triennial standards review.” Comments on the triennial standards review process should be directed to Marcia Willhite by calling (608) 267-7425, e-mailing email@example.com, or mailing to Wisconsin DNR WT/3, PO Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707.
A public hearing will be held on September 21, 2018 from 10:00 to 11:00 AM. This hearing is for citizens to comment on or ask questions about the topics presented. Anyone who would like to participate is invited to join online through a webinar using the link posted on the DNR’s triennial standards review Web page, or in person at the DNR’s Madison office at 101 S. Webster St., Madison, in Room G27 after signing in at the visitor’s desk.
Text for this post was extracted from an August 30 email from Midwest Environmental Advocates.
Whew! There are lots of things happening this fall in this beautiful stretch of the Mississippi! Join LWV UMRR as we build a partnership for action with our area Leagues and local chapters of the Izaak Walton League.
On September 26, LWV UMRR Chair, Gretchen Sabel, and Vice-Chair, Lonni McCauley, will meet with principals of the Izaak Walton League's Upper Mississippi River Initiative to discuss how our two organizations can work together on our common goal of protecting and enhancing the Upper Mississippi.
This meeting will happen in the afternoon, and then in the evening, the public is invited to come hear David Zenter from the Ikes and Gretchen Sabel talk about the work of each organization and how we see this blossoming partnership going in the future. The venue is Buck's Bar and Grill Minneiska, Minnesota, which is situated between Winona and Wabasha, on the Mississippi,.
The program starts at 6:30 pm with a short meeting of the local Izaak Walton Chapter, follwed by the presentations. All are invited to join us! Buck's Bar and Grill is at 206 Bennett Ave, Minneiska, MN 55910 Fun note - Buck's is also the city's official meeting place, recycling center and bomb shelter. 'A place for the community': Buck's Bar in Minneiska serves as a bomb shelter, recycling center and card hall
Monday, October 1, the LWV UMRR Board will meet on the other side of the river in Onalaska, Wisconsin. The Board will meet from 9:30 to 11:30, and then we'll share lunch and discuss what local groups can do to support change and improvement in the Upper Mississippi. We will focus on the work that LWV Jo Daviess County has initiated, and now is involving the whole community in, in the Galena River Watershed. LWV members from local Leagues are invited to join us for the Board meeting, and the public will be invited to the afternoon talk; the agenda and related materialsl will be posted on our Upcoming Events page by September 25. We will be done by 2pm. The meeting will held at the Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge Onalaska Visitor Center.
LWV Upper Mississippi River Region is working with LWV Wisconsin and LWV Lake Michigan to question the proposed use of Lake Michigan water for an industrial development outside the Lake Michigan watershed. A recent post on this blog provides more background - click here.
Here is the most recent update on that project, from LWV Wisconsin:
Racine Diversion Challenge AdvancesLast week, the legal challenge to the City of Racine’s plan to divert Great Lakes water to the Foxconn industrial complex advanced. A pre-hearing conference is set for September 12 before an Administrative Law Judge.
The petitioners contend that the Wisconsin DNR’s approval of Racine’s request for a Great Lakes water diversion for the Foxconn development violates the Great Lakes Compact, an interstate agreement enacted to protect this economic and cultural resource. The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin is one of six organizations appealing the diversion permit issued by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The Compact strictly requires diversions of Great Lakes water be limited to public, largely residential, uses. Racine’s attempt to divert 7 million gallons per day of Lake Michigan water west of the Great Lakes Basin divide to serve the solely private industrial uses of Foxconn violates this rule.
The League believes that the Great Lakes Compact, signed into law in by President G.W. Bush on October 3, 2008, significantly supports the long standing League positions of an "environment beneficial to life through the protection and wise management of natural resources in the public interest," and that policies must consider the "environmental, ... and economic impacts of proposed plans and actions." Read more at the LWVWI website.
In Minnesota, LWV UMRR Action Chair Lonni McCauley has reached out to the Governor's office and the Minnesota DNR to urge Minnesota to engage on this issue through the Great Lakes Compact. We will provide updates here as things progress.
Here’s an interesting question – once water ends up in the wastewater plant, what next? Most of the time, the water is cleaned up and discharged back to the environment. Fresh water is taken from the environment for the next use. Each time the water is used, it’s changed… made dirty and cleaned again, heated and then cooled, contaminated and then disinfected. What would happen if the used water is just… reused? What could it be used for? Are there uses for treated wastewater that will provide economic benefit?
That’s what’s happening in Mankato, Minnesota. In a story on Minnesota Public Radio four years ago (Aug 5, 2014), environmental reporter Elizabeth Dunbar took a look at the south-central Minnesota city of Mankato, and how their treated wastewater is being used as cooling water in a then-new power plant.
Reuse of both wastewater and stormwater for irrigation is growing in use in Minnesota as well – this recent report from the Minnesota Department of Health not only documents current projects but recommends criteria for reuse and how to identify and manage human risk. There is a large section of this report that provides benchmarking with other states’ rules. It is an excellent resource for those looking for resources for projects like this.
A new project now being considered in the Twin Cities would use treated wastewater in a new ethanol plant using garbage as the feed stock for ethanol production. Corn is the most common feed stock for ethanol; according to an article in Scientific American, about 40% of the corn grown in the Midwest goes to ethanol production.
The company proposing the garbage-to-ethanol project is the Canadian firm, Enerkem, in partnership with local firm SKB Environmental, expressed interest in using reclaimed water at its proposed waste-to-biofuel facility in Inver Grove Heights. This innovative project uses a ready resource in the area, garbage, and will convert it to ethanol for use in automotive fuel.
To do this, the plant also requires 1.6 million gallons of water PER DAY, which is a lot of water! They are considering using the water treated in the City of Farmington’s wastewater plant. Additional treatment would be needed, but by using this source they will eliminate the need for drilling wells or using surface water for this plant. This story from the St. Paul Pioneer Press provides a good overview of this project, and this more recent article from the Metropolitan Council gives more detail of the next steps of the project. We will follow this in our blog, follow us for more details as the project progresses.
Many thanks to Britta Dornfeld, Outreach Assistant for the Coon Creek Watershed District in Blaine, Minnesota, for her initial research on this article!
Groundwater is a critical resource for Minnesota - it feeds our streams, fills our lakes and is a (mostly) clean and reliable source of drinking water for about 75% of the population. Many areas have localized problems, some with natural contaminants like arsenic, man-made toxics from unsound disposal of industrial wastes and many areas with nitrate contamination at levels that are of concern. Here's a link to a video from an LWV UMRR meeting last October where Chris Parthun from the Minnesota Department of Health describes the problems with nitrate contamination in our water.
In 1989, the Minnesota Legislature passed a law aimed at increasing protection of Minnesota's groundwater resources. Click here to watch a video detailing Minnesota's 1989 Groundwater Protection Act. This act included a set of tiered actions to be taken to address everyday sources of groundwater contamination not addressed by programs like Superfund or the Leaking Underground Storage Tank program. This Act also established a groundwater protection goal of preventing degradation and reducing pollution where is has already occured.
One area where groundwater protection is particularly thorny is in agricultural areas, where nitrate contamination is affecting both public and private wells, and the levels are rising. As laid out in the Groundwater Protection Act, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is responsible for developing and administering programs and laws to address this. This has not been an easy course, and the twists and turns abound. This link leads to a blog post on the Loon Commons Blog by Matt Doll of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership. Here, Matt describes the rule that the Minnesota Department of Agriculture proposed to address the growing problem of nitrate in groundwater.
The Minnesota Legislature introduced bills to stop this rule. LWV UMRR Chair Gretchen Sabel testified in both the House and Senate, on behalf of LWV Minnesota, in opposition to these bills. This link will take you to a copy of her testimony in the House. In the end, the bills were passed and Governor Dayton vetoed it. The Ag Committees in both houses have taken steps to use an administrative procedure to further slow the rule. Here's another blog post from Matt Doll on the topic.
The saga continues... the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is now in the process of finalizing the rule. Public comment will be taken until August 15 - read about it here. And comment! Clean water is important for all of us in the Upper Mississippi - Minnesota is the headwaters state, and this rule is just one part of the solution.
September 28 update - it looks like the 2014 farm bill expire - read more about it here on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition's very excellent blog update. We will have more on this site as events transpire...
September 23 update - The 2014 farm bill's package of programs and funding expires in one week, on September 30. The 2018 farm bill moved ahead, with bills passing both houses of Congress this summer. Conference committee met in early September, you can watch the video here. But then, Hurricane Florence caused Congress to evacuate and delayed further work, so now things are really down to the wire. The bill on the Senate side does a good job of maintaining a strong conservation focus, but the House bill is not so good in this regard. This makes the work of the conference committee crucial. Now is a good time to contact your Representative in Congress and tell them that our country needs a farm bill that is strong on conservation and protects our water resources!
THE FARM BILL IS A major legislative package that deals with U.S. Department of Agriculture programs ranging from food safety, trade, nutrition support and subsidies for farmers. Similar bills have been passed approximately every five years since 1933. The active version of the law, passed in 2014, expires on Sept. 30. (For more information on the content of the Farm Bill, read our blog post here.)
(Photo from Minneapolis Star Tribune Dec 17, 2017.
The 2018 Farm Bill is in the works. LWV UMRR is following this progress, and has signed on to letters urging Congress to improve the conservation titles in the Bill. This bill is at a pivotal stage now - read about it here on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition's blog. It's a good read, detailed and with clear explanations.
Timing is critical - conference committee members have been assigned and it is expected that they will meet before the August recess, with a goal of getting a bill to the President for signature before the end of the Federal fiscal year on September 30.
Foxconn Technology Group, a Taiwanese manufacturer of LED-screens, is coming to Wisconsin, with jobs, economic development and lots of questions.
Foxconn is building its major manufacturing facility near Racine, in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin. The company’s North American headquarters will be in Milwaukee and a research facility will be built in Eau Claire. The state of Wisconsin, under the leadership of Governor Scott Walker, has given significant incentives to land this development. Unfortunately, many of these incentives have been reduction of environmental permitting requirements, which is another story; click here for an interview with Dr. Peter Adriaens from the University of Michigan.
The facility in Mount Pleasant will need lots of water. For this, the City of Racine has requested permission from Wisconsin DNR to take 7 million gallons a day from Lake Michigan. Since Mount Pleasant is a ‘straddling community’ – part in the Lake Michigan watershed and part in the Upper Mississippi watershed – their request must conform to the standards set out in the Great Lakes Compact – see more information here. WI DNR decided that the standards were met and granted the withdrawal. An appeal to this permit was filed and an additional process of public comment and review gone through. On April 25, 2018, the WI DNR again approved the withdrawal.
Is this a bad thing? Inter-basin transfer of water (taking water from one major water basin, in this case the Lake Michigan basin, and sending it to another, in this case the Upper Mississippi) is troubling. Water shortages abound across the world, and many look longingly at the vast freshwater resources of the Great Lakes. The purpose of the Compact is to ensure that the water in the Great Lakes is not mined and that Great Lakes ecosystems are protected. Learn more about the Great Lakes Compact here.
WI DNR’s approval of the City of Racine’s application violates the Compact requirement that any water diverted out of the Basin must be used solely for “Public Water Supply Purposes.” The purpose of the City of Racine’s diversion, as identified in the City’s application, is exclusively to supply water to industrial and commercial customers in a newly-designated “electronics and information technology manufacturing zone” in the Village of Mt. Pleasant. The in the out-of-basin portion of Mt. Pleasant subject to the diversion request.
LWV has a position (here) that inter-basin transfer should not be allowed unless:
LWV Wisconsin has lead efforts to oppose the withdrawal. LWV Lake Michigan is party to the Petition seeking reconsideration by WI DNR. LWV Upper Mississippi has made a resolution in opposition, and will continue to find ways to work against this transfer. You can read the resolution here.
According to the Great Lakes Compact, the 8 states and 2 provinces that border the Great Lakes have a right to question decisions. LWV UMRR so far has undertaken these actions:
Addition: Minnesota Public Radio looked at who comes out ahead in the Foxconn deal on July 31 - you can read more about it and listen to the conversation here. - LWV UMRR Blogger, Gretchen Sabel
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