Stand Up For Your Local Farmers

Support local food sources!

Support local food sources!

When the conventional food system showed its fragility during the COVID shut-downs, local producers kept feeding their communities with high-quality meat, eggs, dairy, and produce.  Artisanal small businesses provide fermented foods, kombucha, and many more foods vital for nourishing our communities.

Yet these local farmers and artisanal producers all too often face unnecessary difficulties created by government regulations, policies, and programs.

Now we have a rare opportunity to urge USDA to change!  The disruptions in the food system over the last year have led President Biden to direct the USDA to submit a report that assesses the supply chains for the production of agricultural commodities and food products.

As part of developing that report, USDA is accepting public comments on “Supply Chains for the Production of Agricultural Commodities and Food Products” until June 21.  The agency will also consider the public comments in its decision on how to spend stimulus funds, since it has been directed to increase durability and resilience within the U.S. food supply.

This is an important opportunity to talk about the significance of localized, decentralized food systems – and to give the agency specific action steps that would help move us to those systems!

In writing your comments, please try to include (1) examples of the challenges farmers and other food producers face in raising, processing, and marketing their products; and (2) specific action items that would help small-scale and diversified producers to build resilient, diversified systems.

Note that the USDA cannot change statutory law.  So issues such as the requirement that meat be processed in an inspected slaughterhouse are outside the scope of this comment period.  But the agency can change its own regulations, policies, and where it directs funding – so there is a lot that it can do to address problems with that meat inspection program, for example.

Topics to consider including in your comments:

  1. Meat processing: USDA should take steps to support the continuation and establishment of new small- and mid-sized operations.
    1. Share your own story about meat processing. Farmers: Were you able to provide meat during the meatpacker shutdowns last spring? Or have you been unable to because of a lack of processing? Consumers: What did you see during the pandemic? From whom did you get meat?
    1. As a small farmer or processor, what changes do you think are needed? Remember to focus on things that are in the regulations and policies, as well as direct relief funding for financial support, not statutory changes that are beyond the agency’s ability to change.
    1. Consider expressing support for these policy changes:
      1. Revise USDA’s policy governing multiple owners of animals that are processed in custom-exempt slaughterhouses. The USDA currently requires that the custom slaughterhouse record each owner and do the division of the meat, which makes it impractical for more than 4 people to co-own an animal. But the statute and regulations merely provide that the meat must be for the personal or household use of the owners. If USDA modified its policy, then “animal shares” could be far more flexible, allowing farmers and consumers to agree to use custom processors.  In effect, we could implement the Wyoming herd share law without the need for new state statutes if USDA makes a simple policy change.
      1. Reform the scale-prejudicial regulations and policies on small-scale slaughterhouses, including: (1) prioritize inspector availability for small-scale processors and provide training specific to small-scale processors; (2) revise the pathogen testing and process-control testing to ensure that small plants are tested proportionally to large plants; (3) reduce the difficulty and expense in developing HACCPs by providing model HACCPs, posting applicable peer-reviewed research, and identifying the control points for different types of products.
  • The agency needs to stop adopting regulations and policies that are scale-prejudicial.  For example, electronic animal ID is much more expensive for small-scale producers, yet the benefits flow to the large players and exporters.
    • Share your concerns about electronic ID, both its impact on you and on others in the industry. Do you run your animals in pasture conditions where they are more likely to lose tags, increasing the time and monetary expense? Does your local sale barn have infrastructure for running all electronic ID or would it be forced to spend tens of thousands of dollars to install it? Would your veterinarian have to buy new equipment to deal with an electronic system?
  • Other areas of needed infrastructure, whether physical (such as commercial kitchens and storage) or logistical (support for food hubs, farmers markets, etc.): What do you see as needed to build resilient, vibrant local food systems? Again, this can involve changing regulations, policy and guidance documents, or providing funding through USDA programs.

You can submit your comment online at

DEADLINE: Monday, June 21


Water Issues Loom for Midwest Farmers

Farmed Out: Overpumping Threatens to Deplete U.S. High Plains Groundwater

Story at-a-glance

  • In the next 50 years, research suggests 70 percent of the High Plains Aquifer System in the Midwestern US may be depleted
  • Water-intensive cattle and corn crops account for the majority of water usage in the US, and the High Plains Aquifer supplies 30 percent of US irrigated groundwater
  • Once the aquifer is depleted, it would take an average of 500 to 1,300 years to completely refill; farmers would need to reduce their pumping of the aquifer by 80 percent for it to be replenished naturally by rainfall
  • The adoption of more sustainable agricultural practices, including a return to grass-fed cattle, will be necessary to protect water supplies for future generations

By Dr. Mercola

In the US Midwest, corn and cattle are kings, but both require large amounts of water to be sustained. Not only is corn a water-intensive crop, but cattle raised on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are fed mostly corn.

This double blow to water supplies in the region has led to the rapid depletion of one of the most important water sources to Midwestern farmers – the High Plains Aquifer System.

It is this extensive underground aquifer that allowed farmers to grow crops in what was previously known as ‘the Great American Desert.’ It was also in this area where the rush to clear out the area’s natural grasslands and replace them with plowed soil lead to one of the greatest man-made ecological disasters of all time.

Following a decades-long drought in the 1930s, farmers began to use groundwater pumping and sprinkler irrigation to grow corn and wheat in what is now more commonly known as the US ‘dust bowl,’ using the vast aquifer freely.

Now, however, the draw has proved to be too intense and this once seemingly inexhaustible source of groundwater is quickly being depleted.

70% of the Water Could Be Gone in the Next 50 Years

Farmers in the region who hope to pass their farms on to the next generation had better do some quick thinking, because if the water drain continues new research suggests that nearly 70 percent of the aquifer could be depleted in the next 50 years.1

According to the study, by 1960 farmers had already used up 3 percent of the aquifer’s water and by 2010 that rose to 30 percent. By 2060, it’s estimated that another 39 percent of the water will be gone… and this is even taking anticipated irrigation technology improvements into account.

While it’s thought that farmers might be able to pump less water in the coming decades due to newer irrigation technology, corn crops and cattle CAFOs are expected to increase, which will likely negate any of the potential water savings.

The researchers stated:

Significant declines in the region’s pumping rates will occur over the next 15-20 y given current trends, yet irrigated agricultural production might increase through 2040 because of projected increases in water use efficiencies in corn production.

Water use reductions of 20% today would cut agricultural production to the levels of 15-20 y ago, the time of peak agricultural production would extend to the 2070s, and production beyond 2070 would significantly exceed that projected without reduced pumping.”

It Could Take 1,300 Years to Refill This Aquifer

Tapping this groundwater source for agricultural production is clearly not a sustainable option at today’s usage rates. Cattle and corn crops account for the majority of water usage in the US, and the High Plains Aquifer supplies 30 percent of US irrigated groundwater.

It is, in fact, because of this ‘guaranteed’ water supply that Kansas is able to claim some of the highest market value for agriculture in the US. Yet, once the aquifer is depleted, it will be gone for the foreseeable future, as it’s estimated it would take an average of 500 to 1,300 years to completely refill.

The script hasn’t been set in stone yet, however, as if farmers reduce their pumping of the aquifer by about 80 percent, it would be able to be replenished naturally via rainfall.

But in the Dust Bowl, growing two of the most water-intensive crops that exist, this is unlikely to happen unless major agricultural reform takes place. Cornell University professor of crop and soil sciences Harold Mathijs van Es told Scientific American:2

“We need to think about what’s being grown here and how we’re growing it. This is the Dust Bowl we’re talking about.”

Are We Farming Our Way to Environmental Disaster?

Many farmers in the Plains states rely on irrigation from the High Plains Aquifer to water their crops in times of drought, but what will happen if this water reserve runs out? We could once again be brewing a dust storm of epic proportions, and this is only one of the potential scenarios…

There are many other warning signs that the poor farming practices being used today could backfire in the form of major environmental disasters as well.

Soil is actually depleting 13% faster than it can be replaced, and we’ve lost 75% of the world’s crop varieties in just the last 100 years. Over a billion people in the world have no access to safe drinking water, while 80% of the world’s fresh water supply is used for agriculture. This situation is simply not sustainable for much longer. Yet, as the study’s researchers said, very poignantly and succinctly:

Society has an opportunity now to make changes with tremendous implications for future sustainability and livability.”

A Return to Grass-Fed Cattle May Dramatically Lessen Water Demands

to read more, go to:

Midwest Drought Breaks Records

Obama says Midwest drought historic, seeks aid for region

Margaret Chadbourn, Reuters

The worst drought in half a century is slashing U.S. crop and livestock production, President Obama said on Tuesday as he called on Congress to pass a farm bill that will send disaster aid to more farmers and ranchers.

During a meeting of Obama’s rural council at the White House, he said the administration will do all it can to alleviate the impact of the drought.

“It is a historic drought and it is having a profound impact on farmers and ranchers all across many states,” Obama said.

More than 60 percent of the continental United States, including prime farm and ranch territory, is suffering moderate to exceptional drought. Analysts expect the drought will bring the smallest corn crop in six years. The government will make its first estimate of the fall harvest on Friday.

With the U.S. election three months away, Obama said Congress needed to complete work on a new five-year farm bill. Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives, unable to pass a bill in the lower chamber, proposed a $383 million disaster package for livestock producers before adjourning for the summer.

The president said he hoped lawmakers get an earful from their constituents during the five-week recess away from Washington and that they reconvene on September 10 prepared to complete work on a farm bill “immediately.”

Food stamps for the poor would see their biggest cut, $16 billion, since the 1990s in the House farm bill. Democrats oppose those cuts and fiscal hawks among Republicans say the bill, which raises crop support prices, needs more cuts throughout. The Senate bill would cut food stamps by $4 billion.

“Congress needs to pass a farm bill that will not only provide important disaster relief tools but also make necessary reforms and give farmers the certainty they deserve,” said Obama in his first remarks on the farm bill in weeks.

He complimented the Senate for “good bipartisan work,” while wading into a squabble between the House and Senate over how to help farmers.

The Democratic-run Senate passed its farm bill in June. It includes funding for disaster aid this year. The Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives passed a disaster bill that would cut conservation programs by $639 million, including $256 million to reduce the federal deficit. It allows up to $100,000 in aid per operator.

Cattle and sheep ranchers would get most of the assistance.

Crop insurance will provide a safety net for most row-crop growers but livestock producers have less of a federal cushion. Disaster programs aimed at them expired at the end of 2011.

Farmers could collect $15 billion-$18 billion in crop insurance indemnities this year, nearly double the 2011 pay-out, because of drought losses, say analysts. Insurers made money in recent years but “this will be the first major loss year” since enrollment zoomed and may prompt a shake-out in the industry, said two University of Illinois economists on Tuesday.

The House disaster bill and the Senate farm bill offer similar disaster programs for livestock.

“It’s unfortunate that Senate Democrats have blocked this relief package from getting to those in need,” Kevin Smith, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, said in a statement.

The current farm law expires on September 30 but many of its provisions, including crop supports and food stamps for the poor can run for a while. Farm lobbyists see a low chance of Congress resolving differences in bills before the post-election “lame duck” session.