- The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is preparing to administer a $7 billion farm aid package, reports the January 1999 Farm Service Agency newsletter. Nearly $2.4 billion will be used for emergency aid to farmers reeling from a year of flood, drought and collapsing Asian markets. About $375 million will be used to provide incentives through discounts of up to 35 percent for farmers to buy more and better crop insurance. The remaining $2 billion will be dispersed to farmers with losses caused by events such as floods or crop disease.
Sign ups for the money will begin February 1, 1999, and farmers will be eligible for up to $80,000 in direct aid. Farmers will be eligible for either single-year losses for 1998 or multi-year losses for any three or more years between 1994 and 1998. All crops, insured or not, are eligible for the single year payments. However, the multi-year payment will cover only insured or non-insurable crops. For more information, contact your local Farm Service Agency office.
- The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is conducting a cohort study of 90,000 farmers and their wives in Iowa and North Carolina in the hope of laying to rest the question of whether pesticide exposures cause elevated cancer rates, according to articles in the May 6, 1998, Journal of the National Cancer Institute, and the September 1998 Environmental Toxicology Newsletter. Part of the difficulty in pinning down epidemiological data is that farmers in differing geographical locations grow various crops using different insecticides and herbicides, or, in the case of organic farmers, no synthetic chemicals. The NCI Agricultural Health Study is being conducted in collaboration with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and other agencies.
- An oversupply of hogs caused pork prices to drop to their lowest level in 40 years, according to an Ag Alert January 1999 article. USDA statistics indicated that pork production was up 9.3 percent in December 1998 over December 1997, resulting in a drop in prices. Pork producers are loosing about $75 per hog, and USDA stepped in to assist the struggling small hog producers with approximately $50 million in direct cash payments. The maximum payment was $2,500 per operation.
- Grape growers can obtain virus-free and state-certified planting, budding, or grafting stock from nurseries participating in the California State Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) California Grapevine Certification Program. Participating nurseries plant registered field increase blocks with stock provided by the Foundation Plant Material Service (FPMS) under the supervision of CDFA. The nursery's increase block is then used to provide certified budding, grafting, or planting stock to growers. Lists of registered grape varieties/selections and California nurseries participating in the certification program are available from FPMS at (530) 752-0530.
- Assembly Bill 1998 (Thomson), passed by California legislature in fall 1998 and sponsored by the California Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), allocates $2 million in new state funding to help farmers reduce reliance on agricultural chemicals. AB 1998 follows up 1994 legislation, AB 3383, which established the Biologically Integrated Farming Systems (BIFS) program through the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP).
- Larry Thompson, a second-generation berry grower from Boring, Oregon, was recently elected the first farmer chair of the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) effort. Western SARE is a competitive grants program administered by the USDA and mandated by the U.S. Congress.
Thompson vows to bring a grassroots view to the job, and says when he considers sustainable agriculture policy, or research, education, and professional development priorities, his foremost question will be "Does it work at the grower level?"
- The U.S. EPA Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) seeks public comment on its preliminary risk assessments for 12 pesticides. All belong to a class of pesticides known as organophosphates, which OPP is currently reviewing under a more stringent set of criteria established by the Food Quality Production Act. Comments are requested by March 9. Visit the EPA web site athttp://www.epa.gov/pesticides/op or contact OPP Pesticide Docket office at (703) 305-5805.