December 16, 2012

Farm briefs: Dec. 16, 2012


---- — Gillibrand leads effort to keep milk-price reforms

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sen, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), along with Sen, Olympia Snowe (R-ME), is leading a bipartisan coalition of senators in urging Agriculture Committee leaders to keep a key dairy pricing reform amendment in any final Farm Bill agreement. The Snowe-Gillibrand amendment that was included in the Senate Farm Bill would jump start the process to bring certainty for the nation’s dairy farmers by stabilizing milk pricing. It has passed the full Senate as part of the 2012 Farm Bill.

“For years, New York’s dairy farms have endured volatility in the market — as feed and fuel costs rise, the price of milk plummeted,” said Gillibrand, New York’s first member of the Senate Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years. “When our family farms suffer, our whole state and whole economy suffers. Our bipartisan amendment is a strong step to give farmers a better, more just pricing system that they deserve, and it must be part of any final Farm Bill.”

Specifically, the amendment would allow dairy-industry groups to present milk-pricing reforms to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for consideration in a public-hearing setting, and order the Secretary of Agriculture to release the department’s final proposal to Congress.

The effort to keep the Snowe-Gillibrand amendment as part of any final Farm Bill deal is supported by Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Tom Udall (D-NM), Susan Collins (R-ME), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Patty Murray (D-WA).

Owens applauds new online farm-labor application

PLATTSBURGH — The U.S. Department of Labor has officially made electronic processing available online for farmers and other businesses filing H-2A and H-2B foreign labor certification applications, according to Rep. William Owens.

The hope is that online applications will reduce the paperwork burden on small businesses, particularly family farms like those in Upstate New York that rely on the H-2A visa program for seasonal farm labor. Owens applauded the effort, noting that this marked a positive step forward despite the need for larger, overall farm-labor reforms.

“I believe that broad farm-labor reforms are required to provide farmers the assistance they need to grow their operations, but I am encouraged the Department of Labor is taking steps to improve the program,” Owens said.

Earlier this year, Owens met with Labor Department leadership to discuss some of the congressman’s concerns with the H-2A program. As part of this discussion, the issue of electronic filing in the H-2A program was raised, and Owens urged the department to implement this idea as quickly as possible.

Owens has long supported broad attempts to improve farm labor programs for farmers in New York, in particular for specialty crop producers who rely on seasonal labor to get their product to market.

Earlier this year, he introduced the Family Farm Relief Act, H.R. 6373, in coordination with a bipartisan group of New York congressmen. The bill is intended to improve the H-2A visa program used by family farms in New York State, and would transfer oversight of the current H-2A farm worker program from the Department of Labor to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The bill would also make a series of reforms to improve the program for producers that rely on it for farm labor.

“I urge local farmers who utilize the H-2A program to try electronic filing and share their thoughts on the new system with my office so we can determine whether any changes or improvements are required,” Owens said.

Owens is a member of the House Committee on

Agriculture.Limits on grains, meat eliminated for school lunches

PLATTSBURGH — In response to pressure from school administrators and elected officials concerned over calorie limits on school lunches, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack said recently that his department will eliminate daily and weekly limits on grains and meat.

Congressman Bill Owens wrote to USDA earlier this year asking that the department revisit regulations on calorie limits for school lunches, and applauded USDA’s reconsideration of the issue.

“USDA set guidelines for school lunches that just didn’t work for many students, parents and school administrators,” said Owens. “It is my hope that eliminating the limit on grains and meat will give school districts the flexibility they need to provide school lunches that are both healthy and sufficient. However, I will look to local administrators for guidance to determine if additional changes are required.”

Under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, USDA was given greater authority to set standards for school lunches to ensure a high-quality meal for students. However, they issued regulations setting calorie limits that many school administrators complained were overly strict and left many students hungry. After hearing from school officials on the issue, Owens took those concerns to Secretary Vilsack, urging him in a letter to review the calorie limit and consider concerns laid out by school districts, parents and students.

New York Farm Bureau delegates elect officers

ALBANY — Delegates to the New York Farm Bureau State Annual Meeting cast their ballots recently in Albany to elect their representation on the state’s Board of Directors. It culminated a three-day-long meeting where resolutions were discussed and voted on to set NYFB’s 2013 policy agenda.

Dean Norton, who has served as president of New York Farm Bureau for the past four years, was re-elected to a third two-year term. The Norton family has owned Oak Orchard Dairy in Elba, N.Y., for five generations, and Dean operates DMCK Cattle Company with his wife, Melanie. Dean has also served on the American Farm Bureau Federation Board of Directors since 2010.

“I am honored the delegates have once again chosen me to lead this great organization and its members,” he said. “Together, we have made great strides defending the values we hold dear and working to improve the business climate for each one of our family farms.

State Annual Meeting delegates also re-elected Eric Ooms to serve another two year term as vice president. Ooms operates a dairy farm with his father and two brothers in Chatham.