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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Senator Harkin`s Agriculture Newsletter

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July 17, 2009

Dear Friends,

Those in agriculture and rural America know the hardships of our nation's current economic situation all too well.  It is for this reason that I have been working hard in Washington to help our farm families through these tough times.  Earlier this year, we took a major step with the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, however there are even more steps that have been and can be taken.  For example, we have – among many other things - worked to open up new markets for American products; pushed to grow the "green energy" sector; and approved additional funding for agriculture, energy and rural projects.  Please keep reading to learn more about these and other initiatives.

All my wishes for a continued happy, healthy and safe summer.

Your Senator,

Tom Harkin

In This Edition:

  • Harkin Calls for Stepped-Up Push to Lift Foreign Bans on U.S. Pork
  • Senators' Bipartisan Bill Supports Agriculture Mediation
  • USDA Announces Funding for Critical Energy Programs
  • Harkin Includes Iowans in Green Jobs Summit
  • U.S. and Canada Agree to Equivalent Organic Standards
  • Senate Agriculture Committee Considers Nominees for Key USDA Posts
  • Senate Appropriation Committee Approves Funding For Important Iowa Agriculture, Rural, Energy And Consumer Initiatives


On June 11, Senator Harkin called on U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to step up more assertive action to lift unfounded and damaging trade barriers that other countries have thrown up against U.S. pork exports.  In his letters, Harkin asks the Trade Representative and Secretaries to take necessary steps to lift all bans on U.S. pork exports.  Harkin is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

"With all the hardships facing U.S. pork producers, it is high time to ratchet up our case pressing nations that are unjustifiably refusing U.S. pork imports, especially China and Russia.  If they persist in these bans, we must move to apply more formal diplomatic or trade sanctions against them," Harkin said.  "Since China is a member of the World Trade Organization and Russia is not, the forms that those sanctions take will likely differ.  However, the principle of fundamental fairness and the precarious state of the U.S. pork sector demand that we take strong action as soon as possible."

After the initial outbreak of the H1N1 virus earlier this year, several countries banned the importation of U.S. pork, asserting the incorrect view that the virus could be transmitted by pork.  Since that time, several international human and animal health organizations have explained authoritatively that there is no risk of contracting H1N1 from eating pork. Several countries have lifted their bans.  Some countries, however, still block pork products from the United States.  These actions have contributed greatly to a sharp decline in hog prices and put an unfair strain on the U.S. pork industry.

A copy of the letter to the U.S. Trade Representative is available here.


On June 26, Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Pat Roberts (R-KS) introduced legislation to continue to extend and authorize for an additional five years the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Certified State Agriculture Mediation Program.  State mediation provides a neutral, confidential forum to discuss complex issues and build strong working relationships with producers, their lenders and government agencies.

"State-level mediation programs have a strong record of helping agricultural producers and lenders fairly resolve what would otherwise be unmanageable debt problems without having to go through expensive, time-consuming and adversarial legal proceedings," said Harkin. "I am hopeful that we will extend this federal program so that farmers and ranchers can continue to benefit from state mediation programs providing practical, manageable way to address their loan problems."

Mediation programs address issues in a confidential and non-adversarial setting outside the traditional legal process of foreclosure, bankruptcy, appeals and litigation.  Thirty-five states, including Iowa, now have such federally-backed mediation programs.


On June 8, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced action under the directive of President Obama – to expedite the release of new money to promote production and use of biofuels.  These funds were dedicated in the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, the farm bill, under Harkin's leadership.  The funds will support and grow several USDA energy initiatives including loan guarantees for advanced biorefineries; repowering projects to replace fossil fuels in existing biorefineries; production of advanced biofuels; energy efficiency and renewable energy projects for farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses; and collection, harvest, storage and transport of biomass feedstocks to biomass processing facilities.   

"I applaud Secretary Vilsack and the Administration on this announcement.  These programs are an important component of our nation's home grown clean energy strategy, providing grants and loans to spur the production of more energy from biomass," said Harkin.  "These funds will support farmers, rural communities and businesses as they strive to provide clean, safe domestic sources of energy for Iowans and for the nation.  I commend the Administration for expediting the release of this money and for implementing these important farm bill programs." 


On June 17, at Harkin's invitation, TPI Composites who has a facility in Newton and Clipper Wind who has a facility in Cedar Rapids attended the Senate Green Jobs Summit, sponsored by the Democratic Steering Committee, which focused on creating jobs in the 'green economy.' Harkin has been very active in Congress working to promote the expansion of the wind energy and other green industries in both Iowa and across the country.  Most recently, Harkin worked to include additional funding for the expansion of clean energy projects in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009.

"It is time that we start exporting Iowa energy, not jobs.  Iowa is leading the way in the production of clean, safe sources of renewable energy.  Many of Iowa's families have felt the pain of the recent economic downturn, however there is a new hope and promise as renewable energy production continues to expand and create 'green' jobs across the state and nation," said Harkin.  "Iowa recently became second in the nation for the production of wind power, and it is companies like TPI and Clipper Wind that are leading this charge to create good jobs and help grow our state's economy, all while reducing our dependence on foreign energy sources."

TPI Composites is a leading manufacturer of large-scale composite structures for the wind energy, transportation and military vehicles with a 316,000 square foot facility in Newton that is on schedule to create 500 jobs.  The facility manufactures the blades for General Electric's 1.5 megawatt wind turbines.  Clipper Wind has a 330,000 square foot manufacturing and assembly facility in Cedar Rapids, which has over 300 employees.  The company designs advanced wind turbines, manufactures its 2.5 megawatt Liberty wind turbine and develops wind power generating projects in the Americas and Europe. 


On June 17, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan announced a new agreement between the United States and Canada to harmonize the standards for clarifying products as organic. This agreement breaks down certain trade barriers between the two countries and will expand sales opportunities for organic farmers in both countries.  Specifically, it will allow U.S. producers to sell more of their products in the $2.6 billion a year organics market in Canada.

"I congratulate the Secretary and Deputy Secretary on this historic trade agreement with Canada," said Harkin.  "This welcome news represents a bright spot in our economic landscape that could not come at a better time for farmers in the midst of a deep recession.  Canadian consumers are demanding organic products to the tune of $2.6 billion annually, and this agreement will make it easier for U.S. organic farmers to market their products.

"I am pleased that in the new Administration, USDA is leading the way to promote the opportunity for the full breadth of U.S. agriculture.  Organic agriculture has been one of the fastest growing segments of American agriculture over the past decade, and this new agreement, in conjunction with the strong investment that Congress made in the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, the farm bill, into initiatives to help organic farmers, will help to continue that growth."


On July 7, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry held a hearing to review pending nominations to the USDA, which include Jonathan Adelstein, of South Dakota, to be Administrator, Rural Utilities Service; Kevin W. Concannon, of Maine, to be Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services; and Evan J. Segal, of Pennsylvania, to be Chief Financial Officer, Department of Agriculture. At the hearing, Harkin made the following remarks about the nominees as well as the importance of their positions.

"The Administrator of the Rural Utilities Service plays a vital role in helping farmers, ranchers, and all citizens of rural communities across our nation enjoy modern electric, telecommunications (including broadband), water and wastewater systems.  These services are vital elements of economic progress and quality of life for rural communities.  Mr. Adelstein is a former Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission and member of Senator Daschle's staff.  In both positions he has helped greatly in crafting and then carrying out rural broadband initiatives and investments. 

"President Obama and Secretary Vilsack are to be commended for luring Kevin Concannon out of a short-lived retirement in Maine, after serving as the director of Human Services in Oregon, Maine, and most recently, Iowa.  I can attest to his ability and dedication.  Most notably, during the devastating Iowa floods last summer, he ensured that thousands of Iowans received critical food assistance when they needed it.   Mr. Concannon's peers honored him in 2007 with the life achievement award of the American Public Human Services Association.  I know Mr. Concannon will serve in this capacity with the same skill and dedication that marked his tenure in Iowa.

"The Chief Financial Officer of USDA is responsible for the financial management and oversight of an enterprise with 100,000 employees, 14,000 offices and field locations, $128 billion in assets and about $77 billion in annual spending.  This is a very important responsibility – a position we entrust with ensuring that taxpayer dollars are spent carefully to achieve the intended purposes.  Evan Segal has a strong and successful background in business.  We look forward to him applying his talents and experience to the financial management of the Department of Agriculture."


As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Harkin worked to include important funding for agriculture, energy and rural projects and initiatives in the Fiscal Year 2010 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies spending bill.  These investments will build upon programs Harkin worked to include in the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, the farm bill.

"Agriculture and rural communities are major components of Iowa's economy and way of life," said Harkin.  "These projects help to improve farm profits, reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, conserve our soil and water and boost our rural economy."  

Agricultural Research, Extension and Education

"Investing in agricultural research now means new advancements and technologies in renewable energy, food safety and other areas long into the future," Harkin said.  "This funding enhances our ability to lead the world with the best technology that will keep America's farmers, food and agriculture sector and rural communities the most productive in the world."

BIOCENTURY RESEARCH FARM:  Our national strategy of continued expansion of renewable fuels requires development and production of biofuels feedstocks in addition to corn and soybeans.  A variety of annual and perennial cellulosic crops must be developed in order to achieve our renewable fuels goals.  $350,000 was provided to Iowa State University to continue research to develop future biomass crops; develop cost-effective harvest, storage and transport technologies for biomass and innovative conversion technologies to enhance yield; and develop eco-products and profitability of current biofuel production.   The research and development conducted at the BioCentury Research Farm is helping to prepare Iowa and the Midwest to lead our national needs for food, feed, fiber and fuels through environmentally conscientious and sustainable practices. 

CAST is a nonprofit organization that assembles, interprets and communicates science-based information on key food and agriculture issues to policymakers, regulators, members of the media and the general public.  CAST seeks out professional scientists, who are experts in their respective disciplines, to author and peer-review CAST publications.  These experts volunteer their services to CAST, resulting in documents that are unbiased and highly respected for their presentation of credible and sound science.  $110,000 was provided to continue CAST's work.

DAIRY EDUCATION CENTER: The dairy industry is a major component of Iowa agriculture, contributing more than $1.5 billion annually to the state's economy.  The Northeast Iowa Community Based Dairy Foundation, Iowa State University and the Northeast Iowa Community College work cooperatively to support education, applied-research and post-secondary education programs targeting the current and the next generation of dairy producers.   $170,000 was provided to continue this partnership near Calmar, Iowa. 

FARM SAFETY 4 JUST KIDS: According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, more than half of all youth who live on farms perform work or do chores on the farm.  Thousands of other youths are hired for farm labor each year.  To help reduce injuries among children due to exposure to hazards within the farm environment, $75,000 was provided to Farm Safety 4 Just Kids.  Funding will be used for education and outreach to farm families and others in rural communities to help reduce the number of farm-related injuries and deaths.

FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL POLICY RESEARCH INSTITUTE (FAPRI): FAPRI is a joint project of Iowa State University and the University of Missouri that uses comprehensive data and computer modeling systems to analyze the complex economic interrelationships of the food and agriculture sector.  FARPI annually prepares baseline projections for the U.S. agricultural sector and international commodity markets.  These baseline projections are used by farmers, agribusinesses and others for medium to long-term planning.  The FAPRI baseline has also proven to be a valuable resource for policy makers on agriculture and trade issues, including farm income and budget analysis.  $1.213 million was provided to continue FAPRI's work on agricultural economics and policy analysis. 

As the nation turns increasingly toward the development and production of biofuels for transportation, there has been significant discussion regarding impacts of the use of corn and soybeans as feedstocks for biofuels production on food, livestock and feed prices.  $298,000 was provided to Iowa State University for continued research on increased utilization of biofuels co-products for livestock feed and food production. 

FOOD SAFETY CONSORTIUM:  The potential introduction of natural or intentional contaminants into food products would have a dramatic impact on the United States.  Citizens' health would be at risk, and the economy would suffer because of the likely loss of international markets for U.S. products.  Iowa State University collaborates with Kansas State University and the University of Arkansas to improve the quality and safety of beef, pork and poultry products.  Iowa State University focuses on the safety of pork products.  Any loss of public confidence in the safety of pork would have a devastating impact on Iowa's economy since the pork industry contributes $12 billion in annual economic impact to the state.  $1,000,000 was provided to the Food Safety Consortium to conduct research to improve the safety of meat and poultry in the United States.   

  MPRP is a public/private program created to address research needs of the poultry industry.  The goal of MPRP is to improve the efficiency and sustainability of poultry production through integrated, collaborative research and technology transfers.  $250,000 was provided to the MPRP to continue work on food safety, animal welfare, waste management, nutrition and environmental issues impacting the poultry industry.   

NATIONAL AGRICULTURAL LAW CENTER / DRAKE UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: The National Agricultural Law Center, located at the University of Arkansas, along with the Drake Agricultural Law Center, provide legal analysis, research, education and training with special focus on issues at the state and local level.  Additional funding was provided in the bill for the Center and Drake to continue a range of research, education and training projects, including work on rural development and rural enterprises, legal issues relating to renewable energy production and agriculture, operation of state and local food policy councils, institutional purchasing to expand markets for farmers and food processors, promoting farm direct marketing and the operation of farmers markets, community-owned enterprises, buy local marketing initiatives and legal and organizational issues facing swine producers. 

NATIONAL EDUCATION CENTER FOR AGRICULTUARL SAFETY (NECAS):  NECAS is a partnership between the Northeast Iowa Community College (Peosta, IA) and the National Safety Council dedicated to reducing the level of injuries, preventable illnesses and fatalities among farmers, ranchers, their families and employees.  NECAS provides the only hands-on training center specifically addressing agricultural workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities in the United States. $170,000 was provided to continue NECAS's work. 

Farm Conservation and Environmental Initiatives

"I have expressed concern in the past about cuts to farm bill conservation programs, including cuts to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, however I am pleased that cuts did not extend to other conservation programs," said Harkin.

CERTIFIED ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS FOR AGRICULTURE (CEMSA):  CEMSA assists farmers in establishing an environmental management framework that will help them profitably address environmental issues and concerns in their farm operation.  A producer using the CEMSA program works with a trained technical service provider (TSP) to design a custom-fit action plan to address energy usage and environmental risks, while increasing farm profitability.  $288,000 was provided to continue the Iowa Soybean Association's efforts to educate producers, enable them to adopt certifiable conservation plans and help pay for on-going certification and monitoring.

The Leopold Center has a national reputation for cutting-edge research on nitrogen management to improve water quality.  The Center's work is leading to significant dividends for Iowa, such as cleaner water, better conservation of natural resources and greater agricultural vitality.  $105,000 was provided to the Leopold Center Hypoxia Project to define and implement new methods and practices in farming that reduce impacts on water quality and the hypoxia problem in the Gulf of Mexico.

LOESS HILLS MITIGATION PROJECT: Channelization of streams and land use changes during the first half of the 1900's caused stream channels to erode, with an estimated $1.1 billion in damages to public and private infrastructure and loss of farm land in Western Iowa.  The Hungry Canyons Alliance (HCA) was formed to research and implement solutions to address stream channel erosion and degradation in an 18 county area of the deep loess soils region of western Iowa.  $282,000 was provided to continue HCA's work to mitigate erosion problems in the loess soils of western Iowa.

WATERSHED DEMONSTRATION PARTNERSHIP: In Iowa, agriculture is looked to as both point and nonpoint sources of nutrients and other compounds in water bodies.  Through the Watershed Demonstration Partnership, the Iowa Soybean Association works with groups of farmers and various stakeholders in targeted watersheds to enhance water quality.  $134,000 was provided for continued technical assistance for planning and implementing watershed-specific strategies, measuring outcomes and adapting strategies to optimize water quality. 

The Midwest flooding in 2008 highlighted the need to reduce the frequency and magnitude of storm water runoff, flooding and soil erosion.  Protection of existing wetlands and restoration of wetlands contributes greatly to meeting these goals.  The Iowa River Corridor Project has been developed as a model for floodplain restoration.  The loss of restored vegetation in the Iowa River floodplain and lack of recovery of this vegetation may indicate that some or many inappropriate species were used in the planting projects.  $134,000 was provided to the University of Northern Iowa to research what are the appropriate native wetland species that should be used to restore floodplains and reduce the impact of storm water runoff, soil erosion and flooding. 

Rural Business and Economic Development

"These programs are critical to ensuring rural development needs are met in our state," said Harkin.  "From promoting small rural businesses to ensuring community support, this funding will benefit countless Iowans." 

Iowa is working to revitalize its rural areas to support strong economies that will be competitive in the 21st century.  Iowa State University Extension is collaborating with community leaders representing diverse interests from across the state to support initiatives to reverse current trends and revitalize rural Iowa.  $250,000 is provided for the Iowa Vitality Center at Iowa State University to help rural communities plan strategically and promote rural economic development.  This center has focused on increasing entrepreneurship and community foundations in Iowa.

RURAL POLICY RESEARCH INSTITUTE: RUPRI is a multi-state, interdisciplinary research consortium jointly sponsored by Iowa State University, the University of Missouri-Columbia and the University of Nebraska that conducts research on rural health care delivery and finance, rural entrepreneurship, economic development, rural telecommunications, workforce development, rural governance, regional competitiveness and innovation, rural poverty and human services delivery and rural community colleges.  $889,000 was provided to RUPRI to continue research and analysis on a range of issues important to rural America. 

Value-Added Applications For Agricultural Products

"Supporting rural America means promoting products that are made in states like Iowa," Harkin said.  "This funding will give our state critical resources it needs to compete in the global marketplace."

AG-BASED INDUSTRIAL LUBRICANTS: The National Agriculture-Based Lubricants (NABL) Center is recognized for being at the forefront of adapting crop-based oils for industrial uses.  $405,000 was provided for NABL to continue applied research developing the use of agricultural crop oils in lubricant applications (biolubricants), to continue market promotion to gain greater commercial and consumer acceptance and to provide testing services in support of biorenewable lubricants and greases.

APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER FOR RURAL AREAS (ATTRA):  ATTRA, a national sustainable agriculture information service, is a unique technical assistance provider through a public/private partnership and a cooperative agreement between USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service (RBS) and the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), a national nonprofit organization.  ATTRA provides information, educational resources and technical assistance to farmers, ranchers and agricultural information providers with a special focus on sustainable agriculture technologies, farm energy and marketing and adding value to farm products.  $2.8 million was provided in the bill to continue ATTRA's work. 

MIDWEST AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS: Iowa State University and the Greater Des Moines Partnership have a joint effort that aims to improve export competitiveness and marketability of U.S. agriculture-related products.  $187,000 was provided to continue market analyses, research and computer-accessible, timely and accurate international business information for U.S. food and agriculture businesses. 

PROTEIN UTILIZATION:  Iowa State University is currently working to develop water-based extraction and enzyme-catalyzed conversion technologies to replace oil extraction technique.  Water-based extraction and enzyme-catalyzed conversation creates new opportunities to produce food, biofuels, chemicals and biomaterials in an environmentally friendly way.  Developing such processes reduces U.S. dependence on foreign oil, enhances national security, provides markets for farmers and creates jobs in rural America.  $600,000 was provided for research to develop a water-based process to separate out the proteins and oils in soybeans.

The Value-Added Products Market Development Program helps producer organizations develop new opportunities and higher values for agricultural products.  The program provides for development of business plans and strategies to create marketing opportunities for value-added agricultural products.  This program has been very successful and has proven to be an excellent mechanism to assist agricultural producers acquire crucial resources so they can develop value-added enterprises.  $21.87 million was provided for the value-added grant program.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) meets with
 Kevin W. Concannon, nominee to be Under Secretary of Agriculture for
 Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services at USDA, before his July 7
 confirmation hearing.
Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) meets with Kevin W. Concannon, nominee to be Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services at USDA, before his July 7 confirmation hearing.

U.S. Senator Tom Harkin meets with Robert Gates and Bob Loyd of Clipper Wind at the Senate Democratic Green Jobs Summit to discuss Iowa's wind energy industry.

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