USDA Expands Aquaculture Disaster Assistance to Include Fish Raised for Food

In response to catastrophic aquaculture losses due to major winter storms that hit states along the U.S. Gulf Coast in February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) today announced a policy change that makes food fish and other aquatic species eligible for the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees and Farm-raised Fish Program (ELAP). Previously, only farm-raised game and bait fish were eligible for death loss ELAP benefits. Beginning June 1, eligible aquaculture producers can request ELAP assistance for 2021 losses. This policy change is for the 2021 and subsequent program years. 

ELAP provides financial assistance to eligible producers of livestock, honeybees and farm-raised fish for losses due to disease, certain adverse weather events or loss conditions, including blizzards and wildfires, as determined by the Secretary. 

To be eligible, losses must have occurred on or after Jan. 1, 2021. For farm-raised fish and other aquatic species death losses only that occurred prior to June 1, 2021, FSA is waiving the requirement to file a notice of loss within 30 calendar days of when the loss is apparent.  An aquaculture producer will still need to be able to provide contemporaneous records upon request to document the eligible loss event and demonstrate the beginning and ending inventory. The deadline to file an application for payment for the 2021 program year is Jan. 31, 2022. 

“We want producers of all kinds to know that we’re listening. Today’s announcement demonstrates that USDA is committed to helping the aquaculture industry recover from losses due to Winter Storm Uri and other disaster events,” said FSA Administrator Zach Ducheneaux.  “We are pleased to offer these policy flexibilities and related financial relief to impacted aquaculture producers; and we encourage them to contact their local FSA office for assistance.” 

USDA also announced today that it will purchase up to $159.4 million in domestically produced seafood, fruits, legumes, and nuts for distribution to a variety of domestic food assistance programs, including charitable institutions, under the authority of Section 32 of the Agricultural Adjustment Act. The bulk of today’s purchase includes American seafood—the largest single purchase of American seafood in the Department’s history. Combined, these actions will address disruptions in the food production and supply chains resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Bill to Increase Carbon Market Participation for Farmers Reaches Senate

Legislation that would help farmers participate in carbon markets has been reintroduced to the U.S. Senate for consideration after clearing the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry on April 22.

The Growing Climate Solutions Act would establish a certification program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to eliminate barriers that have limited farmers’ involvement in carbon credit markets. The bill previously was introduced in 2020.

The Greenhouse Gas Technical Assistance Provider and Third-Party Verifier Certification Program would address previous issues relating to carbon markets, including a lack of reliable market information and access to qualified technical assistance providers and credit verifiers.

The certification program would ensure third-party assistance providers and credit verification services have agricultural expertise. It also would connect farmers with groups that would assist in monetizing sustainable land management practices.

Additionally, USDA would create a website to provide information for farmers interested in participating in carbon markets.

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Know Your Limit When Hauling Products to Market

Andrew Smith, Associate Director

Planting season is well on its way, and you can just see the small grain growing. Before you know it, combines will be rolling in the fields. With that in mind, I thought it would be a good time to remind farmers to know their limit when hauling products to market.

It’s even more important to know what you can do, and where you can do it. I say this because the Virginia Department of Transportation is under guidance from the U.S. Department of Transportation to review and post weight limits on all bridges in the Commonwealth. So, you must pay attention to the bridges you cross to get from farm to market. Exemptions and allowances enjoyed by various industries do not allow you to violate weight limits on bridges. Some of the new postings have prompted discussions with agencies to find solutions to downgraded bridges until they can be improved or replaced.

Farmers enjoy several exemptions and allowances in a variety of areas of hauling agricultural products, but it’s important to have a good understanding of what they are and how they apply.

One of the best allowances we have is when you have your truck registered with the registered Farm Vehicle (F-tag) from the DMV. When you have this plate, you get an extra 5% allowance of weight. It’s one of the benefits of putting a registered farm plate on your vehicles. This is included in § 46.2-1128 of the Virginia Code.

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Farmers Encouraged to Coordinate Emergency Plans with First Responders

National agriculture associations are urging farmers to engage with local first responders to prepare action plans for farm emergencies. Some of Virginia’s agriculturalists are already a step ahead.

The U.S. Poultry and Egg Association and other commodity groups recently released the first in a series of videos that will help farmers identify essential aspects of emergency action plans for their operations.

The initiative emphasizes the advantages of engaging with local emergency professionals—a measure one Hanover County farm family implemented in March. The farm hosted personnel from Henrico Technical Rescue Team who demonstrated grain bin extrication equipment provided by Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s Farm Safety Advisory Committee.

Such coordination efforts allow responders to better understand the potential hazards they may face when responding to an on-farm emergency. They also give farmers insight into the accident response capabilities available within their communities.

Henrico County’s specialty unit is trained for unusual rescue situations like extrications or incidents involving confined spaces. The March trainings at Engel Family Farms in Hanover County were led by Lt. Charles Smith of Henrico Firehouse 1.

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Study: Accomack Water Quality Unchanged by Expanding Poultry Operations

A study that examined waterways in Accomack County has revealed the rapid expansion of poultry operations in the county has had no detectable effects on local water quality.

The research was conducted in response to concerns that the proximity of commercial poultry houses and the increased use of poultry litter as fertilizer would contaminate Eastern Shore waterways.

However, after examining data from 86 streams in Accomack, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science determined there was no correlation between water nutrient levels and the presence of poultry operations.

“The goal of the study was to find out if there was any measurable impact from these poultry operations,” said VIMS director Richard Snyder, who helped conduct the research. “The basic conclusion of the report is that there is no significant difference between watersheds that have poultry operations and those that do not.”

The study monitored dissolved ammonia, liquefied nitrates and nitrites, dissolved oxygen, total phosphorus and nitrogen levels, temperature, salinity and turbidity in Accomack County streams. Values were collected during two 1-inch rainfall events and over an extended period of drought in 2020.

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Female Farmers’ Involvement in Agriculture is Growing

The number of women in farming is on the rise.

The U.S. Census of Agriculture, which has been surveying the gender, race and ethnic origin of principal farm operators since 2007, reported more than 36% of American farmers were women in 2017. Twenty-nine percent were principal operators, and 78% of all female producers said they are involved in daily decisions.

In Virginia, female farmers are involved with 23,575 farms, and they are principal operators of 16,456.

Joanne Jones, who manages her husband’s family’s 450-acre, third-generation Dark Leaf Farm in Appomattox County, is one of them.

“I feel like women always have played more of a role than what’s been recognized,” she said.

In addition to harvesting and planting soybeans, tobacco and wheat, Jones handles the farm’s paperwork.

“If you’re the one doing that, you know what’s making money and what’s not—what’s losing, what’s gaining.”

Jones, who also works as a full-time Virginia Cooperative Extension agent in Charlotte County, admits it was difficult getting people to take her seriously in the early days, but six years as president of Appomattox County Farm Bureau helped her build respect.

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Faces of Virginia Farming: Featuring Richlands Dairy and Creamery

Virginia Farm Bureau unveiled a new webinar series, called “Faces of Virginia Farming”, on April 8th.  Behind every piece of food and fiber is a person with a unique story, and Faces of Virginia Farming gives the public an opportunity to hear directly from these farmers and connect with the people who grow what they eat and wear.

In partnership with the Federation of Virginia Food Banks, the first episode featured the inspiring story of Richlands Dairy and Creamery, located in Blackstone, VA. Coley Drinkwater and TR Jones shared how, in order to continue the family operation, they expanded their dairy farm to include a creamery. To give back to the community, Richlands has followed through on a pledge to donate 1 gallon of milk for every 10 gallons purchased.

Richlands has the mindset of, “if you want people to support you, you have to support the people around you, as well,” said TR.

In addition to Coley and TR, Eddie Oliver with the Federation of Virginia Food Banks, Senator Ghazala Hashmi, and Delegate Wendy Gooditis joined a panel discussion.

Eddie provided an overview of the Federation of Virginia Food Banks and its mission. For more information on the Federation, visit their website.

Senator Hashmi and Delegate Gooditis spoke to the impact recent legislation establishing the Virginia Agriculture Food Assistance Program and Fund will have on communities and farmers.

If you missed the episode, you can watch it here. To stay informed of future events, follow Virginia Farm Bureau Federation on Facebook or email with questions.