2023 General Assembly Update: Week 4

This week, we’re thanking everyone who responded to the action alert asking senators to support SB1129 related to mandatory farm practices. Your voices were heard, and the bill successfully passed out of the Senate Ag Committee. We’re also providing updates on bills covering broadband and industrial hemp. Watch until the end to find out why Sunday, February 5 is a key date for the Virginia General Assembly.

USDA Launches Cattle Contracts Library

This week, the USDA launched a pilot Cattle Contracts Library which seeks to give cattle producers more pricing transparency. Following input from stakeholders, including Farm Bureau, USDA has finalized the Cattle Contract Library pilot program which will give producers a mechanism to find key terms, conditions and volumes by which cattle are contracted.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022 established the pilot Cattle Contract Library within the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS.) Under this pilot, AMS will collect, maintain and report aggregated information on contracts between cattle producers and packers for purchases of fed cattle.

The library will include different types of contracts and contract terms. This includes premium schedules, discount schedules, delivery and transportation, terms and payments, financing, risk sharing and other financial arrangements. Additionally, AMS will also report on the number of head of cattle purchased under the terms of a contract.

Upcoming Stakeholder Webinars

AMS will be conducting a series of stakeholder webinars to inform producers how to use this new tool. The first webinar is scheduled for Friday, February 8 at 11 a.m. The live dashboard will begin on February 6.

More Information

USDA Press Release

Cattle Contract Library Website

Three Major Thoroughbred Stakes Races to Relocate to Virginia in 2023

Arlington Million, Beverly D. Stakes and Secretariat Stakes to Run at Colonial Downs

After approval from the American Graded Stakes Committee, three internationally-renowned Thoroughbred stakes races will be moved to Virginia. Those turf races that will soon run at Colonial Downs in New Kent are the Grade 1 Arlington Million and Beverly D. Stakes and the Grade 2 Secretariat Stakes.

The relocation of these significant races follows approval from the Virginia Racing Commission for 27 live race dates at Colonial Downs during the 2023 meet to be held July 13-September 9. Colonial Downs also announced last week that they will modify their typical live race days to Thursday, Friday and Saturday as opposed to the traditional Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday schedule, making horse racing more accessible for Virginians and visitors from around the country. Next year’s meet will be the first under the operation of new owners, Churchill Downs Incorporated.

“It is an incredible honor to continue the legacy of these exceptional races by hosting them in our Commonwealth,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin. “I am deeply committed to growing our equine industry and as we work to revive the rich traditions of this sport in Virginia, these stakes races will accelerate our progress and ignite excitement for the fans.”

“Churchill Downs Incorporated remains steadfast in our goal to increase the relevance of the racing product at Colonial Downs and in Virginia,” said Bill Carstanjen, CEO of Churchill Downs Incorporated. “We appreciate the American Graded Stakes Committee for their approval of this move, which is an important step toward that goal in terms of wagering growth and entertainment value. We are also committed to increasing the flow of purse revenue from historical horse racing to allow for expansion of race dates in the future.”

“We are grateful to Churchill Downs for the emphasis they have put on bringing world-class races to Virginia which give jockeys, breeders and trainers more opportunities to showcase the best of Virginia’s equine industry,” said Debbie Easter, President of the Virginia Equine Alliance. “Governor Youngkin’s involvement and efforts to secure these three races in particular should be commended as we collectively work to ensure a bright future for horse racing in the Commonwealth.”

Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of Secretariat’s historic Triple Crown-winning season. The legendary horse will now be commemorated in the year of this milestone anniversary by debuting the stakes named in his honor on the Secretariat Turf Course at Colonial Downs in the state where he was born, bred and trained to be a champion.

Governor Announces Grants Supporting Local Food Systems

Largest grant round ever for program investing in local food and farming infrastructure

Gov. Glenn Youngkin today announced the largest ever award round from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development (AFID) Fund Infrastructure Grant Program supporting local farms and food producers. A total of ten projects will receive $368,885 in competitively awarded, matching grants for new community infrastructure development projects that support local food production and sustainable agriculture. Created by the General Assembly in 2021, AFID Infrastructure grants are awarded biannually to support locally identified investments that aid small-scale farmers and food producers in growing their operations. This largest ever grant round is a result of the 2022 General Assembly’s decision to double the maximum award to $50,000. Independent businesses engaged in the processing of meat, poultry, and vegetables will benefit from funding this round, alongside multiple food processing facilities that are operated by non-profits or local governments.

“I am pleased to announce the AFID Infrastructure investments to support local producers and non-profits grow their operations and achieve success,” said Youngkin. “Given the importance of agriculture and forestry to the foundation of Virginia’s economy, my administration is committed to supporting the continued development of these industries as a growth engine and source of jobs throughout rural Virginia.”

“As a farmer myself, I understand how important it is for producers to have access to the processing infrastructure they need to get their products to their customers,” said Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Matthew Lohr. “This latest round of funding demonstrates the ability of the AFID program to deliver on the Commonwealth’s commitment to supporting and growing our entire agricultural sector by supporting producers of all sizes.”

Administered by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the AFID Infrastructure Grant Program, in partnership with local governments, awards grants to develop community infrastructure in support of local food production and sustainable agriculture. Applications for the next round of this semi-annual grant program will be accepted from April 1 through May 15, 2023, with the awards announced in June. Additional information about the program is available here. Questions about the program should be directed to Jennifer.Perkins@vdacs.virginia.gov.

The following projects are receiving funding in this round of the AFID Infrastructure Grant Program:

Turkey Processing, Albemarle County
$24,000
Albemarle County requests funding to purchase grinding, vacuum packaging, and freezing
equipment for Kelly Turkeys to expand its existing product line of whole birds and bone-in breasts by adding ground turkey to its offerings. In operation since 2015, Kelly Turkeys grows and processes KellyBronze birds, an internationally known breed of heritage turkeys raised using sustainable farming methods.

Commercial Kitchen, Bedford County
$21,500
Bedford County seeks funding to support a new commercial kitchen by established meat processor EcoFriendly Foods. The company has had success selling value-added products, such as hand pies, soups, and stews, which are prepared in rented kitchen space. The company anticipates sales to double with consistent access to a kitchen facility. Grant funds will purchase commercial kitchen equipment, including a tilt skillet and additional refrigerated storage space.

Vegetable Processing, Carroll County
$50,000
Carroll County seeks funding to support the Virginia Produce Company with the purchase and installation of high-efficiency vacuum cooling equipment for produce. Vacuum cooling safely chills produce and removes problematic surface moisture in a fraction of the time as conventional methods, while also using 75% less energy. This rapid and efficient cooling method reduces product lost through moisture damage and increases shelf life, which expands the potential customer market. The Virginia Produce Company sources from more than 40 farms in the region to supply fresh produce to major food retailers.

Commercial Kitchen, City of Charlottesville
$50,000
The Charlottesville Economic Development Authority requests funding to support New Hill Development Corporation, an African American led non-profit community development corporation, in the construction of a shared-use commercial kitchen. The Black Entrepreneurial Advancement and Community Opportunity Network (BEACON) kitchen will include packaging and production equipment to house up to 16 local food businesses. The BEACON kitchen will offer lower rental fees, helping producers overcome a barrier to entry for food startups.

Commercial Kitchen, Culpeper County
$50,000
Culpeper County seeks funding to purchase and install a walk-in freezer and cooler as part of a larger commercial kitchen project in the George Washington Carver Food Enterprise Center, a non-profit focused on food security and training in the Piedmont. This facility will serve as a food business incubator and will offer courses on value-added food production, food safety, and business management. The center will primarily serve the broader Rappahannock-Rapidan region, as well as users from beyond.

Meat Processing, Franklin County
$33,333
Franklin County seeks funding to support an expansion by KC Farms Meats, a family-owned custom meat processing business. KC Farms Meats offers custom meat processing services to 39 livestock producers in the region who sell directly to their customers. Funds will be used to purchase a new smoker and walk-in freezer, which will allow the business to expand its product offerings to include specialty sausages, hotdogs, bacon, and ham.

Farmers’ Market, City of Galax
$15,052
The city of Galax seeks funding to improve the Galax Farmers’ Market. When the Galax Farmers’ Market was constructed in 2000, brick pavers were built around two oak trees that have since died. As a result, the remaining space is unsightly and inaccessible to people with disabilities. This funding will be used to rebuild the patio, which will improve the appearance and overall customer experience. In addition, the new patio will increase the space available for vendors and market opportunities for local producers. Appalachian Independence, a group that advocates for people with disabilities, has provided strong support for this project.

Apple Processing, Nelson County
$25,000
Nelson County requests funding to purchase new UltraUV processing equipment for two apple orchards, Silver Creek and Seamans’ Orchards. Due to the increased demand for fresh sweet cider, the orchards seek to upgrade to a larger UV processing machine to triple production. The equipment will be located at a packing shed owned by the orchards and will be able to process the majority of juice apples grown in Nelson County. The UV treatment allows orchards to produce an FDA-approved product with an extended shelf life, which will allow locally produced cider to be distributed throughout the region.

Community Cannery, Prince Edward County
$50,000
Prince Edward County seeks funding for equipment upgrades at its community cannery, a shared-use facility that is operated commercially by the food business incubator non-profit Virginia Food Works. Since 2020, the non-profit reports that nearly 100 clients have clocked nearly 1,700 hours of facility usage preparing foods for commercial sale. The public also relies on the cannery’s services to prepare and process seasonal vegetables and meats to supply foods for their families and businesses. This project builds on the AFID-funded installation of a new boiler at the facility. New funding will be used to replace many vital components of the cannery’s infrastructure, to include steam pipes, traps, valves, gauges, a half-ton chain hoist, pressure/temperature recorders, steam pot stems, and other equipment.

Food Hub, City of Roanoke
$50,000
The city of Roanoke requests funding to support the Local Environmental Agriculture Project (LEAP), a non-profit focused on creating economically viable outlets for local farmers and food producers, such as farmers markets and commercial kitchens. LEAP aggregates and distributes food to an estimated 10,000 people each year. In addition, LEAP’s commercial kitchen supports over 40 food businesses with equipment, resources, and training. Their farmers markets host 50 local vendors, the majority of which are meat, produce, and dairy producers. In 2021, LEAP received support from the city of Roanoke to create a commercial kitchen and food hub in the underserved West End neighborhood. Funds will be used for the purchase and installation of a large walk-in cooler at the new food hub.

A Virginia Farmer’s Guide to the 2023 Farm Bill

For nearly a century, the farm bill has been the single most important piece of federal legislation for farmers in Virginia, and across the county. The bill underpins farm program payments, food policy, conservation initiatives, rural development, foreign marketing and more. The bill authorizes hundreds of billions of dollars in mandatory and discretionary funding for programs whose impact and influence carries across all demographics and regions of the county.

However, despite its importance, it’s easy to forget just how much the farm bill covers and how it impacts farm operations and the agricultural economy for a period of five years. This article will provide a brief history of the farm bill, background on how policy becomes programs, as well as a description of programs encompassed in each title.

A Brief History of the Farm Bill

The first farm bill, the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, was a part of the New Deal. In response to the drop in US crop prices after the first World War and the effect of both the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl on farmers and agricultural markets, the Agricultural Adjustment Act created programs to reduce surplus and raise crop prices. Congress next passed the 1935 Soil Conservation Act and the 1936 Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act, two laws designed to address the ecological crisis of soil erosion. The Agricultural Act of 1933 was replaced five years later by the Agricultural Act of 1938. The 1938 Act continued the soil conservation acts and established the Soil Conservation Service to conduct surveys and develop preventative measures against soil erosion. Farmers were compensated for planting soil supporting crops such as soybeans and reducing production of crops that contributed to soil erosion.

A big change came in the 1970s. Beginning with the Agriculture and Consumer Protection Act of 1973, the farm bill has included re-authorization of funding for food assistance programs. The Food and Agriculture Act of 1977 included the Food Stamp Act of 1977, which permanently amended the Food Stamp Act of 1964 with changes to eligibility requirements. The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 renamed the Food Stamp program to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP.

To this day, the farm bill still holds this structure of combining agricultural, conservation, and nutrition policies and initiatives as an omnibus bill that goes beyond farm programs and involves a broader group of rural and urban stakeholders.

How Does the Farm Bill Become Law?

Farm bill passage and implementation is a complex, bipartisan process that often has a unique timeline with serious consequences if lawmakers fail to adhere to it. Its five-year lifespan provides lawmakers the opportunity to update the programs so they can respond to changing agronomic, market and economic conditions. The 2023 U.S. Farm Bill will be the 19th farm bill since the 1930s, however, if the farm bill were to expire without a new bill in place, all the programs would return to the 1949 bill, meaning reverting to support price programs for the limited number of commodities covered by the 73-year-old law – quite the motivator for Congress and farmers.

What is in the Farm Bill?

The 2018 U.S. Farm Bill is currently the law of the land, and it consists of twelve titles that cover commodities, risk, market development, credit, nutrition, conservation and more. Here is a breakdown of each title, what it contains and links to learn more if you are interested:

Title I: Commodities and Disaster

The commodity title has provided certainty and predictability to eligible producers by reauthorizing and improving commodity, marketing loan, sugar, dairy and disaster programs.

Title II: Conservation

The conservation title provides voluntary conservation programs that farmers and ranchers use to improve their productivity and address natural resource and, increasingly, environmental concerns. In the past Virginia has seen approximately 31.6k Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), 48.2k Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and 65.6k Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) acres implemented from farm bill funding.

Title III: Trade

Post-World War II and post-Korean War conditions in agriculture created a need to focus on trade and trade development programs.

Title IV: Nutrition

First created with the Food Stamp Act of 1964, the nutrition title is a pillar in farm bill discussions, of particular interest to urban voters and their representatives. Virginia has over 809,000 individual and 379,000 family SNAP participants receiving an estimated 56,600,000 meals.

Title V: Credit

The credit title of the farm bill provides lending opportunities that private commercial entities cannot offer.

Title VI: Rural Development

The rural development title has held a spot in the farm bill since 1973 with the purpose to create and support new competitive advantages in rural areas.

Title VII: Research

When the United States Department of Agriculture was created in 1862 it was primarily charged to support agricultural research. Serving, technically, as the oldest title of the farm bill, stemming from the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862, the purpose was to establish and fund research in land grant institutions in each state. In 2021, as part of a nearly $25 million investment to support the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network, VDACS to help address farmer mental health and stress in the Commonwealth.

Title VIII: Forestry

First created in the 2002 farm bill, the forestry title provides authority for the United States Forest Service, which is the principal federal forest management agency.

Title IX: Energy

Renewable energy, primarily ethanol and biodiesel production, was spurred through the Renewable Fuel Standard, which is not included in the farm bill. However, it created interest in the development of farm bill programs regarding energy. 

Title X: Horticulture

The horticulture title is designated to specifically support specialty crops and certified organic and local foods.

Title XI: Crop Insurance

The crop insurance title provides new and continued insurance products for producers to purchase in a public-private partnership. The insurance helps protect producers against losses resulting from price and yield risks on over 445 million acres, in addition to a growing assortment of policies for animal agriculture. Virginia currently has approximately 642.3k Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and 503.4k Price Loss Coverage Acres enrolled.

Title XII: Miscellaneous

The miscellaneous title holds a variety of programs. In most cases, these programs either do not have a “home title” or are individual programs to address specific problems. In the 2018 farm bill, the miscellaneous title primarily focused on livestock programs, agriculture and food defense, historically underserved producers, limited-resource producers and other miscellaneous provisions.

In Conclusion

While the farm bill is not perfect, and it requires constant revision, it has brought nearly a century of added stability to the agriculture industry and given farmers the tools they need to provide a safe, sustainable and abundant supply of food, feed, fuel and fiber to support the American and global economy and population.  Congressional hearings on the farm bill and American Farm Bureau’s farm bill working group, have been underway throughout 2022. U.S. Hearings on the 2023 U.S. Farm Bill have already started in Congress.

The AFBF farm bill working group, which includes Virginia staff, continues to assess the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill to determine what is working, what is not working and how the legislative package could be improved to address the economic and market conditions on the horizon. Farm Bureau supports the following principles to guide development of programs in the next farm bill:

  • Protecting current farm bill program spending
  • Maintaining a unified farm bill which keeps nutrition programs and farm programs together
  • Any changes to current farm legislation must be an amendment to the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 or the Agricultural Act of 1949
  • Prioritizing risk management tools and funding for both federal crop insurance and commodity programs
  • Ensuring adequate USDA staffing capacity and technical assistance
  • Click Here for a complete, title-by-title overview of Farm Bureau’s priorities in the 2023 U.S. Farm Bill.

In the coming months, Farm Bureau will call on you to stress the importance of farm policy to your state and federal lawmakers, as well as the public. Many people are unaware of the benefits of the farm bill, and few are better positioned than farmers to provide a firsthand account. Click Here to sign up for Virginia Farm Bureau’s action alerts and stay in the loop on timely farm bill updates.