News

Beginning Farmer/Rancher Bills

Act calls for financial and entrepreneurial training, apprentice programs, and new financing options for beginners

On May 16, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act, a comprehensive set of policy options designed to meet the unique challenges and opportunities of today’s beginning farmers and ranchers, was introduced in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Sponsors include Senators Harkin (D-IA), Grassley (R-IA), Brown (D-OH), and Baucus (D-MT) and Representatives Hereseth Sandlin (D-SD), McCollum (D-MN), and Walz (D-MN).

The need for the 2007 farm bill to include such an initiative could not be clearer. Farmers over the age of 65 outnumber those under 35 by more than two to one. A majority of farmland and farm business assets is owned by those over 65 as well. In 1978, 350,000 farmers aged 34 or younger claimed farming as their primary occupation. By the 2002 Census of Agriculture, just over 70,000 people aged 34 or younger made the same claim.

CORPORATE FARMING NOTES

Smithfield merger completed; bills introduced on packer ownership of livestock

Smithfield Foods, the nation’s largest pork packer and producer, announced on May 7 that the acquisition of Premium Standard Farms, the second largest producer and sixth largest packer, is complete. The merger brings Smithfield’s holdings to well over 1.1 million sows, over 20 percent of U.S. hog production and 31 percent of pork packing.

Initially, with the urging of farmers, farm and rural organizations, and members of Congress, the acquisition was put on hold while the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division investigated the impact of the transaction on competition in the pork sector. On May 4 Justice announced the closing of its investigation and their finding that the merger would not harm competition, consumers, or farmers.

Research Updates

Calif. district judge halts planting genetically altered alfalfa seed; proposal for USDA research institute gains ground

On May 4, 2007, a California federal district court judge banned any further planting of GE “Roundup Ready” alfalfa seed until USDA conducts a complete Environmental Impact Statement on Monsanto’s patented seed. This is the first time a commercialized genetically-altered crop has been halted in the United States.

Arts Based Community Development

Rural arts programs build on history and strong ties to community and how it works

Recently, I had the honor of working with the Nebraska Arts Council to review arts projects in communities across the state. It has been both rewarding and informative.

Arts based community development has been practiced for years, but it takes a different connotation in small rural communities. In urban areas, arts development is on display in museums, theaters, concerts, and art galleries. Exhibits are plentiful, and there is no limit to creativity and devotion to the arts.

Small rural communities have taken arts in another direction with a different focus. Rural community arts programs seem to build on a sense of place and history. Art focuses on integrating into the community and how it works.

Low Graduation a ‘National Epidemic’

Instead of supporting the schools with the highest graduation rates – small schools – public policy is forcing many to shut their doors

Spring is a time of renewal and new beginnings. This holds true for many graduating high school seniors. We ask ourselves, what does it take to graduate from high school, an accomplishment that seems to be a given to many, an obstacle to others, and an unnecessary milestone to a few.

The U.S. Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings and U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy wrote an opinion piece in May identifying low high school graduation as a national epidemic affecting approximately 1 million students each year.

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