LSP Land Line: Prevented Plant, Dicamba, COVID-19, Food Assistance, Meat Processing, Reconnecting Black Farmers & Land

Oct. 30: An LSP Round-up of News Covering Land, People & Communities

Prevented Plant at Historic Highs Again in 2020

(10/26/20) Over 10 million acres of U.S. crop ground was not planted this year as a result of extreme weather conditions, reports Agricultural Economic Insights. This growing season marks the second-highest "prevented plant" level in 14 years of data. Last year was a record-breaker, with 19.6 million acres of total prevented plant reported. Those 2019 levels were more than double the previous highs. Highlights:

  • Prevented plant in 2020 includes 6 million acres of corn and 1.5 million acres of soybeans.
  • For 2020, prevented planting equals 6.7% of corn acres and 1.8% for soybeans.
  • An Agricultural Economic Insights chart that tracks trends since 2007 shows that prevented plant is much more common for corn than soybeans.
  • Total prevented plant in 2019 and 2020 has been 29.8 million acres. That is roughly the same as the total prevented plan acreage of the preceding six years (2013-2018).

For information on farming systems that can help make cropland and pastures more resilient in the face of extreme weather, see LSP's Soil Builders page.

EPA Documents Show Dicamba Damage Worse Than Previously Thought

(10/29/20) Despite reinstating the controversial pesticide dicamba this week, the Environmental Protection Agency’s own data shows that the damage from the weed killer was worse than previously known, according to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. It had been banned earlier this year by a federal court for causing widespread damage to farmers and the environment. Drift from the pesticide, which is used on genetically modified cotton and soybean crops, has harmed tens of thousands of farmers, overwhelmed state agriculture departments, and damaged research plots across the United States, according to documents the EPA released Tuesday. Wide swaths of natural areas and rural communities were also poisoned. Highlights:

  • EPA said that dicamba drift incidents have increased each year that dicamba has been used, with nearly 3,000 farmers filing complaints in 2019.
  • A USDA report found that 65,000 soybean fields (4% of all soybean farms) across 4.1 million acres were damaged in 2018 alone. This is the largest estimated total of damage yet reported. A 2017 report from University of Missouri weed scientist Kevin Bradley estimated damage that year at 3.6 million acres.

  • Nearly 5,600 farmers reported dicamba damage to Bayer and BASF, makers of dicamba, from 2017-2019, and the EPA estimates this could be as much as a 25-fold under-reporting of incidents.

  • Earlier this year, Bayer, which makes dicamba-tolerant crops and sells one version of dicamba, announced a $400 million settlement with farmers that have been damaged by dicamba.
  • More than half of crop research stations from the Weed Science Society of America saw damage in 2019, and 30% reported monetary losses.
  • State ag departments are suffering from “dicamba fatigue” as they investigate the complaints and have spent millions of dollars doing so each year. The report also said that state agencies are so focused on dicamba that they are having difficulty meeting other regulatory standards for issues like worker protection and training. The state of Indiana, for example, spent $1.2 million in 2017, $2.2 million in 2018, and $800,000 in 2019.

  • The EPA's decision to reinstate dicamba makes the the pesticide available for at least another five years.

Information on the Land Stewardship Project's work to develop and promote state policies that support organic farming and other forms of sustainable agriculture is here.

The Worst Virus Outbreaks in the U.S. Are Now in Rural Areas

(10/22/20) Most of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the United States are now in rural places, according to an analysis by the New York Times. Where earlier peaks saw virus cases concentrated mainly in cities and suburbs, the current surge is the most geographically dispersed yet, and it is hitting hard remote counties that often lack a hospital or other critical healthcare resources. Highlights:

  • Since late summer, per capita case and death rates in rural areas have outpaced those in metropolitan areas.
  • Now, about one in four deaths from the virus is recorded in a rural county. That stands in contrast to March and April, when almost every death was in a metropolitan area
  • Almost all the counties with the largest outbreaks have populations under 50,000, and most have populations under 10,000. Nearly all are in the Midwest or the Mountain West.
  • Hospitals across the Upper Midwest and the Mountain West are also feeling the surge. Facilities are struggling with capacity, and in some cases residents are finding that the nearest hospital with available beds is hours away, or in another state.

On its Farm Crisis Resources page, LSP lists various resources for farmers needing help as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Check LSP's Affordable Healthcare for All web page for details on our work to fight for quality, affordable healthcare for everyone, no matter who they are or where they live.

With Trump Rule, Food-insecure Immigrants Have Few Options

(10/27/20) The pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity for households across the country, but undocumented immigrants and mixed-status families have faced unique challenges, according to the Food and Environment Reporting Network. Highlights:

  • Data released by the Urban Institute shows that adults living with at least one non-citizen family member were significantly more likely to be food insecure than those in households where all members are citizens. The food insecurity rate in the non-citizen households was 26.6%, compared with 18.8% in the homes of citizens.
  • The data also indicate that more than 30% of Hispanic and Latino adults faced food insecurity in September, nearly double the rate of white adults who are neither Hispanic or Latino.
  • In a national study by the Urban Institute, 11.4% of adults in immigrant families with children reported that they or a family member avoided a nutrition program in 2019, including SNAP, WIC, and free or reduced-price school lunch. Among low-income families, 17.1% avoided nutrition programs.

LSP Myth Buster #53 addresses how misinformation is fueling the federal government's attempts to cut food assistance programs.

Tyson Foods Workers to Replace Some Federal Inspectors at U.S. Beef Plant

(10/27/29) Tyson Foods plans in January to have company employees take on duties from more than a dozen federal inspectors at a large Kansas beef plant, after getting a U.S. government waiver, according to Reuters. The country’s highest-selling meat supplier asked the USDA for a waiver from inspection requirements at its plant in Holcomb, Kans. Other companies have made similar changes at chicken and pork plants. Highlights:

  • The USDA granted the waiver in March 2020, allowing Tyson workers instead of government inspectors to check cattle carcasses for defects or disease before the animals are butchered, company executives said. The USDA said in a statement to Reuters that it will continue to inspect all carcasses and parts, while shifting “quality assurance and trimming tasks” to Tyson.
  • Tyson aims to eventually use cameras and computer imaging to evaluate carcasses, said Jennifer Williams, vice president of food safety. Meatpackers accelerated automation after COVID-19 infected thousands of slaughterhouse employees. USDA inspectors were also infected.
  • Zach Corrigan, a Food & Water Watch senior staff attorney, said it was a move toward deregulation. “It’s really problematic,” he said.

A recent LSP blog describes how "Big Meat" has been putting workers in danger while falsely claiming we are in the midst of a "meat famine." It also describes how the lack of local meat processing is hobbling the local food movement in Minnesota.

OPINION: Farmers Need More Meat Processing Options

(10/23/20) National Farmers Union president Rob Larew writes in Modern Farmer that the trend of mega-meat processors pushing smaller, local operations out of business is hurting farmers and consumers, and leaving the overall food system vulnerable, particularly during the pandemic. Highlights:

  • Just 50 plants account for about 98% of all beef slaughtering and processing nationally. These plants are owned by an even smaller handful of corporations; 85% of the beef market is controlled by just four firms, up from 25% a mere 43 years ago.
  • The Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Packers and Stockyards division of the USDA must restore competition to agricultural markets by enforcing antitrust regulation and restructuring large firms when necessary.
  • Lawmakers should both reauthorize Livestock Mandatory Price Reporting to facilitate open and transparent price discovery in the sector as well as require large meatpackers to buy more beef on the open market, a move that would help to curb the vertical concentration in the industry.
  • Small and mid-sized meat plants could use support with expanding their reach and capacity. One way to do that is through legislation that offers financial assistance for obtaining state and federal inspection, effectively bringing more small-scale slaughter facilities online for farmers and ranchers.

In an LSP blog, LSP member-farmers Jim and LeeAnn VanDerPol discuss an idea for creating community owned meat processing in Minnesota. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is opening up a second round of grants aimed at helping livestock processing plants and producers increase capacity for slaughter, processing, and storage in the wake of supply chain disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Details are here.

One Tomato at a Time: Local Efforts Work to Reconnect Black Growers with the Land

(10/27/20) Various groups and individuals in the Upper Midwest are working to reverse 500 years of land seizure and acculturation to get more Black farmers established on farms, reports the Badger Herald. Youth programs, initiatives that teach the formerly incarcerated how to raise food for local markets, and land access projects are all part of the mix, according to the article. Highlights:

  • In 1920, the number of Black farmers peaked at 949,889, or about 17% of all U.S. farm operators. By 2012, this number had plummeted to 45,508, or less than 2% of all U.S. farmers, according to the USDA. This drop can be attributed to generations of racist lending practices within the USDA, land theft, and violence.
  • In 1920, less than 12% of farmers operating rented land in Wisconsin were nonwhite, and today 90% of America’s Black farmers are located in the South. In Wisconsin, only 51 out of 64,793 farms have a principal producer who is Black.
  • Zoe Hollomon, an organizer with the Midwest Farmers of Color Collective, said building accessibility to land and restoring a relationship with that land is particularly important within the Black community. “It’s really only been kind of recently that many people aren’t growing their own food,” Hollomon said. “Reconnecting with that is our birthright, it’s a really important part of resiliency and autonomy that hasn’t been ours for a long time.”

For more information on LSP's racial justice work, click here. LSP just released the second video in a new series, "Rural Voices for Racial Justice." In a new LSP podcast, researcher and aspiring farmer Emily Reno talks about how her market analysis of Agua Gorda cooperative unearthed the ways building "cultural competency" in our communities can open doors for new immigrants and farmers of color seeking access to local markets.

Brian DeVore is the editor of the Land Stewardship Letter.