Land Line: Mega-Dairy Moratorium, Price-Fixing, Carbon Belt, Carbon Credits, Organic Sales

Jan. 22: An LSP Round-up of News Covering Land, People & Communities

New Oregon Legislation Would put a Moratorium on Building Mega-Dairies. What Happens Next?

(1/21/21) A coalition of food safety, environmental, and family farm groups is pushing for a moratorium on mega-dairy construction in Oregon, reports The Counter. Highlights:

  • If passed, the legislation would temporarily halt the construction and expansion of dairies with more than 2,500 cows while regulators study and address their environmental and social impacts.
  • Oregon’s proposed mega-dairy moratorium marks the most recent entry in a long line of efforts by state and local advocates to halt or pause the construction of large-scale livestock operations. In 1997, North Carolina implemented a moratorium on new hog farms, a policy that was made permanent in 2007 but only applies to facilities that use anaerobic waste lagoons. Activists in Iowa have been pushing for a ban on the construction of new CAFOs for years; temporary, local bans on new construction have succeeded in Wisconsin and Nebraska.
  • Calls for complete moratoria are in many ways a response to the federal government’s failure to regulate large-scale livestock operations. In 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency’s internal watchdog found that despite agreeing to measure the air quality impact of CAFOs as far back as 2005, the agency had still not developed reliable methods to determine whether the facilities complied with the Clean Air Act. Emissions reporting requirements were further relaxed during the Trump administration.
  • In 2019, the American Public Health Association joined in calling for a national moratorium on the construction of new CAFOs.

During the 2021 session of the Minnesota Legislature, LSP and its allies are pushing for a moratorium on new or expanding mega-dairies. For more on this and other LSP legislative priorities, see this recent blog.

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Tyson to Pay $221.5M Over Price-fixing Caims

(1/21/21) The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that Tyson Foods Inc. has agreed to pay $221.5 million to settle allegations of chicken price-fixing. Highlights:

  • The company agreed to settle all class claims in an historic case that accused the chicken industry of colluding to artificially inflate the price of meat chickens for at least eight years.
  • In recent months, a federal judge approved settlements between direct buyers and a few defendants, including suppliers George's and Peco Foods, which have operations in Arkansas. Last week, Pilgrim's Pride agreed to pay $75 million to settle all claims with just the direct-buyer class. George's settled with that class for $4.25 million and Peco settled for $5.15 million.

  • According to documents filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, defendants were accused of cutting supply to increase chicken prices and conspiring to manipulate the Georgia Dock chicken price index.

  • Along with the federal civil case, the U.S. Department of Justice opened a separate criminal investigation into the matter and last year indicted 10 current and former food company executives and employees for participating in a conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids for meat chickens from at least 2012 to early 2019.

Are you witnessing examples of price-fixing or other anti-competitive behavior in agriculture? Contact LSP organizer Matthew Sheets via e-mail. An LSP blog describes the key role local meat processing could play in creating a more resilient food system. In another blog, LSP member-farmers Jim and LeeAnn VanDerPol propose the creation of community owned meat processing in Minnesota.

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Minnesota's Forests & Land Offer Big Opportunities to Cut Greenhouse Gases

(1/18/21) Reforestation and cover cropping should be on the front lines of Minnesota's fight to reduce greenhouse gases and could cut up to one-fifth of the state's heat-trapping emissions, according to the Star Tribune. Highlights:

  • Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has called for 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040, but it's clear that in order to meet climate mitigation goals, sequestration of greenhouse gases is key. A new report by The Nature Conservancy measures 13 practices that can suck carbon out of the atmosphere. A mature tree, for example, absorbs about 48 pounds of carbon dioxide a year.
  • Natural climate solutions like reforestation and cover cropping could remove an estimated 26 million metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year in Minnesota.
  • The full reduction would require heavy adoption of cover crops and reduced or no tilling. It would also require reductions in the amount of fertilizer applied to decrease nitrogen dioxide emissions, switching from anhydrous ammonia to urea fertilizer, and greater precision in applying it, such as varying the rates within fields.

This week, LSP farmer-member Jim Falk LSP testified in front of the Minnesota House Climate and Energy Committee in support of the 100% Clean Energy bill. "Let's be honest, climate change is real — and farmers can be, and want to be, a part of the solution," he told the committee. Falk's full testimony can be seen here from 41:45 to 43:45.

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Make the Corn Belt a Carbon Belt

(12/10/20) We need the equivalent of a modern-day agricultural moon shot — a plan to transition the Corn Belt to a carbon belt, writes the Wild Farm Alliance's Dan Imhoff in The Progressive. Highlights:

  • Hundreds of millions of acres now planted in corn and soybeans could provide year-round ground cover with permanent plantings that can pull carbon out of the atmosphere and store it in deep-rooted plants in the soil.
  • The billions we spend on crop insurance for marginally productive acreage could be put to better use with permanent carbon sequestering plantings of grasses, trees and other native species.
  • Livestock raised on the land, rather than in methane-spewing factories, should receive far more support.

Check out LSP's Carbon Farming web page here.

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Opinion: Why We Need a Broader Perspective to Help Farmers Meet the Climate Crisis

(12/18/21) Many soil health initiatives focus on carbon markets, offsets, and tax credits – essentially, agreements through which greenhouse gas emissions emitters pay other entities to compensate for their emissions by sequestering carbon. However, Mark Schonbeck and Cristel Zoebisch, writing in Agri-Pulse, caution against focusing on a handful of farming practices rather than taking a more system-based, holistic approach. Highlights:

  • The science is not yet in place for accurate and cost-effective measurement and quantification of soil carbon sequestration.
  • Research shows that we cannot substantially offset greenhouse gas emissions simply by adding cover crops and no-till to annual crop rotations. The major gains will come through advanced rotational grazing management; conversion of highly erodible or marginal cropland to perennial production systems, including permanent pasture, silvopasture, agroforestry, orchards with permanent ground cover, and perennial grain crops; and restoration of native forest, prairie, and wetlands.
  • For annual cropping systems, integrated strategies such as organic and conservation agriculture will sequester more carbon than merely eliminating tillage or adding a cover crop to a simple rotation such as corn-soybeans. Diversified rotations that include cover crops, minimize fallow periods, reduce tillage, use organic soil amendments, eliminate or minimize use of synthetic agrichemicals, and reintegrate livestock and crop production, where practical, can yield lasting increases in cropland soil organic carbon and soil health.
  • Yet, in today’s economic system, farmers cannot undertake such transformative changes on their own. Government policy must promote and support resource-conserving crop rotations, cover cropping, management-intensive rotational grazing, agroforestry and other soil health practices for the full gamut of their benefits and not just soil organic carbon sequestration. These practices prevent soil erosion, improve water infiltration and storage, protect water resources from nutrients, sediment, and pathogens, and — most importantly — improve resilience to weather extremes, thereby stabilizing yields, farm income, and food security.

During the 2021 session of the Minnesota Legislature, LSP farmer-members are pushing to achieve a statewide goal of 50% Soil Healthy Farming by 2030, and 100% Soil Healthy Farming by 2035. To sign the petition supporting 100% Soil Healthy Farming, click here.

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Organic Produce Sales Up 14%

(1/21/21) Buoyed by a fourth consecutive quarter of double-digit growth, 2020 organic produce sales finished with a 14.2% increase over the previous year, outpacing conventionally grown produce in both sales and volume gains, according to Morning Ag Clips. Highlights:

  • Organic fresh produce sales in 2020 were $8,542,355,756, an increase of over $1 billion from 2019, and represented 12% of all fresh produce sales. Conventional produce sales rose 10.7% for the year.
  • The 14.2% increase in organic sales from 2019 reflected a nine-month-long pandemic that changed consumers’ grocery shopping habits. Of the top 10 organic sales and volume categories, nine of them saw double-digit growth.
  • The top three sales categories for 2020 were packaged salads, berries (strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries), and apples, with each segment registering double-digit gains over the prior year.

The 2021 Growing Stronger Collaborative Conference on Organic and Sustainable Farming will be held virtually Feb. 22-27.

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The Honey Detectives are Closing in on China’s Shady Syrup Swindlers

(1/14/21) In China, cheap honey and sugar syrup are produced on an industrial scale and blended together by fraudsters. Beekeepers believe this adulterated honey is responsible for saturating the market, crashing global prices and deceiving millions of customers, reports Wired magazine. Highlights:

  • There are now more than 90 million managed beehives around the world. The industry provides a huge environmental benefit because three out of four crops depend to some extent on pollination by bees and other insects for yield and quality.
  • China is the world’s biggest producer of honey, accounting for about a quarter of global output, but its rise to dominance and its low prices have long been viewed with suspicion. In the eastern province of Zhejiang, where much of the country’s beekeeping industry is concentrated, industrial plants manufacture cheap rice and corn syrup to be blended with honey.
  • A federation of honey producers has helped fund tests on supermarket honey in the United Kingdom, one of the world’s biggest importers of Chinese honey. In 2015, the European Commission's in-house science service, the Joint Research Centre, tested 893 samples of honey from retailers and found that 127 (14%) were suspected of “containing added sugar syrups.”
  • The trade in fraudulent honey is putting local beekeepers out of business around the world. “It is as if we are in a race against fake honey on a trail full of stones,” says Mexican beekeeper Moo Pat. “We have everything to lose.”

As this LSP article makes clear, honey bees and other pollinators play a critical role in sustaining not only a healthy ecosystem, but sustainable food production.

Brian DeVore is the editor of the Land Stewardship Letter.