Schumer wants time extended for commenting on hemp regulations

Sen. Charles E. Schumer called upon the federal government Wednesday to allow more time for comment on proposed hemp regulations, concerned that the proposed rules would harm the rising industry of growing the useful plant.

Schumer announced his concerns while visiting the Albion farm of Gina and Terry Miller, who operate an organic hemp-growing business in Orleans County.

Proposed rules were published Oct. 31 and the comment period is due to end Dec. 31. Schumer, D-N.Y., would like the U.S. Department of Agriculture to extend the comment period by an additional 60 days.

“When it comes to an industry as promising as industrial hemp in the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region, the feds need to get it right the first time, and not rush to any reckless regulatory decisions. Regulating this rapidly emerging industry is a must, but any rules must be part of a well-thought-out process that carefully considers the needs of all stakeholders—from farmers and growers to producers and manufacturers,” Schumer said. “These hemp experts have serious fears about how this proposed rule making could impose unrealistic or poorly thought out rules, restrict their industry, cut off growth and stop the creation of good-paying jobs. So, it is incumbent on USDA, the chief agricultural regulators in the United States, to hear them out and make improvements to the final regulations that are balanced and smart.”

Charles E. Schumer
Charles E. Schumer

Growers and hemp processers on a panel discussion at the recent Grow-NY Food & Ag Summit shared concerns about lack of clarity in the emerging regulations. A problem they mentioned and Schumer reiterated is the timing of testing to make sure the THC content (the stuff in marijuana that gets you high) of the hemp isn’t too strong. Samples are taken before harvest but results take so long that a farmer could harvest the entire crop before learning that the THC levels are too high for non-medicinal uses, and therefore have to scrap the crop.

Schumer said testing usually takes five to six business days, and the 15-day window for testing may be impossible to meet with a scarcity of appropriate test sites in the state. Additionally, the rules don’t provide for retesting or finding an alternative use for the crop if its THC level exceeds the limit.

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Schumer calls foul on disparate trade compensation for farmers

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer says a federal program to help compensate farmers for negative trade impacts is stacked against New York farmers.

Schumer said Friday that Southern farmers are receiving 95 percent of the top awards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Market Facilitation Program, while New Yorkers receive a fraction of what they’re eligible to receive. The program reimburses farms damaged by the variable trade market, but Schumer says an average size farm in Georgia would receive $41.10 more per acre than a similar farm in New York.

The senator shared a report showing that the rate of reimbursement also varies by county in New York, with the largely agricultural Wyoming County receiving just 19 percent of the allotted recovery amount, and more urban Monroe County getting 45 percent of its due.

“USDA is using a flawed formula that helps big, wealthy farms and billion-dollar foreign-owned companies, while our small and family farms in New York have been left in the dust,” Schumer said. “The USDA must stop picking winners and losers in such an unbalanced way, and instead ensure all of America’s and Upstate New York’s farmers get the help they need and deserve—not just a lucky few.”

Schumer is calling upon the USDA to fix the disparity. He said some of the reasons for unequal payments are:

  • USDA shuts out specialty crops, which many New York farmers raise, from direct assistance.
  • The agency doubled the payment limit for row crop payments from $125,000 to $250,000, helping concentrate payments on farming conglomerates.
  • Payments for dairy farmers were based on data six to eight years old rather than on current production numbers.

Attempts to reach a USDA spokesman for comment were unsuccessful.

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Farmers have extra week to enroll in margin program

Dairy farmers have an extra week to enroll in the Dairy Margin Coverage program, a type of federally backed insurance that provides payments when milk prices fall and feed prices don’t. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that the new deadline is Sept. 27. It had been Friday, Sept. 20.  

Bill Northey, USDA undersecretary for farm production and conservation, said “I know that some farmers may still be cautious given their experiences with former dairy support programs, but producers who have not signed up yet should come into a local office to learn how much money the program can put into their pockets.”

Northey said 21,200 dairy farms have already signed up for the assistance and $230 million has been disbursed. Margin payments have been triggered every month this year from January through July. 

Farmers can get an idea of whether the program would be worthwhile for them by visiting the program’s website, which includes historical data on premiums and payouts. The latest iteration of the program was authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill. 

 “My message to those dairy producers who are hurting out there: Don’t leave this kind of financial assistance on the table,” Northey said. 

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Schumer announces seed money for hemp germplasm repository in Geneva

Sen. Charles E. Schumer announced today that $500,000 in federal funding will go to Geneva to establish a seed repository for the hemp industry.

The money will go specifically to the Agricultural Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture, which has an outpost on the Cornell AgriTech campus. The ARS would establish the nation’s only industrial hemp germplasm repository.

Germplasm includes seeds, cuttings and other genetic material of plants.

“Not only will this facility act as the United States’ only industrial hemp seed bank, but it will also allow the world-class agricultural scientists at Cornell to help boost industrial hemp entrepreneurship,” Schumer said.

Kathryn J. Boor, dean of Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences said, “The hemp seed bank and the research that it will allow by our Cornell and USDA-ARS scientists will be vital resources for New York state farmers.”

Until the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp had been considered a controlled substance because it is a member of the cannabis plant family and contains extremely low levels of the active ingredient in marijuana.

Schumer said a germplasm repository for hemp used to exist but its collection was destroyed when hemp became a controlled substance. He called the $500,000 allocation a “down payment” necessary to rebuild hemp cultivation and provide the means to make it a viable cash crop in New York. Hemp has applications for use in food, oil, and cosmetic products.

Cornell and USDA scientists maintain and have access to other germplasm repositories at Cornell AgriTech, including some for grape, apple, cherry, tomato and members of the brassica family (cabbage, cauliflower, kale and broccoli among others.)

In February, a panel discussion convened by American Cannabis Co. concluded that lack of germplasm repositories is holding back the industry.

Mitch Day, a science consultant working with ACC, said that similar to other crops, development of hemp needs plant breeding. “Breeding is the most effective way to increase yields, and germplasm is the raw material for that breeding.”

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Farm bill raises loan limits

Provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill, which became law in December, allow farmers to gain larger loans through the federal Farm Service Agency, the agency has announced.

Because of the seasonal nature of farm income, agricultural producers often need substantial loans to pay for expenses during parts of the year.

“As natural disasters, trade disruptions, and persistent pressure on commodity prices continue to impact agricultural operations, farm loans become increasingly important to farmers and ranchers,” said Richard Fordyce, administrator of the Farm Service Agency, a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  “The 2018 Farm Bill provides increased loan limits and more flexibility to farm loans, which gives producers more access to credit when they need it most.”

According to the FSA, borrowers of direct loans for operations will now be able to take out up to $400,000, a 33 percent increase over last year. Guaranteed Operating Loans increased to $1.75 million, from $1.429 million.

Limits on Direct Farm Ownership Loans double to $600,000, while guaranteed loans for purchasing or expanding a farm increase from $1.429  million to $1.75 million.

Microloans for farm ownership or operating costs are now set at $50,000 each and can be combined for a total of $100,000. Previously the combined total was $50,000.

Those producers who have restructured under the FSA and received debt forgiveness are now eligible for emergency loans, which were not available to them before.

New producers or those classified as “socially disadvantaged” got a boost in the guarantee against loss of principal or interest on loans for up to 95 percent. The limit had been 90 percent.

Direct loans come from the FSA, while guaranteed loans come from commercial lenders, but are guaranteed by the FSA. More information on farm loans is available on the agency’s website.

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Growers of sweet cherries now eligible for federal subsidies

Sweet cherries and almonds have been added to the list of crops that are eligible for a new federal subsidy.

The subsidy is to compensate growers for losses caused by tariffs other nations are levying in reaction to President Donald Trump’s more restrictive trade policies. The subsidies are meant to be a short-term program to compensate for losses while new trade deals more favorable to the United States are worked out, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

The USDA announced the addition of those two tree crops this week, and extended the period that can be used for determining losses while raising hogs.

Growers may receive up to 50 percent of the value of their crop or livestock, multiplied by a figure the federal Market Facilitation Program has established for each category. For sweet cherries, the multiplier is 16 cents per pound, and the maximum one farmer or farming entity can receive is $125,000.  New  York farmers typically grow between 600 and 1,200 tons of sweet cherries each year. Almonds are primarily grown in California.

New York farmers can now apply for losses in the value of their sweet cherry crops.
New York farmers can now apply for losses in the value of their sweet cherry crops.

Farmers have until Jan. 15, 2019, to submit a claim for a subsidy.  Claims can be filed online, through the mail, or in person at a USDA service center.  The applicants must be able to show average production records, proof of an ownership role in the crop and proof that the farmland is covered by a soil conservation plan.

Other crops that were already part of the Market Facilitation Program are: soybeans, sorghum, corn, wheat, cotton, and dairy.

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New York’s maple production grew sweeter in 2018

Watch out, Vermont. New York is sneaking up on you.

Maple syrup production in the Empire State this year hit a 74-year-high with 806,000 gallons produced. The No. 2 state in the nation for maple syrup production also grew 50 percent over the last five years.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the increase in production on Friday, as well as the launch of “Maple Day” at the NY State Fair on Aug. 27 to bring attention to New York’s sweetest crop.

“The maple industry is one of New York’s most important agricultural sectors, and it continues to grow year-over-year, infusing millions into the economy and bringing New York national recognition for its quality,” Cuomo said. “The growth of the industry is an indicator of our fantastic producers, who work hard to make some of the best maple syrup in the country and the innovative and unique maple products that consumers are demanding.”

Vermont doesn’t have too much to worry about yet, though. Despite the state’s smaller size, population and tree cover compared to New York, it still produced more than double New York’s volume of maple syrup in 2018. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, Vermont produced 1.9 million gallons of maple syrup this year.

Helen Thomas, executive director of the NYS Maple Producers Association said state fair visitors will be able to try some new maple products on Maple Day, including free samples of Hoffmann’s Maple Sausage Snappy, and Cornell University’s maple milk. The products will be offered in the fairgrounds’ Dairy Products and Horticulture buildings, as well as the Dairy Birthing Center.

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