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A3. Agroecology

NFU Board Calls for Immediate End to Government Shutdown

National Farmers Union - Fri, 01/18/2019 - 12:12
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE January 18, 2019 Contact: Andrew Jerome, 202-314-3106 WASHINGTON – The partial government shutdown—soon to enter its fifth week—is causing harm and exacerbating issues already facing American family farmers and ranchers as they look to sell their crops, acquire financing and prepare for the coming year. As such, the National Farmers Union […]
Categories: A3. Agroecology

The Dark Side of Innovation for Family Farmers: Reflections on an International Symposium on Innovation

Agroecology Now! - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 08:12

This post explores rapid rise to prominence of the term ‘Innovation’ within agricultural development, and presents some reasons why it is an inadequate framework to address the deep injustices in contemporary food systems, especially as they relate to family farmers and other small scale food producers. In summary, this fits into five categories:

  1. Innovation as a Trojan Horse;
  2. Innovation scatters debate
  3. Innovation as a tool of capture
  4. Innovation as a tool of containment
  5. Innovation as a tool to ‘weaponise the youth’

Picture credit: FAO 2018 

Last November, I attended The FAO Symposium on Agricultural Innovation for Family Farmers. The express purpose of the Symposium was to ‘[unlock] the potential of agricultural innovation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals’. Around 600 people attended the symposium, including 76 government delegates and 300 NGO representatives – the remainder being either from academia or the Private Sector.

I also had the honour of participating in the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC) pre-meeting, intended to brief participants on recent developments int he field of agricultural innovation and develop a collective strategy for how to approach the Symposium. 

Some key moments included a heavily contested final plenary (more details on this below), and the eventual announcement by FAO DG, Graciano da Silva, of an ‘Innovation Unit’ and an ‘Innovation fund’.

My lasting impression is that the term ‘innovation’ is generating a great deal of confusion – and in deeply problematic ways. The following analysis conveys a bit more detail about the Symposium, and explore (under five headings) my emerging thoughts about agricultural innovation. While I hope these headings will be useful, they all elaborate the idea that innovation is an inadequate framework to address the deep injustices in the food system

1. Innovation as a Trojan Horse

Innovation is a powerfully enchanting word. Part of this has to do with its association with one of humanity’s favourite traits: the ability to overcome impossible odds through creative and inventive thinking. Not only does this explain its alluring quality, but also its current status as a site of intense debate and disagreement on the future of food and farming. It is a now undoubtedly a vital component in what Sidney Tarrow (2013) would call ‘the language of contention’ – that is, the language that shapes the interests and actions of social movements.

Part of innovation’s enduringly problematic role in contemporary debates (much like ‘sustainability’) stems from its resistance to adhering to a single definition. However, if the innovation we want remains unqualified, then technologies such as ‘gene editing’ and components of the much-vaunted ‘4th Industrial Revolution’ (4IR), will end up being conflated with the decidedly low-cost, low-tech, social innovations common in the repertoires of agroecology and food sovereignty activists.

The dangers of such vagueness were evident at the Symposium, where we saw presentations on gene editing (by the FAO plant division), the launch of a totalising ‘Agricultural Brian’ (by corporate giant Alibaba), broad support for biotech (e.g. by the Biotechnology Coordinator for USDA and Frédéric Seppey from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) and repeated reference to 4IR ‘staples’ like drones, blockchain, and ‘big data’. While there were emphatic calls for family farmers to be put at the heart of such processes, this inclusion was invariably framed in terms of consumer ‘choice’, and virtually no discussion was held around the ways that such expensive tech could benefit the poorest family farmers.

Added to this, ‘Big Ag’ interests clearly had a disproportionate influence on proceedings. We heard in the opening plenary, for example, that significant monetary donations had been made to the Symposium by government agencies with substantial agri-tech portfolios; for example, the US, Canada, and the Netherlands. The exact amount of these donations was not disclosed, nor the understanding of what is expected in return. Nonetheless, this should all serve to deepen fears about the role innovation is playing in global agriculture. In short, innovation has fast become a means to advance controversial agricultural technologies as the primary tools to solve ‘the problem’ of family farmers and wider sustainability crises.

Picture credit: FAO 2018

2. Innovation scatters debate

Innovation designates too broad a mode of action to usefully direct debate. It can mean almost anything: constituents as far apart as hyper-tech corporates and peasants seem to recognize the term. But this means that in a debating context like FAO, a great amount of people are talking past each other, and actually very few mechanisms were built-in by the Symposium organisers for resolving these differences. Instead, the prevailing attitude was one of frustrated urgency. As Marco Gualtieri (from Seeds and Chips) put it, ‘we have the tech right now that can make the difference …so let’s do it’; however, his presentation actually included very little detail on specific technology, let alone on which terms they should be used.

This vagueness may prove to be disastrous. Innovation alone is utterly incapable of addressing deep historical injustices – it naturally (as a discourse which routinely valorises newness, novelty, and hi-tech solutions) deflects complex debate in favour of identifying ‘concrete’ short-term fixes. The language of deep historical trauma finds no traction here; in fact, interventions drawing this to attention are summarily dismissed or ignored. This marks a departure for the FAO which has, in recent years, helped to establish spaces where political disagreement can surface and attempts made to resolve it.

The IPC (and their constituent organisations) spent a great deal of time and resources in attending the Symposium, and despite a considerable effort in pre-planning and building internal consensus, their contributions were repeatedly deflected or ignored. During the Symposium the IPC offered their own definitions of innovation (most notably in the form of a letter sent to the Symposium organisers) – this effort represented an important attempt to push back against a tech-focussed approach to innovation.

This effort must be sustained, however; by simply attending the Symposium we may even have helped to further legitimise unqualified innovation as the FAO’s central approach to addressing food system crises. It is essential that we continue to collectively define the types of innovation we want (as well as those we don’t want) over the coming months and years. As details emerge about the Innovation Unit, the Innovation Fund and the FAO’s ‘Decade of Family Farmers 2019-2028’, we must remain alert to the ways innovation is being framed, and be ready to offer critiques and alternatives.  

Picture credit: FAO 2018

3. Innovation as a tool of capture

In complement to a movement of infiltration, is one of capture. While there were some moments when the language of biotech was used overtly, most of the time such interests are being framed in language originally intended to liberate small scale farmers. Broadly speaking, this relates to the language  of ‘participation’: we heard, for example, extensive talk of ‘putting farmers at the centre’, ‘giving farmers a range of options’, ‘multi-stakeholder platforms’, and, of course, ‘farmer participation’ itself. However, we rarely heard any details about how this participation would be governed. Instead, when stripped back, the general messages here are salient, and quite in opposition to efforts to consolidate the rights and interests of small scale family farmers. In short, the general narrative being pushed here is one where innovation means:

  • deregulation (to allow more rapid innovation);
  • private sector funding;
  • private sector participation (through a ‘multi-stakeholder’ framework);
  • and disciplining family farmers to uptake new technologies

Within this narrative, the term ‘unlocking’ is ubiquitous – a term evidently designed to signal urgency and a solutions-based approach, but which actually has a range of meanings. Firstly, ‘unlocking’ makes no sense if you start from the perspective that family farmers are already in possession of knowledge (if not always the political capacity) to adequately develop agroecological innovations. ‘Unlocking’ in this context is undoubtedly a euphemism for circumventing sites of peasant resistance and neutralising existing regulation. Moreover, when we consider that family farmers constitute not only a substantial opponent to a lot of agricultural tech, but also a largely untapped market (there are 500m family farmers worldwide), phrases like ‘unlocking potential’, ‘exploitation’, ‘regulatory innovation’ (the latter coined by the USDA delegate) confirm a distinctly extractive intent.

Picture credit: FAO 2019

4. Innovation as a tool of containment

The global debate around the issue of agricultural technologies is a deeply divided and contentious one. This much was in evidence through the Symposium, not least during the final plenary. On the final morning of the Symposium, ‘The Chair’s Summary’ was released, setting out a series of principles and recommendations clearly meant to consolidate consensus on the issue of agricultural innovation. The document was not well received, with members of the IPC (but also some government delegates and academics) pointing out (among other things) its failure to mention ‘agroecology’ (despite repeated CSO interventions on this subject) and, conversely, the inclusion of ‘4IR’, despite no one using the term during the Symposium:

Recommendation 13: There is a need to enable family farmers to adapt and innovate in the use of new technologies and solutions (e.g. digital technologies, 4th industrial revolution, etc.)

In light of this, it is clear that innovation would be useful to the FAO (and other regime actors) as a term that could hold together the diverse factions which make up contemporary agri-food sector. Innovation, it seems, is simultaneously dynamic enough to be attractive to small scale family farmers, and sufficiently vague enough to qualify some of the more toxic agricultural tech.

Picture credit: FAO 2018

5. Innovation as a means to ‘weaponise the youth’

The youth are a key constituency for those advancing a positive narrative for high-tech innovation. A prominent refrain during the Symposium was ‘we need to make farming sexy again’ – an understandable sentiment given ageing farmer populations, especially in Europe. As with numerous other key terms, however, ‘youth inclusion’ is often used as a euphemism for the processes of accelerated technologisation. The second day of the Symposium featured an event called ‘Youth as drivers of innovation: Interactive event’. This event acted as a showcase of young farmers using high-tech solutions, which they were using mainly as a means of guaranteeing profit. Without this, we were told repeatedly, no young farmers would be interested in farming.

A keynote on the first day was also dedicated to this theme – given by Iris Bouwers, Farmer and Vice-President, European Council of Young Farmers. Her address resembled the structure of a Ted-talk, in its overt personalisation of her struggle. Indeed, she framed her success in terms of two pillars: ‘entrepreneurialism’ and ‘banking’. The role of the state support (such as the CAP) and collective struggle were entirely missing from this account. As well as being a staunchly depoliticising account, Bouwers also added strident support to the hi-tech narrative – ‘Young farmers need to be round the table’, she said at one point ‘…they are the ones who will use the drones’.

It struck me as depressingly insightful when during the IPC debriefing meeting on the final day, Marciano da Silva (from La Via Campesina) warned, ‘they are beginning to weaponise the youth’. However, if research linking young farmers and technology uptake is at all accurate, this processes has well and truly begun. As I see it, the links between youth and technology represent a daunting frontier for those of us thinking through how to promote agroecological innovations based on a combination of low-cost, low-impact (but also lower-yielding) practices and technologies, and a social justice and knowledge-intensive approach. While I am convinced that if we use the term ‘innovation’ at all, it should always be in conjunction with ‘agroecological’ (or at least some word which qualifies the its political and practical scope), substantial work still needs to be done in order to ensure this boundary setting doesn’t exclude and alienate.

By: Chris Maughan

This post is based on ideas being worked up in a forthcoming article on the governance of innovation with Colin Anderson and Michel Pimbert. Contact for more details.

More AgroecologyNow! analyses of innovation in agriculture can be found here and here.

The post The Dark Side of Innovation for Family Farmers: Reflections on an International Symposium on Innovation appeared first on Agroecology Now!.

Categories: A3. Agroecology

25/01 : STOP CETA & Co.! Belgian – German border


Farmer border action for fair international trade

25th of January 11:30 a.m.

Belgian – German border (E40 exit 40, near Lichtenbusch)

Trans-European resistance against the CETA trade deal converges once again and takes the stage this 25 January.

Farming organisation ECVC with its members AbL (Arbeitsgemeinschaft bäuerliche Landwirtschaft – Germany), the FUGEA – Belgium, along with the European Milk Board (EMB), the MIG-Belgium (Milcherzeuger Interessengemeinschaft), and other organizations, are making a stand in the Belgian-German border to say NO to CETA and other free trade agreements (FTAs) contrived by European authorities on the backs of farmers and consumers.

Agricultural dumping, the privatisation of public services, sapping health and environmental regulation, are just a few of the toxic elements melded to the CETA, however, public pressure has managed to isolate one that, has a result, is being examined by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) : the ICS (investment court system, former ISDS). The ICS allows big business to circumvent the public court system and creates a special jurisdiction accessible only to them, where private judges, paid by the companies, scrutinize the cases. If a corporation considers that the recent implementation of a government’s public policy -like stricter environmental regulation or stricter labour laws- puts its profits at risk, then it can take the State to the ICS. This hijack our already fragile democracy and doesn’t benefit European nor Canadian peoples. Only corporate interests!

On the 29 January the ECJ will render its decision on the compatibility of the ICS with EU law. Against this backdrop, we, the European peasant movement, want to, once again, send a strong signal to European governments that the CETA and the other FTAs negotiated by the EU are bad for agriculture, food security, the environment, healthcare, labour and democracy.

Livestock farmers, peasants, citizens, let us unite this 25/01 against the CETA and other toxic free trade deals!!

To tractor drivers, farmers and civil society organisations interested in participating and/or supporting this action (signing the joint farmers’ declaration – read it here), please contact Berit Thomsen (AbL): Email:, Tel: ++492381-9053172



  • The action takes place on the highway bridge over the border motorway A3/E40 near Lichtenbusch (Access by E40, Exit 40) on Friday 25 January 2019 at 11:30 a.m.
  • Program: Tractors, banners, and people will rally on the bridge, where speeches will be given, the symbolic signing of the farmers’ declaration, pictures taken, and space given to interact with the media.
  • The tractors must not have a front loader with fork/bucket, trailers etc., must be empty to be allowed to drive on the bridge.

The post 25/01 : STOP CETA & Co.! Belgian – German border appeared first on Via Campesina English.

Pakistan: One tenant killed by security guards of Army Welfare Trust at Depalpur

Statement issued by Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee

Thousands protested on 13th January 2019 against the killing at Bail Gunj agriculture farm run by Army Welfare Trust. The protest took place in front of District police officer at Pakpattan, demanding the registration of a murder case for killing Shamshad , a tenant.  (Watch video)

On 12 January, the security guards of Army Welfare Trust opened direct fire on protesting tenants against removal of a electricity transformer that was the lifeline for the agricultural land cultivated by tenant farmers.

One person was killed, 16 others injured, among them one in critical condition. 

This is the latest incident in a series of repression of the tenants since 2001, who have been working for over a century on army controlled agri farms and has long been demanding rights over their land.

Over 14 tenants have lost their lives in such incidents. No one responsible for killing these tenants was ever convicted. On the contrary, the normal practice is that murder charges are registered against the leaders of Anjman Mozareen Punjab, the organisation that is leading the campaign for land rights. AMP is one important member of Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee (PKRC). 

Over 1900 tenants have been arrested since 2001, nearly 200 of them are peasant women. Hundreds of false criminal cases have been registered against the tenant leaders, three are still in jail including the popular leader Mehar Abdul Sattar, who is now serving a 10 years jail sentence just for the “crime” of organising a demonstration.  Another peasant leader Younas Iqbal is also in jail on a false case of dacoity. 

The movement is not dying down despite all the repression.

Most of the tenants at Okara Military Farms have refused to pay the crop share to the administration claiming that military in not owner of this land, a claim now accepted by the Okara Military Farms administration. It is Punjab government that owns nearly 28000 acre of agriculture land in Okara and Pakpattan. 

At present, the  National Commission of Human Rights is dealing a case of gross violation of human rights at the these farms. Latest killing of a tenant adds to the wounds of the poor tenants who are demanding that the 12 acre of land given to them over a century earlier under their cultivation be given to them. 

On 9th January 2019, a 14 members Tenants Solidarity Committee (TSC) was established at the office of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan including leading human rights activists. It included representatives of Okara Military Farms, Khanewal Seed Farms and also from civil society organisations including Farooq Tariq, General Secretary of Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee.

After establishing this committee, a counter attack against this initiative was taken at Okara. The tenants leaders whose release were made possible by people’s efforts, were forced by intelligence agencies to address a press conference at Okara Press Club against establishment of this TSC). 

Now a new incident of killing of a young tenant has sparked a new wave of mass movement by the peasants this time at Pakpattan. 

We demand the arrest of all those responsible for the killing, land rights for all tenants, military out of agri business and land to the tillers. 

ALSO READ: After Decades of Farmers’ Struggles, Pakistan Army Admits It Does Not Own Farm Land

The post Pakistan: One tenant killed by security guards of Army Welfare Trust at Depalpur appeared first on Via Campesina English.

USDA Announces Temporary Reopening of FSA Offices – Farmers Union Urges Members to Take Advantage of Services

National Farmers Union - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 11:18
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE January 16, 2019 Contact: Andrew Jerome, 202-314-3106 WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced it would reopen Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices for three days to provide farmers with select services amidst a government shutdown that has closed agency offices. National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson sent […]
Categories: A3. Agroecology

Environmental Sustainability in the 2018 Farm Bill

National Farmers Union - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 09:34
By Matt Perdue, NFU Government Relations Director Environmental sustainability is critical for the future of family farming and ranching and for the health of our rural communities. As concerns over water quality, soil health and the wide-ranging effects of climate-change mount, incentives-based conservation programs are more important now than ever.   The 2018 Farm Bill maintains […]
Categories: A3. Agroecology

USDA to Send Trade Relief to JBS, Brazil’s Largest Meatpacker – Farmers Union Says Funds Should be Targeted to American Farmers and Ranchers

National Farmers Union - Thu, 01/10/2019 - 11:32
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE January 10, 2019 Contact: Andrew Jerome, 202.314.3106 WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will purchase roughly 1.8 million pounds of pork products from Brazilian firm JBS, one of the world’s largest meatpackers, using funds appropriated by the Trump Administration to help American family farmers and ranchers weather the administration’s […]
Categories: A3. Agroecology

Workshop on Empowering Resilient Farmers During Financially Stressful Times Feb. 7 in Rochester

Land Stewardship Project - Wed, 01/09/2019 - 22:00

ROCHESTER, Minn. — As the farm financial crisis deepens in our rural communities, the Land Stewardship Project (LSP) is offering a special “Farmer Resiliency: Empowerment During Financially Stressful Times” workshop Thursday, Feb. 7, from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., at Peace United Church of Christ in Rochester (1503 2nd Ave. NE). The event is free, but RSVPs are appreciated for planning purposes. To reserve a spot or for more information, contact LSP’s Karen Stettler at 507-523-3366 or

For this workshop, LSP is bringing together a resource panel to address topics farmers are currently facing: financial difficulties and how to deal with them; farmers’ rights; who is out there to help; and the organizations, publications and programs that are available. Farmers Martin Larsen and Mary Jore will share their experiences farming during stressful times and what they have learned in the process. Additional panelists include Jack LaValla of Farm Business Management at Riverland Community College, Tim Gossman of Merchants Bank in St. Charles, Stephen Carpenter of Farmers’ Legal Action Group, and Connie Dykes of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Farm Advocates program.

Each of the panelists will bring relevant information and advice for farm families who are making important short- and long-term decisions. After the panel and a Q & A, there will be light refreshments and time for attendees to network with the panelists and other participants.

“It is important for farmers to know that they are not alone and they don’t have to try to solve all of the problems alone,” said Dykes. “There are people they can talk to for help and I just want more people to know about what exists.”


Categories: A3. Agroecology

'Migration Stories Past & Present' Event Jan. 21 in Montevideo

Land Stewardship Project - Wed, 01/09/2019 - 22:00

MONTEVIDEO, Minn. — A special community conversation to uncover the realities and impacts of migration will be held on Martin Luther King Day, Monday, Jan. 21, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at the Montevideo Community Center (550 S. 1st Street). This “Migration Stories Past and Present” event is sponsored by the Land Stewardship Project (LSP), the First Congregational Church UCC and the Baha’i Community of Clara City. This event is free and open to the public and light refreshments will be served. For more information and to RSVP, contact LSP’s Amy Bacigalupo at 320-269-2105 or

During this event, participants will have an opportunity to explore the timeline related to agriculture and migration in our region. The program will start with a Dakota perspective and follow with the arrival of migrants since the late 1800s up to our most recent immigrants. There will be an exploration of why people leave their homes, their journeys and how much we have in common. The program will offer an opportunity to have an open conversation about migration experiences and discuss how public policy and ideology impact migrants and our communities.


Categories: A3. Agroecology

Farm Transitions Profile: The Goal Standard of Farming

Land Stewardship Project - Tue, 01/08/2019 - 22:00

One day in 2014, a man stopped by Bill and Bonnie McMillin’s farm tucked away in the hills of southeastern Minnesota’s Wabasha County and offered to pay cash for all 160 acres, lock, stock and barrel. Such an offer can be tempting. After all, Bill and Bonnie had worked hard over the previous few decades to build a 45-cow dairy operation, which they later transitioned to a grass-fed beef enterprise. Working with livestock takes a toll on the body, and at the time Bill was 60 and Bonnie 58. In fact, the previous year they had both had serious cancer scares, and their adult son is not interested in farming. It was time to think about the future of a farm that had been in Bill’s family since 1946.

Fortunately, the McMillin’s had recently completed a Land Stewardship Project Farm Transition Planning Workshop, where, among other things, they learned the importance of setting goals and figuring out ways to attain them, while developing a retirement plan that would guarantee a sustainable income. The McMillins came out of that workshop series more committed than ever to seeing their farm remain a “stand-alone” operation, a home to crops and livestock, as well as a place where a farm family would reside, rather than just another 160 acres appended to a larger corn and soybean operation. Bill was especially adamant that the farm offer an opportunity for the next generation of agricultural entrepreneur, given his involvement during the late 1980s in a group called the “Wabasha County Give A Damns,” an informal collection of neighbors that encouraged LSP to eventually launch Farm Beginnings, which has trained hundreds of new farmers during the past two decades.

“Providing an opportunity for somebody to farm is big for us,” says Bill while sitting at a table with Bonnie in their farmhouse on a bright fall day. “I didn’t take that offer in 2014 to buy the farm seriously. He was serious, but we had no intention of taking him up on that offer at all.”

They knew once they took the cash, they would have no influence on the farm’s future, and the chances of the buildings being knocked down and the land becoming just one more corn and soybean field would be increased significantly.

“The best part of the Farm Transition class for me was it made us ask, ‘What are our goals for the farm?’ ” Bonnie recalls. “And whenever something came up around decision making, it was clear we could go back to our goals, and that really helped us make that decision. When something came up, that’s what we went back to—our goals.”

As the McMillins relate this story, sitting across the table from them is someone who has made sticking to their goals of using the farm to launch a new agricultural career much easier: Bryton Miller. On this fall day, the 22-year-old has just wrapped up the morning chores in the nearby barn and is taking a break before heading over to a neighbor’s farm to help with chopping silage. Miller grew up on a 184-cow dairy just up the road from the McMillins, and has made it clear his entire life that his ultimate goal is to own and operate his own milking enterprise. After all, a few years ago Bryton received a dairy heifer due to calve as a Christmas present from his parents; as a high school graduation present, they gave him an Allis-Chalmers D17 tractor.

“Farming oozes out of my pores,” says Bryton with a laugh. “Every career day at school, I was a farmer. Every time.”

Bryton is the oldest of six children, and his parents, Tom and Kay, encouraged him from a young age to seek farming opportunities off the home place. In fact, he has held jobs off the farm since he was in 9th grade, gaining experience not just on other agricultural operations but in everything from construction to being part of an ambulance crew, all the while building a nest egg for buying a farm someday.

Bill and Bonnie say Miller and his family have a reputation for being hard workers and having a commitment to the community. By the time they received that offer to sell everything in 2014, the McMillins were already in discussion with Miller about how he could take over the operation.

Transitions in farming are full of missed opportunities, connections that aren’t quite solidified and, in general, timing that doesn’t work out for the parties involved. A retiring farm couple, for example, may be leaving the land at a time when a beginning farmer is not ready to step in and take over. Given that, the McMillins and Miller seem to be a perfect match: a rare bit of lucky providence where a retiring farm family’s goals and a beginning farmer’s aspirations intersect logistically and timing wise.

But a closer look shows that a lot of preparation went into making certain the two parties could take advantage of that luck and ensure long-term success for all involved.

Getting it on Paper

The McMillins concede that they have a huge advantage over a lot of retiring farmers: they know Miller and they know his family. In fact, they began discussing with Tom the possibility of his son taking over the farm while Bryton was still in high school. But such familiarity comes with its own challenges. When tensions over payment arrangements or management decisions come up, “handshake” agreements between neighbors can go sour as the two parties involved realize expectations haven’t been put on paper. That didn’t happen in this particular situation, but the McMillins and Miller realized the potential was there.

In order to make sure the transition went in a way that ensured a good retirement income for the McMillins while Miller didn’t get in over his head financially, Bonnie and Bill knew they had to develop a formal agreement that covered everything from how to handle down payments and conflict resolution to where the retiring couple would live during the next few years. The latter issue can be particularly fraught for retiring farmers, since their place of employment is also their home.

Both parties hired attorneys to help draw up a contract and hammer out an agreement, something that was emphasized in the LSP Farm Transition Planning Workshop.

“I hate paperwork,” says Bryton.

“But now you know where you stand, and we know where we stand,” responds Bonnie.

They ended up developing a “contract for deed” arrangement. This consists of an initial down payment, and then a regular payment schedule stretching over a 10-year period. At the end of the 10 years, roughly half of the price of the farm will be paid for at that point, and a “balloon payment” for the balance will come due. Then, Miller will either have to refinance to pay off the McMillins, or the two parties could decide to have him continue making regular payments to Bill and Bonnie for the balance.

The McMillins felt an important piece to include in the arrangement was that they be allowed to continue living on the farm for up to four years. The contract is set up so that they can live in the house for two years rent-free, and after that they will pay rent. Bryton’s attorney counseled against such an arrangement, but the McMillins and Miller say it has advantages for both parties.

For Bill and Bonnie, it gives them until 2021 to find a new place to live (Bryton is currently living on another farm). Bryton works fulltime on an overnight ambulance crew, so since Bill is living on the farm he can often help with the morning milking when a shift runs long. Overall, it allows the McMillins to stay connected to dairying without having to be tied to it on a daily basis. Bonnie has retired after being at Mayo Clinic for 41 years, and the couple is looking forward to traveling more.

The contract for deed has another twist—it allows Miller to spread his down payment out over four years. This helps Bill and Bonnie tax-wise, and gives Bryton more breathing room financially as he gets his operation off the ground.

“We’ve farmed our whole lives and we know that sometimes you get a little bit behind,” says Bill.

The Cows Come Home

In March 2017, after a dozen-year absence, milk cows returned to the McMillin parlor. Because it had been several years since the operation was a dairy farm, Miller had to replace the stanchions and repair the pipeline milking system. He was able to build up a herd by purchasing cows with savings he’d squirreled away since he was a freshman in high school. And since he’s still working fulltime on an ambulance crew, Bryton has that income for living expenses. Having outside income and being able to ease into a dairy operation while keeping exposure to financial risk low is important at a time when milk prices appear to be in a free fall. Dairy farms are liquidating herds as oversupply floods the market and university economists are espousing the belief that “mega-farms” are the future.

But Bryton is confident he can make a go of it. He is keeping his expenses low and relying a lot on sweat equity. Today, he’s milking 50 cows, and has a 10-year plan of building a new parlor and a free-stall barn, as well as eventually expanding to around 80 cows. Besides milking assistance from Bill, Bryton benefits by being able to borrow equipment from his family.

The McMillins are thrilled that dairying has returned to the farm. For one, the land is considered highly erodible and vulnerable to runoff, and keeping it a dairy operation means there is a better chance that the farm will be covered in a diversity of plant systems, including hay and pasture. Bill, who long utilized managed rotational grazing to raise livestock, has encouraged Bryton to experiment with this system. The young farmer has also been planting cover crops, which has reduced erosion significantly.

Goal Tending

As they enter a critical stage in the transition—Bryton’s last down payment is due in January 2020, and Bill and Bonnie’s future living situation must be decided the next year—questions hang in the air. What will milk prices do? Where will the McMillins move to? Is 160 acres enough to support a growing dairy herd?

But Bonnie and Bill say they get a lot of comfort knowing that they have set goals for themselves and the farm, and been able to develop a plan that helps them attain those goals. That’s been important, particularly when challenges arise from unexpected places. For example, the farmer who stopped by in 2014 to offer cash for the land was not the only prospective buyer. Others in the neighborhood, including extended family members, were also interested in purchasing the farm. Turning down such offers can result in strained relations, but Bill says in general the community has been supportive of their efforts to keep the farm as a stand-alone dairy operation.

“You think it’s your farm and your decision, but it’s easy to hurt somebody’s feelings,” he says. “We have our values, our goals, and it might not go that way if we let somebody else take control of the situation.”

And sometimes those goals go beyond one’s retirement plans or even the state of the land. Also key are connections to the next generation that aren’t based on a transaction involving money or infrastructure.

“I kind of enjoy having you guys here,” says Bryton as he heads out to do field work. “When you’re in the barn and you see somebody up at the house you know if something did happen, there’s somebody up there.”

Bonnie watches him walk out the door.

“Bryton doesn’t sit still,” she says. “He comes down the driveway in a skid steer loader or on a tractor and he’s always on the phone, but he has a smile on his face. You can tell he’s just happy.”

Brian DeVore is the editor of the Land Stewardship Letter.

Categories: A3. Agroecology

Analysis of Minnesota & Iowa Farms Finds Grazing Cover Crops Saves Money & Improves Soil Health

Land Stewardship Project - Tue, 01/08/2019 - 22:00

Cover crops can pay for themselves when combined with managed rotational grazing of cattle, finds a study of eight Midwestern farms. Released today by the Pasture Project, Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Land Stewardship Project and the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota, the findings show how the practice can save money by producing valuable forage, reducing erosion, improving soil health and increasing nutrient efficiency.

Funded by a USDA Conservation Innovation Grant, the study is based on soil and financial data collected over three years on eight farms in Iowa and Minnesota. These farms rotationally grazed beef and dairy cattle on planted cover crops, which are non-cash crops such as small grains, brassicas and legumes that are grown between the regular cash crop growing seasons. The analysis showed that grazing the cover crops provided an inexpensive source of forage while building soil health.

Seven of the eight farms had more microbial biomass on their trial plots compared to control plots, a sign of improved soil biology and a potential boost to cash crop production as a result of higher fertility levels. The average cooperating farm spent about $83 per acre on their cover crop ($61 for a diverse, six-species seed cocktail and application, $12 in increased management, and $10 for termination). To graze their cover crop, the average cooperator spent $17 per acre on fencing and water, but grew $140 per acre of forage. The cost of cover cropping ($83 per acre) against the benefit from grazing ($123 per acre) indicates the cost effectiveness of the practice.

The full findings, as well as a new “Grazing Cover Crops How-To Guide,” a video series and other supporting resources, are available for viewing and downloading at

“While farmers recognize that cover crops improve soil health, many have been hesitant to implement the practice because they assume it’s too expensive,” said Pete Huff, program officer of the Pasture Project, an initiative of the Wallace Center at Winrock International. “We’re excited to join our partners in announcing these findings, which demonstrate that grazing cover crops as winter forage can help farmers and graziers offset their expenses and even generate income.”

Learn more about this project, its findings and available resources at


Categories: A3. Agroecology

Diverse Market Opportunities and the 2018 Farm Bill

National Farmers Union - Tue, 01/08/2019 - 12:10
By Aaron Shier, NFU Government Relations Representative Though traditional commodity markets remain a large source of revenue, the market for locally or regionally produced food, value-added products, and organic agriculture are becoming increasingly important for farmers. Why are diverse market opportunities so important? Local and regional marketplaces, with their shorter supply chains, can help farmers […]
Categories: A3. Agroecology

MPCA Rejects Public Call for In-depth Environmental Review of Massive Winona County Dairy Expansion

Land Stewardship Project - Thu, 01/03/2019 - 22:00

LEWISTON, Minn. — The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) announced today that it was rejecting the public's call for an in-depth Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the proposed massive expansion of a Winona County dairy farm. The Land Stewardship Project feels strongly that in making this decision, the MPCA failed in its obligation to protect the natural resources of rural communities, especially groundwater.

Over 600 citizens called on the MPCA to do an in-depth environmental review of the expansion, which is being proposed by Daley Farms. Among those calling for the review were neighboring residents who raised concerns about the likelihood of the proposal negatively impacting water quality, especially groundwater. The Minnesota Department of Health reports that 46 percent of the wells in Utica Township, where the expansion is proposed, test for nitrates over the 10mg/L maximum allowable for safe consumption. This project threatens to make this situation worse.

Dr. Calvin Alexander, Minnesota’s leading karst geology expert and a professor emeritus in Earth Sciences at the University of Minnesota, provided comments on this proposal to the MPCA. He concluded: “Given the prominent karst features all around the Daley Farms site, the nearby catastrophic collapse of the Lewiston Waste Water Treatment Lagoon on similar karst stratigraphy, the documented growing nitrate pollution of Lewiston’s wells and many local wells, and the enormous size of this proposed CAFO this facility should not be permitted at this site without a full scale EIS.”

Karen Ahrens, who lives within a mile of Daley Farms and whose family has farmland in the area, has been among those calling for an EIS.

“For at least 10 years, we’ve purchased bottled water for drinking and cooking because we’d get public notices saying, ‘Our water system recently violated a drinking water standard,’ " she said. "So, we [called for an EIS] for our health and safety.”

The Land Stewardship Project feels MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine’s call for further study of the problem of polluted groundwater in the karst area in the form of a Generic Environmental Impact Statement is no substitute for using the MPCA’s existing authority to protect water quality.

The MPCA’s decision is at

More details on the public's demand for an EIS is at


Categories: A3. Agroecology

North Dakotas Joshua Dukart to Lead Farm Finances & Soil Health Workshop in Lewiston Jan. 24

Land Stewardship Project - Wed, 01/02/2019 - 22:00

LEWISTON, Minn. — Faced with challenging financial pressure and growing weather extremes, how do farmers go about building soil and improving yields and profits? A “Building Soil for Farm Profitability: Key Steps to Successful Financial Decision-making” workshop will answer this question Thursday, Jan. 24, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Lewiston Community Center (75 Rice Street). The cost is $20 per individual, which includes dinner (students receive a $10 scholarship rate). To register for this Land Stewardship Project workshop by Jan. 21, contact LSP’s Liana Nichols at 507-523-3366 or

The lead presenter will be Joshua Dukart, who will address on-farm financial decision-making in the context of soil health. Whether farming conventionally or organically, raising grain or livestock, this workshop is a chance for farmers to focus a financial lens on soil building methods like cover crops, managed rotational grazing, reduced tillage and no-till. Dukart’s simple approach to teaching financial decision-making aims to help farmers understand the big picture as well as make critical production decisions based on a clear sense of cost of production for different enterprises.

Dukart speaks, teaches and consults regularly on an international basis. In addition, Dukart and his wife, Tara, are two of the country’s leading instructors in Holistic Management. They own and manage Seek First Ranch in Hazen, N. Dak. The Soil & Water Conservation Society presented Dukart its Excellence in Conservation Award in 2017 and Cattle Business Weekly presented him with a Top 10 National Industry Leaders Award in 2015.

Along with Dukart’s presentation and group discussion on Jan. 24, there will be a panel consisting of southern Minnesota farmers sharing their experiences with soil building methods like cover cropping, reduced tillage and managed rotational grazing.

“Dukart is a great presenter. He helps us look at the economics, the family quality of life and the environment, and how it all needs to fit together,” said crop and livestock farmer Jon Luhman of Goodhue, Minn. “Whether it’s with livestock or with cropping, he understands where farmers are coming from. And Dukart puts it all together in a way that farmers can understand.”

An additional workshop featuring Dukart is set for Jan. 23 at the Elks Lodge in Faribault, Minn.


Categories: A3. Agroecology

North Dakotas Joshua Dukart to Lead Farm Finances & Soil Health Workshop in Faribault Jan. 23

Land Stewardship Project - Tue, 01/01/2019 - 22:00

FARIBAULT, Minn.— Faced with challenging financial pressure and growing weather extremes, how do farmers go about building soil and improving yields and profits? A “Building Soil for Farm Profitability: Key Steps to Successful Financial Decision-making” workshop will answer this question Wednesday, Jan. 23, from 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at the Faribault Elks Club (131 Lyndale Ave. N.). The cost is $20 per individual, which includes dinner (students receive a $10 scholarship rate). To register for this Land Stewardship Project (LSP)-Rice County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) workshop by Jan. 21, call LSP’s Liana Nichols at 507-523-3366 or the SWCD at 507-332-5408.

The lead presenter will be Joshua Dukart, who will address on-farm financial decision-making in the context of soil health. Whether farming conventionally or organically, raising grain or livestock, this workshop is a chance for farmers to focus a financial lens on soil building methods like cover crops, managed rotational grazing, reduced tillage and no-till. Dukart’s simple approach to teaching financial decision-making aims to help farmers understand the big picture as well as make critical production decisions based on a clear sense of cost of production for different enterprises.

Dukart speaks, teaches and consults regularly on an international basis. In addition, Dukart and his wife, Tara, are two of the country’s leading instructors in Holistic Management. They own and manage Seek First Ranch in Hazen, N. Dak. The Soil & Water Conservation Society presented Dukart its Excellence in Conservation Award in 2017 and Cattle Business Weekly presented him with a Top 10 National Industry Leaders Award in 2015.

Along with Dukart’s presentation and group discussion on Jan. 23, there will be a panel consisting of southern Minnesota farmers sharing their experiences with soil building methods like cover cropping, reduced tillage and managed rotational grazing.

“Dukart is a great presenter. He helps us look at the economics, the family quality of life and the environment, and how it all needs to fit together,” said crop and livestock farmer Jon Luhman of Goodhue, Minn. “Whether it’s with livestock or with cropping, he understands where farmers are coming from. And Dukart puts it all together in a way that farmers can understand.”

An additional workshop featuring Dukart is set for Jan. 24 at the Community Center in Lewiston, Minn.


Categories: A3. Agroecology

Dairy Farming is Dying. After 40 Years I’m Done.

Family Farm Defenders - Thu, 12/27/2018 - 11:50
By: Jim Goodman, organic dairy farmer near Wonewoc, WI and FFD board member Originally published in the Washington Post, Dec. 21, 2018 After 40 years of dairy farming, I sold my herd of cows this summer. The herd had been … Continue reading →
Categories: A3. Agroecology

Farm Bill 2018: Important Steps Forward but Not Enough to Stop the Growing Crisis

RAFI-USA - Sat, 12/22/2018 - 20:17
Thursday afternoon, the President signed the 2018 Farm Bill – the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. After months of negotiation, the bill moved through its final stages at lightning speed: the conference committee released the text of the bill last Monday, the Senate voted on it on Tuesday, and the House voted on it on […]
Categories: A3. Agroecology

LSP Sets Priorities for 2019 MN Session

Land Stewardship Project - Thu, 12/20/2018 - 22:00

The Land Stewardship Project’s State Policy Steering Committee convened last week to start setting LSP’s state policy priorities for the 2019 Minnesota Legislative Session, which begins Jan. 8. The committee, made up of LSP members who are farmers and leaders in their communities, directs what LSP supports and champions on the state level. Below are the issues that LSP will be prioritizing during the 2019 Minnesota Legislative Session. The below list is incomplete, as some additional discussions are needed to secure additional ideas.

Forever Green

The Forever Green Initiative at the University of Minnesota is employing cutting-edge research to help farmers get more continuous living cover on the land by developing and marketing perennials and cover crops. Full funding for the program is $5 million per year and the Land Stewardship Project has generally secured $1 million per year for the program in past legislative sessions. Fully funded, Forever Green would be as effective as possible—profitably building soil health and cleaning our water.

Address the Family Farm & Dairy Crisis

Family farmers, especially dairy farmers, across Minnesota are facing a farm crisis after several consecutive years of low prices. LSP will continue pushing for substantial funding increases for Farm Advocates and Farmers' Legal Action Group (FLAG)—two groups that assist farmers facing financial stress and keep farmers on the land by letting them know their rights when faced with foreclosure and other crises. However, that is not the full solution to the crisis. LSP will continue to be in active conversations with members to find meaningful ways the state can keep family farmers on the land and help rural communities thrive.

Beginning Farmer Tax Credit

Last year, after strong LSP member engagement and active work at the Capitol, the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit passed and became law. This program, which is based on a bill written by LSP members, provides a tax credit to land and asset owners who rent or sell to beginning farmers, as well as provides for beginning farmers to take an approved farm business management course. As of early December, 831 applications for the program have been approved. However, in implementation, we have found that adjustments are required to ensure beginning farmers who have already completed an approved farm business management course are eligible for the tax credit. Additionally, LSP will push for a percentage of the $6 million pot to be set aside for farmers of color, indigenous farmers, and women to assist more socially disadvantaged farmers (as defined by federal law) on the land.

WCROC Organic & Grazing Dairy Research

The University of Minnesota’s West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris has long been recognized as a national leader in organic and grazing dairy research, and is long overdue for some upgrades. To continue its cutting-edge research and support for farmers who are looking ways to profitably get more livestock on the land, the dairy requires significant upgrades. A recent feasibility study showed this would cost about $3 million.

Local Control

We have made it a priority to stop corporate attempts to weaken local control. For example, in 2017, we stopped a bill that would have made it more difficult to enact an interim ordinance, also known as a moratorium, in a local community, which has been used by LSP members to stop factory farms and frac sand mines. We will continue to fight to keep local control and democracy strong.

Environmental Review

In addition to prioritizing local control, we have also prioritized protecting from corporate attacks environmental review on factory farms and frac sand mines. For example, in 2017, corporate ag interests pushed to double the size factory farms can be before environmental review is required. If passed, it would have meant more and larger factory farms in Minnesota. Environmental review is a key way for neighbors to have a say and to know what is being proposed in their community—it is critical to the viability of rural communities.

MPCA Citizens’ Board

Between 1968 and 2015, the MPCA Citizens' Board served as a testament to our Minnesota value that people deserve a say in the decisions that impact their lives and communities and that having that day was key to people-centered democracy in our state. However, after the Citizens' Board ordered full environmental review of a proposed 9,000-cow factory dairy farm, the state Legislature abolished it, literally in the dark of night during the final hours of the 2015 session. Reinstating the board would bring democracy back to the environmental review process.

Paid Family Leave

Allies of the Land Stewardship Project, such as the Main Street Alliance, which organizes small business owners, and ISAIAH, which organizes people of faith, are championing the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act. This program would create a state-administered, self-sustaining insurance program that provides Minnesota workers with modest but meaningful benefits for parental and medical leave. The employer and employee would each pay 0.27 percent of a worker’s wages into an insurance pool to fund it. Members of LSP's State Policy Steering Committee endorsed the proposal because they recognize how meaningful it would be to family farmers with employees, family farmers who work off the farm, small business owners, and all Minnesotans. The Main Street Alliance will be supporting LSP initiatives during the 2019 Legislative session as well.

Local Foods

LSP member-leaders and LSP organizer Ben Anderson have also launched a new local foods campaign and are getting input via listening sessions and a survey about what policy priorities would support a more sustainable food system. For more information, contact Anderson at 612-722-6377 or via e-mail.


During the 2019 session of the Minnesota Legislature, LSP will be working toward a healthcare system that works for family farmers, small businesses and rural Minnesotans. LSP will be supporting legislation that allows farmers, business owners and other self-employed people to buy into MinnesotaCare, the state’s public healthcare program that currently is available to lower income residents. LSP supports allowing farmers, business owners and other self-employed people the option of buying into the program at its current value so that they can get access to high-quality, affordable healthcare.

LSP is also supporting legislative action to continue the Healthcare Provider Tax that will be sunsetting in the next year. The healthcare Provider Tax funds essential healthcare services for over one million Minnesotans and enables critical investments in the health and well-being of Minnesota’s communities. Allowing the Healthcare Provider Tax to expire would create an annual revenue shortfall of $680 million. This loss of funding will jeopardize healthcare access for thousands of low-income Minnesotans, threaten the stability of the healthcare sector and negatively impact the state budget. LSP supports the healthcare Provider Tax because it has provided a stable source of income for the healthcare access fund and has historically funded MinnesotaCare.

For details on LSP’s work on creating an affordable, quality healthcare system, check out our Affordable Healthcare for All web page, or contact Johanna Rupprecht (, 507-523-3366) or Paul Sobocinski (, 507-342-2323).

State Policy Platform

When we met last week, LSP's State Policy Steering Committee also began the process of developing an updated comprehensive State Policy Platform that will inform our policy work on the state level. We are excited to unroll this in the near future and welcome feedback from our members.

LSP organizer Amanda Babcock focuses on state policy issues. For information on LSP’s state policy work and how you can get involved, contact Babcock at 612-722-6377 or More information is also available on LSP's State Policy web page.

Categories: A3. Agroecology

EPA Continues to Undermine RFS with Hardship Waivers

National Farmers Union - Thu, 12/20/2018 - 13:28
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE December 20, 2018 Contact: Hannah Packman, 202-554-1600 WASHINGTON – According to recent reports, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a “financial hardship waiver” to a refinery owned by Exxon Mobil Corp, exempting it from requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).  Exxon Mobil is the largest American oil and gas […]
Categories: A3. Agroecology

Farmers Union Applauds 2018 Farm Bill Approval

National Farmers Union - Thu, 12/20/2018 - 13:21
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE December 20, 2018 Contact: Hannah Packman, 202-554-1600 WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump today signed the 2018 Farm Bill into law, authorizing and funding America’s farm and food programs through fiscal year 2023. National Farmers Union (NFU), on behalf of its nearly 200,000 farm family members, supported passage of the bill, as it provides some […]
Categories: A3. Agroecology