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April 30, 2012   Email to Friend  Download PDF of this Issue

New legislation could benefit Alabama farmers’ wallets, youth’s waistlines

Alabama’s public school students could start finding healthier, fresher food options on their lunch trays soon. The Farm-To-School Procurement Act, a joint effort between the Alabama Department of Education and the Department of Agriculture and Industries, would allow schools to purchase up to $100,000 worth of unprocessed, locally-grown products from the state’s farms for use in school cafeterias.

Students in Alabama’s public school system could start feasting on locally grown products during their lunch breaks, pending the adoption of new legislation that would benefit the state’s farmers.

The Farm-To-School Procurement Act, sponsored by State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatom, would allow schools to purchase up to $100,000 worth of unprocessed, home-grown products from local farms for use in school cafeterias. Certain handling and preservation techniques including refrigerating, freezing, packaging and pasteurization would be allowed.

The act is a joint effort between the state’s Department of Education (ALSDE) and Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) and includes all locally grown foods, from fruits and vegetables to meat, fish and dairy products. Both departments would be responsible for implementing the act, identifying local farmers for the program and educating school food service directors about the new opportunity. ADAI also will be responsible for investigating opportunities for farmers to supply products to commercial distributors, as well as housing a farm-to-school point person who will be responsible for promoting job creation possibilities.

Alabama Farmers Federation Horticulture; Greenhouse, Nursery & Sod and Bee & Honey Divisions Director Mac Higginbotham noted the organization’s support of the act, which exemplifies the Federation’s mission of promoting the economic, social and educational interests of Alabamians.

“The Alabama Farmers Federation worked very closely with the Department of Education and the Department of Agriculture and Industries on the Farm-To-School Procurement Act,” said Higginbotham. “We believe this is an excellent way schools can provide students with nutritious products that will support area families and farmers. It will also serve as an economic boost within our local communities, helping to keep those dollars circulating within our great state.”

Farmer and House Rep. David Sessions, R-Grand Bay, said that if passed, the act would cut out the difficulty individuals face when trying to market to school districts under federal contracts.

“You have to go through so many layers of bureaucracy,” said Sessions. “It’s very difficult. This [bill] is one small mechanism that would help cut out some of that red tape.”

While the financial benefits of the act are noteworthy, the health benefits of using locally grown products in schools could also reduce the state’s expanding waistline among children and adolescents.

“We always try to cut down on obesity, and I think fruits and vegetables are good for that,” Beech said.

Coinciding with the details of the Farm-To-School Procurement Act, ALSDE officials released a statement April 20 indicating that improved nutrition standards for meals will be implemented beginning with the 2012-13 school year, including the daily availability of fresh fruits and vegetables.

“It is important to encourage students to try healthier food options,” said ALSDE Child Nutrition Programs Director Perry Fulton. “The state’s education nutrition staff will continue to work on creative solutions to ensure healthy foods are prepared and served to students in an appealing manner.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that about 12.5 million children and adolescents ages 2-19 are obese – a number that has more than tripled since 1980. In Alabama, more than 36 percent of children are classified as overweight or obese.

Alabama Produce Shines With Ag In The Classroom Coordinators

Ag in the Classroom Coordinators from Southern Region states recently had an opportunity to admire Alabama produce including an abundant tomato crop while visiting the Alabama Farmer’s Market in Birmingham. Pictured from left are Maurice Bothwell, manager at the Alabama Farmer’s Market; Lisa Gaskalla from Florida; Tammy Maxey from Virginia; Dewandee Neyman from Alabama; Lynda Danos from Louisiana and Vonne Knight from South Carolina.

Free food safety workshop scheduled for May 17

To ensure produce handlers and growers have the latest information on food safety and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), the Alabama Cooperative Extension System is hosting a free training workshop in Opelika May 17 from  9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

During the workshop, attendees will learn about bacteria and other harmful microorganisms commonly associated with fresh produce; how to develop a personalized GAP plan and standard operation procedures for farms or packing operations; and details on the USDA’s third-party audit process. Attendees will also receive a manual filled with GAP resources including model agricultural practices and generic standard operating procedures.

The session will be held at the Lee County Extension Office, 600 S. 7th St., Suite 4, Opelika, AL 36801.

There is no cost for registration, and lunch will be provided. To ensure enough food and materials are available, the Extension System requests all registration be received a minimum of three days before the event.

To register, contact Regional Extension Agent Chip East at (256) 354-5976 or eastwil@aces.edu. For more information, visit http://www.aces.edu.

Health insurance mandates complicate future of agriculture

In an effort to educate state Farm Bureaus on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s (PPACA) effects on the agriculture industry, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) hosted a conference in Washington, D.C., April 11-12. Representing the Alabama Farmers Federation were staff members Mitt Walker, director of National Legislative Programs; Terrie Channell, controller; and Janet Bradford, Alfa Health and Dental manager.

Twenty state Farm Bureaus attended the conference, where they heard from a panel of experts that included attorneys, a representative from the National Governors Association, the director of Federal Public Policy of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and a representative from the National Restaurant Association.

In discussing details of the law, Walker emphasized the complexities employers face today stemming from the PPACA, specifically the unique challenges farmers will face in determining how the employer mandate impacts their businesses.

“Business owners are put in the position of being fined if they don’t offer enough coverage in a plan, but they also face sanctions if the plan contains too many benefits,” said Walker.

Abiding by the guidelines will be difficult for all employers, added Walker, but complications within the agricultural sector could result in fewer new hires. There is also uncertainty about whether affordable, short-term coverage will be available for temporary or seasonal agricultural workers.

“Determining how to comply is even more complicated for farms, agribusinesses and other industries like restaurants and tourism that rely on seasonal and part-time labor,” said Walker. “At a time when jobs are desperately needed in Alabama, some businesses may be putting off hiring additional employees because of the uncertainty created by this new series of laws and the pending Supreme Court ruling.”

AFBF, of which the Alabama Farmers Federation is a member, recently filed comments with the House Ways and Means Committee expressing opposition to the individual and employer health insurance mandates in the health care reform law enacted last year.

The Supreme Court will render its decision this summer.

Southeast Dairy Officials Encourage Consumers To Choose Milk

Representatives from the Southeast United Dairy Industry Association, Inc. (SUDIA) came to the Alabama Farmers Federation Headquarters April 19 to discuss communication strategies and highlight tools found on their new website, DedicatedToDairy.com. From left are SUDIA Public Relations Account Manager Shaheen Solomon; Federation News Services Director Mary Johnson; SUDIA Communications and Public Relations Manager Amanda Trice and Federation Dairy Division Director Guy Hall.

Auburn’s Young Farmers Committee Tours Pursell Farms

The Auburn University Young Farmers Committee recently toured FarmLinks at Pursell Farms in Talladega County to expand their knowledge of running an agribusiness. Located in Sylacauga, FarmLinks is a 3,500-acre golf and recreational resort. Pictured from left are Rance Johns, assistant farm manager at Pursell Farms; Greg Bolton, farm manager; Lauren Terry of Lawrence County; Jason Walker of Clay County; Whit Lovelady of Talladega County; Austin White of Limestone County; Brady Peek of Limestone County; and Anna Leigh Peek, also of Limestone County.

Auburn offers new ag education opportunities

The Auburn University College of Agriculture’s distance education program is expanding this fall to include a new online master’s degree in soil, water and environmental sciences.

Designed to give professionals in agriculture and agribusiness-related fields the opportunity to earn advanced degrees while working, the additional classes build on the current program that offers advanced degrees in agronomy and soils or continuing education credits in soil and crop sciences, entomology, plant pathology and poultry science. Professional programs in turfgrass management, horticulture and animal sciences, as well as an interdisciplinary master’s degree in agricultural education, will also be offered.

The Department of Agronomy and Soils, which launched its master of science and master of agriculture degree programs in 2010, is offering the new graduate degree through the Agricultural Interactive Distance Education Alliance consortium.

For more information, visit www.ag.auburn.edu/distanceeducation, or contact Megan Ross at mhr0001@auburn.edu or (334) 844-3201.

Rare case of California cow with BSE causes media stir

A case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was found on a dairy farm in California April 24, but officials are confident there is no reason for consumers to worry.

Evidence of BSE, commonly referred to as “mad cow disease,” was found when the dairy cow was delivered to a California rendering facility that provides tissue samples to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). BSE was later confirmed at the USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa.

According to a release issued by USDA Chief Veterinary Officer John Clifford, the atypical case found in the animal was rare and not associated with consumption of infected feed. 

“BSE is a progressive neurological disease among cattle that is always fatal,” added Clifford. “It belongs to a family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Affected animals may display nervousness or aggression, abnormal posture, difficulty in coordination, decreased milk production, or loss of body weight despite continued appetite."

Alabama Farmers Federation Beef Division Director Nate Jaeger said the handling of this situation proves that existing safeguards protected the national herd, along with beef and dairy products, from any ill-effects associated with the disease.

“This is evidence that the safety procedures USDA has in place work, and that it kept this cow from entering the food supply,” said Jaeger.

In 2011, there were only 29 worldwide cases of BSE, a 99-percent drop since the peak in 1992 of 37,311 cases. This is directly attributable to the impact and effectiveness of feed bans as a primary control measure for the disease, said Clifford.

Some retailers have expressed concern on beef imports, but Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said USDA and the U.S. beef industry will continue to stress the message of safety, security and value.

“We’ve received reassurance from Mexico and Canada that they’ll continue trade,” said Vilsack. “The Japanese government has also indicated they will not pause imports into their country, which is important. We hope each country understands there is not a risk to the food supply, and American beef is still a good product to buy.”

USDA continues to investigate the BSE case and is working to locate any offspring of the infected cow.

For more information, visit BSEinfo.org.

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