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Lansing, Mich.— As part of its effort to help level the playing field for sustainable livestock farmers in Michigan, the Less=More Coalition has made available information about taxpayer-funded Farm Bill conservation subsidies in one place online at http://tinyurl.com/
“Farmers are busy folks, and sustainable farmers often lack the kind of outreach and support for farm program applications that large-scale industrial farm operators receive,” said Sandy Nordmark, vice president of the Michigan Farmers Union, which is a member of Less=More. “We aim to make it as easy as possible for them to access funding possibilities for their conservation practices by putting all the information they need in one cyber-location.”
Less=More is a sustainable agriculture coalition launched earlier this year to address the inequity of Farm Bill subsidy distribution in Michigan and how the system favors polluting factory farms over safe, sustainable livestock farms at the expense of the environment and public health
The Less=More web link connects farmers with basic information about 2013 Farm Bill subsidies in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) in Michigan. It includes a listing of the more than 100 conservation practices funded by EQIP and the amount of money available for each practice as well as the most current EQIP application.
“This information is available on the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Michigan website, but it can be tricky to find if you don’t know where to look,” said Lynn Henning, a Water Sentinel for the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, another Less=More coalition member. “We make it as simple as possible. A farmer can sit down and get an idea of what’s out there for him or her with a click or two of the mouse.”
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the agency that distributes taxpayer-funded subsidies through a State Conservationist in Michigan, is mandated to distribute 60 percent of the EQIP funds to livestock operations. Currently, most go to support Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), also known as factory farms, in Michigan.
Of the 104 EQIP subsidies available in 2013, 53 are practices identified by the NRCS as being applicable to farmers with organic certification, according to Henning. These include such activities as brush management, grassed waterways, fencing and filter strips.
Although about half of the practices are listed as organic, the reality is that the biggest EQIP subsidies go to support practices dealing with waste -- handling, storage, separators, transfer systems and biodigesters -- that are specific to large-scale operations with thousands of animals that generate millions of gallons of manure. For example, a factory farm can apply for and receive more than $43,000 for a solid/liquid waste separation facility, and anaerobic digesters fetch anywhere from roughly $300-$600 per animal unit, which translates to a substantial sum for an operation with thousands of animals.
“Essentially, factory farms take a perfectly good natural material – animal manure — and concentrate it until it becomes an environmental issue and then they receive federal money to address the problem they’ve created,” said Anne Woiwode, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter director. “Meanwhile, sustainable farmers who work with nature and have appropriate numbers of animals for the amount of land available have little need for funds to address such problems, but they—and consumers--would benefit greatly from receiving more support for their sustainable practices.”
In addition, this taxpayer money doesn’t always solve an operation’s underlying environmental problems, according to a recent report by Less=More, Restoring the Balance to Michigan’s Farming Landscape, which demonstrates that many polluting factory farms have continued to receive taxpayer money. The report found that 37 Michigan factory farms cited for environmental violations and unpermitted discharges over the 15 years ending in 2011 were awarded nearly $27 million in various Farm Bill subsidies between 1995 and 2011. Of these operations, 26 jointly racked up fines and penalties of more than $1.3 million for their share of these violations.
“Taxpayers are providing millions of dollars in government subsidies to industrial mega-farms in Michigan that generate pollution and cause health risks while undermining sustainable farms at the same time,” said Woiwode. “This happens at a time when more and more Michigan consumers are seeking safe, healthy, local sources of meat, dairy, poultry and eggs at farmers markets, stores, restaurants and community supported agriculture.”
Less=More is a coalition of organizations engaged in various aspects of our food system that seek to level the playing field for sustainable farmers by addressing the inequity of how taxpayer subsidies are distributed in Michigan. It includes: Beery Farms of Michigan, LLC, the Center for Food Safety, Crane Dance Farm, LLC, Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan, Food & Water Watch, Greater Grand Rapids Food Systems Council, Groundswell Farm, Humane Society of the United States, Michigan Farmers Union, Michigan Voices for Good Food Policy, Michigan Young Farmers Coalition, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter and Socially Responsible Agricultural Project.
Restoring the Balance to Michigan’s Farming Landscape and other information about Less=More is available at www.MoreforMichigan.org.