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EPA creates new office for agriculture

Priorities include expanding farmer engagement, improving rural communities

Amid continuing legal battles, regulation concerns and climate-change legislation impacting U.S. farmers, the Environmental Protection Agency is creating a new office to “expand engagement opportunities with agricultural and rural communities.”

epaDuring the Commodity Classic’s general session on March 1 in Houston, Texas, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, left, joined U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, center, to announce the establishment of EPA’s new Office of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. Chandler Goule, CEO of the National Wheat Growers Association, moderated the discussion, which also included topics such as the EPA’s efforts to comply with the Endangered Species Act, farm bill negotiations and registration issues with crop protection products such as dicamba. Regan was the first EPA administrator to attend the event, which is the largest farmer-led conference in the nation.The EPA Office of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (OARA) will serve as a direct link between EPA and the nation’s rural and agricultural stakeholders and facilitate closer coordination with relevant partners such as the USDA, Food and Drug Administration and state departments of agriculture.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan announced the creation of the new office March 1 alongside U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack at the 2024 Commodity Classic in Houston, Texas. He is the first EPA administrator in history to attend the event, which is the largest farmer-led convention in the nation.

“When I joined EPA nearly three years ago, I committed to working closely with farmers and ranchers to identify practical, science-based policies that will protect our environment while also ensuring a vibrant and productive agricultural system,” Regan said during remarks at the Commodity Classic’s general session. “This office will expand engagement opportunities beyond any that we’ve done so far and help ensure your voices are heard, your ideas are understood and that agriculture and rural stakeholders have a continual seat at the table at EPA for many years to come.”

The OARA will also host the EPA’s existing Farm, Ranch and Rural Communities Federal Advisory Committee, which was established in 2007 to provide policy advice, information and recommendations to the EPA administrator on a range of environmental issues that are of importance to agriculture and rural communities.

Rod Snyder, EPA’s senior advisor for agriculture since 2021, will lead OARA. In this role, Snyder will help increase coordination among a network of existing agriculture policy advisors located in all 10 EPA regional offices across the country. The new office will also collaborate with small, underserved towns and rural communities that are seeking federal investments in infrastructure upgrades and other community improvement opportunities.

“Our mission is to protect public health and the environment, and I believe that mission goes hand-in-hand with supporting American agriculture and rural communities,” Regan said. “Clean air, clean water and healthy soil are fundamental to the success of the U.S. agricultural sector. And we’re certainly stronger when we all work together toward these goals.”

For more information, visit the OARA’s website at epa.gov/aboutepa/about-office-agriculture-and-rural-affairs-oara.

Check out the full April 2024 Issue of Today's Farmer magazine.

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Census provides snapshot of U.S. agriculture

Data shows farmland, number of farms decreased from 2017 to 2022

In the five-year span from 2017 to 2022, farms in the U.S. have gotten larger while the total number has gotten smaller, according to new Census of Agriculture data released by USDA last month.

With a loss of nearly 142,000 farms, the number of U.S. farms fell below 2 million for the first time, down to 1.9 million, in the 2022 census. This drop mostly hit small- and medium-sized farms, with large farms up slightly. Average farm size increased to 463 acres compared to 441 in 2017, but total farmland decreased by 2% to 880 million acres, a loss of about 20 million acres.

“This survey is a wake-up call,” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said while releasing the data at a USDA livestream event on Feb. 13. “It’s essentially asking the critical question of whether, as a country, we are OK with losing that many farms, OK with losing that much farmland? Or is there a better way? That’s the importance of this survey. It allows us to begin asking ourselves questions about the policy formation and the direction that we need to take.”

The Ag Census is taken every five years to provide a snapshot of American farmers and their operations. It provides valuable insights into demographics, economics, land use and activities on U.S. farms. The data is used by policymakers to help determine local funding for a range of USDA programs as well as highlight the needs of farmers and ranchers going forward. The 2022 census had a response rate of 61%, according to USDA.

While the number of producers held steady in the latest census, the average age of a farmer ticked up again to 58.1, compared to 57.5 years in 2017, pointing to the need for more young people to join the profession, Vilsack said.

“We continue to see the aging nature of our farming community,” he said. “We recognize the importance of making the case to bright young people about the career opportunities and the chances that you have to make a fundamental difference in agriculture and food.”

Even with the rising average age of farmers, there was an 11% increase in the number of beginning farmers compared to 2017. Just over 1 million farmers reported 10 or fewer years of experience, and they’re younger than all farmers, with an average age of 47.1.

The census showed increased adoption of renewable energy projects such as solar panels, up nearly 30% to 116,700 farms, and wind turbines, up 2% to 14,500 farms. Farms with internet access also continued to rise from 75% in 2017 to 79% in 2022.

Other highlights from the 2022 survey include:
• Family-owned and operated farms accounted for 95% of all U.S. farms and operated 84% of land in farms.
• U.S. farms and ranches produced $543 billion in agricultural products, up from $389 billion in 2017. With farm production expenses of $424 billion, U.S. farms had a total net cash income of $152 billion. Average farm income rose to $79,790.
• A total of 105,384 operations had sales of $1 million or more, representing 6% of U.S. farms, 31% of farmland and more than three-fourths of all agricultural products. The 1.4 million farms with sales of $50,000 or less accounted for 74% of farms, 25% of farmland and 2% of sales.
• Nearly three-fourths of farmland was used by oilseed and grain farms (32%) and beef cattle operations (40%).
• The number of farmers under age 35 was 296,480 or 9% of all producers. The 221,233 farms with young producers making decisions tend to be larger than average in both acres and sales.
• In 2022, there were 1.2 million female farmers, accounting for 36% of all producers, and 58% of all farms had at least one female decision maker.

More details from the 2022 census are available online at nass.usda.gov/AgCensus.



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Cleaning out chemicals? Take them to DNR’s pesticide collection events

Do you have old, unwanted or leftover pesticides taking up room in your barn, shed, garage or home? Disposing of them is more complicated than you think. Throwing away pesticides or pouring them down the drain can be detrimental to the environment, septic systems and the water supply.

That’s why MFA is participating in the Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ Pesticide Collection Program, which provides free events for farmers and households throughout the state to properly dispose of waste pesticides. At these events, approved hazardous waste contractors will take agriculture or household chemicals and send them to a permitted incineration facility. Accepted materials include herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, rodenticides, dewormers, fly tags and fertilizer-containing pesticides.

Since 2012, the Missouri Pesticide Collection Program has conducted 72 events and collected more than 925,000 pounds of waste pesticide from nearly 2,300 participants.

In 2024, four collection events are scheduled from March through October. All events run from 8 a.m. until noon.
• March 9 — Portageville, Fisher Delta Research, Extension and Education Center, 147 State Hwy. T
• April 6 — Montgomery City, MFA Agri Services,
226 N. Walker St.
• Sept. 7 — Mount Vernon, Southwest Research, Extension and Education Center, 14548 State Road H
• Oct. 5 — Carrollton, parking lot across from MFA Oil,
901 S. Main St.

Keep all pesticides in original containers and identify those not in original containers or with missing labels. Do not mix with other materials, and make sure lids are tightly sealed. If the container is leaking, place it in a larger container with a nonflammable absorbent. Secure pesticides upright in a cardboard box and transport in the back of a truck, trailer or car trunk. Keep flammables out of direct sunlight and heat. A contractor will unload the pesticides for you at the collection event.

For more information, call 573-751-0616 or visit online at dnr.mo.gov/env/hwp/pesticide.

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