Ecosystem Services Valuation – What is it, and should we look at farming practices differently?

By Tony Kitsos

In my opinion, any discussion concerning ecosystems and the services we gain from them must begin with the teachings of conservationist Aldo Leopold. In his seminal book, A Sand County Almanac, published in 1949, Leopold wrote on “The Land Ethic”:

The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land. This sounds simple: do we not already sing our love for and obligation to the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes, but just what and whom do we love? Certainly not the soil, which we are sending helter-skelter down river. Certainly not the waters, which we assume have no function except to turn turbines, float barges, and carry off sewage. Certainly not the plants, of which we exterminate whole communities without batting an eye. Certainly not the animals, of which we have already extirpated many of the largest and most beautiful species. A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these ‘resources,’ but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state. In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.

Leopold saw the value in land “conservation,” understanding that we must be able to both use, and preserve, that which we dwell upon – not only for monetary gain but for our very existence as a species.

Enter the discussion on valuing the conservation of habitat. Ecosystem Services Valuation (ESV) can be thought of as placing emphasis on “ecosystem services” by making an explicit link between the functions of nature and the subsequent benefits (goods and services) provided to society as a result of those functions. The “goods,” such as milk, beef, seafood, forage, timber, biomass fuels and natural fiber are easy to account for and important to human welfare. They usually have monetary value and are accounted for in the traditional functioning of our economy. The “services,” on the other hand, are just as valuable but are not accounted for in the consumer market. In other words, we do not directly pay for our use of them. They provide basic life-support functions, such as clean air, clean water, flood attenuation, carbon storage and sequestering, nutrient cycling, and biodiversity, to name a few.

But should we place economic value on these services? And if so, who should pay? With Legislation beginning in 1948 through today, dozens upon dozens of legislative actions at both the federal and state levels aimed at conservation and environmental protection have been passed. Most recently, Act 64, Vermont’s Clean Water Act, came on the scene, requiring farm businesses to adopt a wide array of practices geared towards improving the water quality of our state. With a combination of grants from NRCS EQIP and VAAFM BMP sources, farms can receive significant cost share towards implementation of these practices. However, the residual costs become the responsibility of the farmer and when profit margins are razor thin at best, those costs are daunting.

Are Vermonters receiving more value than just a new manure pit or barnyard to control unwanted direct discharges? What of the ecosystem value down the road – what value should be placed on land that must be maintained and farmed in specific ways? And does the product produced become more valuable? Should those goods be revalued to account for the “ecosystem services” provided by our land stewards – the producers? We may be entering into this arena of ESV and looking at other yet-to-be-identified players to actually pay for the future “ecosystem services” provided by Vermont farmers.  

Let’s keep in mind Leopold’s description of land ethic: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

Digital Template Helps Logging Companies Develop A Business Plan (by Chris Lindgren)

UVM Extension Forest Business has added a new tool to the digital resources available to forest products businesses. Small Business Planning for Loggers was produced by Steve Bick and Chris Lindgren with support from Vermont’s Working Lands Enterprise Initiative.

Forest Business has been supporting digital tools and skill development in our work for five years now. Whether it’s bringing bookkeeping to the computer or online, using video conferencing for meetings, developing digitally based tools, or collaboration in cloud-based applications, acceptance of digital tools is increasingly becoming the norm with the business owners who engage in our program.

This morning as I was working on this blog I read a press release about a new report on digital skills development in rural America—Unlocking the Digital Potential of Rural America. Commissioned by Amazon and researched by the US Chamber of Commerce the report concludes that the adoption of new digital skills and technology in rural America will lead to significant economic gains.

“Increased adoption of online tools and digital services for businesses across rural America could create more than 360,000 jobs in the next three years.”

“Increased adoption could grow annual revenues of rural small businesses by more than 21% over the next three years – the equivalent of $84.5 billion per year.”

“Online tools and technology have the highest potential impact on rural small businesses with annual revenue under $100,000.”

I completely agree.  This is a huge opportunity for Vermont. Vermont’s small businesses have much to gain by developing digital know-how and adopting digital tools. Forest Business will continue to support development of digital skills and tools for Vermont’s forest economy. Stay up to date on Forest Business programs here.

Do you have thoughts on digital skills education? Please take a moment to fill out our educational resource assessment survey. Thank you.

Crop Insurance Resources and Winter Webinars


From Jake Jacobs, UVM Crop Insurance Education Coordinator

A series of webinars on various crop insurance topics is being presented this winter through a combined effort between Penn State Extension and National Crop Insurance Services (NCIS).  These are designed to familiarize farmers with the various insurance options and to help producers make decisions about how crop insurance might fit in with their farm’s risk management plan.  For each crop, participants will learn:

  • What crop insurance products are available
  • What risks are covered
  • How different types of insurance work
  • What options within each policy are available
  • The application process
  • Where to go for additional information and help

Here are the webinars scheduled in the 2nd half of February:

2/26/19              Green Peas

2/28/19              Oats

For a complete list of all remaining topics in the webinar series, go to the NCIS webinar link:

For resources on agricultural risk management for Vermont producers, visit the UVM Ag Risk website

https://go.uvm.edu/ag-risk

USDA and the University of Vermont are equal opportunity providers and employers. This material is funded in partnership by USDA, Risk Management Agency, under award number RM18RMETS524C022.

2019 Maple Production, Markets and Programs

It’s “all systems go” across the US maple regions in February. Producers have begun to tap trees and troubleshoot tubing systems. With only a few rumors of early sap collection in January most Vermont producers have begun or are about to begin setting taps for the 2019 crop. Drop line and spout sanitation practices paired with high vacuum tubing systems enable longer tap hole longevity to catch early runs and maintain production later in the season. UVM Proctor Maple Research Center leads the nation in maple production research and Vermont producer yields continue to lead the nation (see USDA NASS reports on the Extension Maple Pages).

The UVM Extension Maple Program, Addison County Maple Sugarmakers and the statewide VMSMA organized three maple conferences in January. Workshop topics included production, forest health, and food safety. Attendees and presenters put a large emphasis on market conditions. Industry leaders felt the expansion of maple taps continues but it has slowed in the past two years. Representatives from Quebec indicated that roughly 60% of the recent FPAQ 5 Million tap expansion allowance is currently hitting markets. The remaining taps are still being set up over the next few years. The general outlook is that US bulk maple syrup prices will hover near $2.00-$2.10 plus premiums for 2019. No one was willing to predict prices would increase but there was general agreement that nothing significant has prompted the price to drop below $2.00 per pound. Local maple marketers shared insights that wholesale and retail competition has grown dramatically in the northeast. Many marketers are setting their sights on consumers outside the northern maple belt region. Maple businesses are also working to differentiate themselves with unique products, packaging and branding to maintain sales. Large packers reminded attendees that Canadian syrup imports remain competitive due to the current US-Canadian currency exchange rates. Meanwhile, pure maple syrup is well positioned for consumer demand for natural sweeteners in the United States.

A new Maple Cheerios hit stores recently!!!

Three new projects began this fall in Vermont to support maple syrup production and marketing through 2021. National USDA Acer Access and Development Projects.

Farm, Forest and Maple Business Clinics

UVM Extension Business Specialists Mark Cannella, Tony Kitsos, Chris Lindgren and Betsy Miller are available to work one-on-one with farm, forest and maple businesses on their finances. Reserve a 1½ hour appointment to prepare documents that will help manage the business. Use the time to develop a balance sheet, update financial statements, review a business plan, consider changes to the business and more. Bring your financial statements, recent records and questions!

➥ 1½ hour, private meetings
➥ Nearly 100 appointments available from February – April 2019
➥ Held at UVM Extension Offices in 10 locations
➥ only $25.00
Online Registration Here!

Business Clinics Information Sheet

2018 Farm Bill Becomes Law

(Betsy Miller, Farm Viability Coordinator)

After months of negotiating the 2018 Farm bill was passed by congress and signed into law by President Trump on December 20, 2018.

The bill has many components relevant to agriculture in Vermont including:

  • Legalization of hemp
  • Changes to the Margin Protection Program (MPP)  for dairy
    • Increased margin up to $9.50
    • Lower premiums for first 5 million pounds of milk from farm
    • Allows for overlap with LGM
    • Refund of portion of premiums paid from 2015 – 2017
  • Changes to NRCS EQIP Programs

For more information regarding specifics of the farm bill follow these links:

https://www.agweb.com/article/the-2018-farm-bill-what-you-need-to-know/

This agweb article includes a table with MPP premium rates.

Senator Leahy has issued a press release on the subject:

https://www.leahy.senate.gov/press/leahy-hails-senate-passage-of-five-year-farm-bill

Policy Options for Maple Marketing into the Future

New maple products like sap beverages and infused syrups now join the classic pure maple syrup products on store shelves and online platforms. Will US maple market policy and collective marketing entities  innovate in new ways too? What options are available for collective marketing efforts here in the United States?

Two possible options for the maple sector are producer cooperatives and federal market orders. Both options require strong leadership from industry representatives, committed support from members and ongoing management to sustain the effort.

Market Orders:

Vidalia onions, “Got Milk”, Florida Oranges…sound familiar? Producers in these industries approved collective efforts funded by small assessments (often pennies per pound) through a Federal Market Order (FMO). FMOs provide a way for producers and handlers to work together to accomplish things they could not achieve on their own. Orders do this by (1) maintaining the high quality of product that is on the market; (2) standardizing packages and containers; (3) regulating the flow of product to market; (4) establishing reserve programs; and (5) authorizing production research and marketing efforts.    Read more about current Specialty Crop Market Orders on the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service website.

Producer Cooperatives

Producer cooperatives can be formed in many different ways with different goals. Cooperatives could range in size from only a few producer members to thousands. A new Cooperative establishes a legal business entity that is owned and overseen by members. Here is a list of co-op activities that may be relevant for a group of maple producers/members.

  • Collective ownership of processing facilities to store, process, and package bulk syrup into a marketable format.
  • Collective ownership of pooled market-ready product and/or active marketing efforts to sell the products.
  • Supply Cooperative: pooling member demand to access production inputs and supplies at reduced costs to its members.
  • Establishment of farm gate prices/contracts that eliminate the year to year volatility and uncertainty of final crop sales prices after the production season.
  • Establishment of verified product standards or unique features that enhance the distinction of coop products from other similar products available to consumers
  • Coordinating large numbers of participants into a unified and powerful voice for political organizing and communications campaigns that promote the interests of the membership.

Examples of specialty crop  farmer coops in the US that are relevant to maple producers:  Hazelnut Growers of Oregon, Organic Valley (CROPP), Deep Root Organic Coop.

 

Free Lunch, A Punch in the Face, and Continual Improvement

Image

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Dwight D. Eisenhower

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Mike Tyson

I’m not sure if Tyson and Eisenhower are saying the same thing, but they are saying similar things; plans are important, but they go awry.  This insight applies to logging businesses particularly. Logging is not boxing or battle, but logging is a risk heavy business significantly influenced by external factors. Improvisation is an essential skill and planning helps you succeed in the heat of the moment.

There is a workshop next week offering  free lunch, industry discussion, business skills and technical knowledge to logging businesses. No disrespect to Tyson, but I have found in my work that not everybody has a plan. This workshop is a great place to get one started and to learn how to adjust when you feel the knuckles on your jaw. Offered by University of Vermont Extension, Forest Business, the class is worth 5.5 CFE (Consulting Forester Education) credits and 8 LEAP (Logger Education to Advance Professionalism) credits. This is a great opportunity for professional development. This class will help loggers and foresters understand the shifting economic landscape and stay current on the regulatory and policy front. It is a time to network with peers in the forest products sector and to pick the brains of industry leaders and educators. It is also time to learn business management and finance skills to help your company identify what’s important and where to focus effort.

While preparing for the workshops I have been reading Continuous Improvement in Logging, (CIL) by Steve Bick and Jeff Benjamin. An adept application of Theory of Constraints (TOC) to logging, CIL distills the ideas of CI (Continuous Improvement) providing examples of the productivity of logging operations. With detailed information on productivity and a thorough discussion of common bottlenecks for timber harvesting systems, the book dispenses management wisdom along with rigorous focus on identification of bottlenecks in logging operations. CIL introduces readers to The Goal, a business novel worth a read. The goal is defined as, “making money now and in the future.” This goal focuses all productive effort. Steve will be speaking at the workshop bringing productivity enhancing tools and techniques to those in attendance. These tools will help you continually improve your game, preparing you to avoid the knuckles and spend more time “making money that sticks.”

Punches and lunches lead to continual improvement!

Tell a logger or forester you know to join us or contact cplindgr@uvm.edu for more information.

2018 Business Skills Workshops for Logging Professionals—November 7th and 8th

UVM Extension will offer this free workshop for logging companies on November 7th (Rutland, VT) and November 8th (Hardwick,VT). Presentations will cover a range of topics from industry updates to marketing strategies and include new presentations not included in past years. Presenters include: Sam Lincoln (VT Dept of Forests, Parks & Recreation), Paul Frederick (VT Dept of Forests, Parks & Recreation), Chris Lindgren (UVM Extension), Christine McGowan (VT Sustainable Jobs Fund) and Steve Bick (Northeast Forests, LLC). Learn more about the program and how to register!

Maple Markets: International Trade Snap-Shot

US-Canada

Update: On October 1st 2018 the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) was announced…details are still emerging (10/4/18) Original post written on 9/30/18. Canada placed a 10% tariff on US maple syrup exported into Canada in 2018. While some US syrup or US finished maple syrup goods do get sent to Canada the volume is small. This trade dispute retaliation from Canada is not expected to have huge impact on US maple syrup distribution. Canada exports far more syrup into the United States. The overall US-Canada trade situation that include steel, aluminum and other products  will have a more pronounced impact on maple equipment and manufactured goods crossing the US-Canada border.

Roughly 62% of Canadian export syrup reaches the United States. The result is that over half of maple syrup consumption in the United States is Canadian syrup. The UVM Extension Maple Business team ran a rough calculation on the 2017 value of Canadian syrup imported into the United States. The Canadian imports represent roughly 18 million maple taps at the prevailing US maple yield per tap.

A look at recent and defunct trade agreements…..

European Union

Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) was approved in 2017. CETA includes Canada and the European Union.  The agreement removes tariffs on Canadian syrup imported into the European Union. The US is not part of this agreement and US syrup is subject to an ~8% tariff when imported into the EU.

Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Trade Agreement

This agreement between many nations was set to eliminate the 17.5% tariff on US (and Canadian) maple syrup entering Japan. Japan represents a significant existing export market for Canadian maple syrup and a possible growth area for US exports in the future. The United States pulled out of this trade agreement in 2017 and the tariffs on US maple remain in place.

The New Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) This agreement was made by the remaining TPP nations without the United States. Under that deal the tariffs on Canadian syrup imported into Pacific nations will be phased out in the next few years.