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[Photograph: vizzzual-dot-com on Flickr]

Dairy Program Holding Up Farm Bill Progress

At first, it was cuts to SNAP, or the food stamp program, that kept the Farm Bill from progressing through the legislative process. Senate passed its version of the Bill with $4 billion in cuts, while the House's version passed with $40 billion in cuts. Now, sources close to the negotiations report that the two bodies have agreed on $9 billion in SNAP cuts. But a new hurdle has arisen—disagreement regarding a program that maintains consistent milk prices for producers. Price supports have been central to the dairy industry for decades, and farmers insist that the program is a safeguard and not a direct subsidy. But others are angered that SNAP is seeing cuts while producers receive "handouts" from the government. Negotiations continue this week.

Mozzarella, Cheddar are Most Available Cheeses in U.S.

According to new USDA data, mozzarella is the most available cheese in the U.S., at 11.5 pounds per capita. There was a total of 33 pounds of cheese available per capita in 2011, an increase of 0.2 pounds from 2010. The USDA's marketing arm for dairy, Dairy Management Inc., has invested resources in pushing cheese over the past few years. While demand other types of dairy such as full-fat milk and ice cream has fallen, cheese consumption has risen consistently since 1970. In that time, per capita cheese availability has tripled. The USDA attributes this rise in popularity in part to the import of cheese-heavy cuisines like Italian and Mexican.

Amidst Rising Prices, Nut Theft Plagues California Farmers

Throughout the Central Valley, a growing region in California that is among the most productive in the country, nuts are being stolen by the truckload. Demand for nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and pistachios has grown significantly in recent years. Along with this increased demand has come a rise in crop theft, with farmers sometimes losing hundreds of thousands of dollars of product. According the California Walnut Board, the price for that nut has tripled in the last five years, leading to a gold rush-like mentality among growers. Farmers recently formed a task force to investigate the crime spree and figure out ways for local law enforcement to work with farmers to protect their crops.

Food Hubs Help Small Farmers Break into Local Food Markets

Now that the fervor surrounding local food has spread across much of the country country, small farmers are looking for ways to enter into high-end markets and attract consumers eager for a taste of a local specialty. But often, those farmers lack the resources to independently seek out customers. That's why food hubs have gained popularity in many agricultural communities. Food hubs allow farmers to aggregate and distribute food together, lessening their individual costs and building partnerships with other local growers. The USDA estimates that there are about 240 food hubs across 40 states and D.C. Food hubs help to magnify the impact of buying local, because more farmers can invest in their communities rather than traveling to the nearest big city to hawk their products.

About the Author: Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her other work can be found at her website, and you can follow her on Twitter @leahjdouglas.

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