National Organic Standards Board Update

The National Organic Standards Board meets twice a year to make recommendations on organic standards and materials used in organic production. (Learn more about the mission and members of the NOSB here.)

The NOSB was scheduled to meet in Arlington, VA (just outside Washington DC) in late April.  Due to the coronavirus, plans for the meeting have changed and the meeting will no longer be held in person, instead it will be held online. But there are still ways for you to participate.

Keep an eye on the agency’s website for this meeting for updates and ways to watch the NOSB meeting online.

 

How You Can Participate

Sign up to make a public comment online.  The deadline to sign up for a public comment spot is April 3rd.  To sign up, go here.  Right now, the plan is for public comment webinars to take place on April 21 and April 23 (a week before the actual NOSB meeting.) The National Organic Program may expand the length of the webinars to accommodate more public comments. You need to sign up for a spot to comment by midnight eastern time on Friday April 3rd.

Send in written comments (online or by mail.) Written comments are also due by midnight eastern time on Friday April 3rd. Written comments can be submitted electronically using Regulations.gov (Docket # AMS-NOP-19-0095) or by mail to Ms. Michelle Arsenault, Advisory Committee Specialist, National Organic Standards Board, USDA-AMS-NOP, 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Room 2642-S, Mail Stop 0268, Washington, DC 20250-0268. Make sure to mention Docket # AMS-NOP-19-0095 in your letter.

 

What Should You Say?

The NOSB has a list of topics they will discuss at their meeting. You can see the documents they will discuss (and in some cases, vote on) here.  Some of the topics that might be of interest to OFA members are paper pots, biodegradable biobased mulch, research priorities and a list of materials that are up for their 5-year sunset review.

But don’t forget that the NOSB meeting is a place where the larger organic community and the USDA National Organic Program staff gather. So you can comment on bigger picture priorities too – you can talk about why we need the NOP to ramp up enforcement to prevent fraud in organic supply chains, why we need the Strengthening Organic Enforcement and Origin of Livestock rules finished as soon as possible, and other improvements to organic integrity that impact your farm.


Take action NOW to protect farmers

Policy Update

In the last week, how the government should respond to the coronavirus pandemic has consumed Washington, DC.  Things are happening quickly, with Congress already passing two bills with initial responses on healthcare measures, emergency nutrition assistance, temporary paid leave, and unemployment insurance. But there will be more bills to come and there are negotiations underway between the House, Senate and White House on a third bill to create a massive economic stimulus package. The negotiations over the stimulus package have been changing quickly and are happening behind closed doors, but organic agriculture advocates including OFA are letting members of Congress know that organic farms need to be a priority in any response. We may also see Congress take up other spending bills that get more specific on how departments like the USDA spend money in response to the pandemic, so we have been sharing our specific requests for USDA program funding as well.

If you want to tell your members of Congress to support organic farmers and direct market farms, the best way to reach them is likely to be email, since many congressional offices have shifted their staffs to working remotely. You can find contact information for your Representative at www.house.gov (use the “Find Your Representative” box at the top right and then go to your member’s website and look for a Contact tab) and your two Senators at www.senate.gov (go to the “Senators” tab and then “Contact” to find the Senators from your state.)

Tell them you want any response to the pandemic to:

  • Ensure that farms, farmers markets, farm stands, and CSAs are deemed essential services and have the same status as retail stores when it comes to social gathering and loss of income
  • Increase certification cost-share assistance for certified organic farms and handlers and provide immediate payment
  • Include farmers selling in local and regional markets in emergency disaster payments, emergency farm loans and loan forgiveness
  • Disaster payments should cover both crops not harvested or not sold, as well as those that can move to emergency food needs; organic producers should be paid at the organic price.
  • Support the proposals made by Rep. Pingree in her recent letterand a letter signed by 37 members of the House on ways to address the needs of farmers who sell their products through local and regional markets.

We brought the organic farmer's voice to DC

Patty Lovera, OFA Policy Director

Annual Advocacy Day recap from our Policy Director. 

On March 10, 2020, the Organic Farmers Association held our third annual Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. Nineteen organic farmers and advocates from 12 states visited over 30 congressional offices in one day. We focused our meetings on the ways the USDA organic program can improve the integrity of the organic standards, by strengthening enforcement and preventing fraud, ending loopholes in organic dairy standards and stopping organic certification of hydroponic operations.

This is the time of year when Congress is developing the spending bills for departments like the USDA, called the appropriations process. We are still fairly early in the process, when the appropriations committee is developing the list of spending levels for specific federal programs that will end up in the bills that go to the House and Senate floors later this year. This made it a good time for OFA advocates to meet with key offices in the appropriations process to explain why they need to push the USDA’s National Organic Program to protect organic integrity, especially when it comes to preventing fraud, closing dairy loopholes and addressing the growth of hydroponic in organic.

In addition to educating offices on these key organic integrity issues, we also had several meetings focused on the role organic farming can play in addressing climate change and the need to include organic farmers in the debate over immigration and farm labor. There are several bills already introduced in both the House and Senate on agriculture and climate change, with even more expected later this year. We talked with several offices that are leading on climate change issues about how to make sure that organic methods are recognized as part of the solution to climate change and the need to make sure the organic standards on building soil and grazing livestock are as strong as possible, so that organic is the gold standard for climate friendly agriculture. On immigration and farm labor, the debate is centered in the Senate, which needs to consider the Farm Workforce Modernization Act that was passed by the House late last year. It’s not clear when that debate will actually begin in the Senate, but we made it clear to key offices on that issue that organic farms need to be in the conversation.

The trip to DC wasn’t just about our day on Capitol Hill. OFA’s Policy Committee also spent time together to work on the next steps in the annual policy development process. The Policy Committee reviewed the policy proposals submitted by organic farmers from around the country, identified the top priorities and drafted policy statements. Keep an eye out – the new draft policy statements will soon be available to OFA members for comments. (You can read more about the process OFA uses for developing our policy positions here.)


Organic Farmers on the Hill!

March Policy Update by Policy Director, Patty Lovera.

There are reliable signs of spring each year in Washington, DC – massive numbers of tourists and school trips appear around town, and eventually so do the cherry blossoms they are here to see. And in the world of farm policy, another reliable sign of spring is lots and lots of talk about the “appropriations” process.

Appropriations is a fancy word for money, specifically, the funding that Congress gives to federal agencies and programs each year. There is a very specific process Congress uses to figure out the spending levels each year. But even when the process works smoothly (which hasn’t happened very often in the last decade or so), it takes a good chunk of the year to complete.

Here’s a diagram that shows the steps in the process.

Right now, we are in step 2, where committees work out the spending levels they will eventually bring to the floor of the House and Senate for a vote. During March and probably into April, subcommittees will have hearings and meetings to work out what spending levels will be in the bill for each federal department.

We’re already through Step 1, when the President sends Congress a proposed budget, with his suggestions of what various departments and programs need to do their work. This step gets more attention these days than it used to, in part because the Trump Administration has been proposing very dramatic cuts across most departments. (For the past three years, Congress has essentially ignored most of the proposals for really deep cuts.)

This year is no exception. The President’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2021 (which begins on October 1, 2020) would cut the National Organic Program by over 20 percent, to just above $12 million. According to the President’s proposal, this lower spending level would mean the NOP does not develop additional training courses, decreases the number of proactive surveillance activities, does not hire additional auditors to conduct risk-based reviews of certifier satellite offices, and does not hire agricultural economists to track and forecast import trends. Which is the exact opposite of what we need to make sure that the National Organic Program is able to do enough enforcement to protect the integrity of the organic label.

That’s why the OFA Advocacy Day on the Hill is so well-timed this year. Today, Tuesday March 10, organic farmers and advocates from a dozen states will be telling their members of Congress what we need from the National Organic Program and other USDA programs, and that they need enough money (and oversight from Congress) to do it. We have other asks too, including funding for more organic data collection, research, and other important programs, as well as action on climate change and immigration.

We’ll send an update after our day on the Hill about what we heard and how you can continue OFA’s advocacy during the rest of the year, by getting in touch with your members of Congress to tell them what organic policy means for your farm.

And one last update – on March 3, the Center for Food Safety filed a lawsuit filed a lawsuit challenging the USDA’s decision to allow hydroponic operations to be certified organic. The lawsuit claims that hydroponic operations violate organic standards for failing to build healthy soils and asks the Court to stop USDA from allowing hydroponically-produced crops to be sold under the USDA Organic label. The plaintiff coalition includes Swanton Berry Farm, Full Belly Farm, Durst Organic Growers, Terra Firma Farm, Jacobs Farm del Cabo, and Long Wind Farm, in addition to organic stakeholder organizations including organic certifier OneCert and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. We will keep you posted as the lawsuit moves through the process.


What is going on in DC in February?

First, let me introduce myself – I am Patty Lovera, the new policy director for OFA. I worked on organic issues for many years when I was with Food & Water Watch and I’m very excited to now be working with OFA!

The opening days of 2020 have been more dominated by politics than policy, with Congress  largely ­­­­­­focused on the impeachment process for the month of January. Now that the process has wrapped up, our priorities can receive more attention from legislators. And we expect new developments from USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) to be coming soon on several of our key issues. Here is a quick status report as we start the year:

Strengthening Organic Enforcement – that’s the official title for a proposed rule that is the result of language OFA worked to get included in the 2018 Farm Bill giving NOP additional authority to track organic imports. The proposed rule is under review by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, which is one of the last steps in the process before it can be released for public comment. There is no deadline for when the review has to be completed and the proposed rule gets released, but we will let you know when it happens and how to submit a comment.

Origin of Livestock – After hard work by OFA members and allies last year to push NOP to close the loopholes for how conventional animals are transitioned into organic production, we are hearing that NOP is making progress on a rule to fix this longstanding problem. The spending bill for USDA that (finally) passed in late December, gives NOP six months to issue a final rule on origin of livestock.

Immigration – In December, the House passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (HR 5038). The prospects for the bill are not as clear in the Senate, but now that impeachment is over, negotiations on the bill are expected to pick up. The version of the bill passed by the House does not meet the criteria of OFA’s policy position on immigration, and we will be urging the Senate to improve it, especially addressing the House bill’s overreliance on the existing H-2A visa system.

Climate Change – The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis is finishing up a report with recommendations for Congress on addressing climate change. OFA has been in touch several times with committee staff developing the agriculture section of the report, making the case that organic agriculture needs to be a key part of the solution to climate change. The report will be released in March.

 Advocating for Organic

Late winter is a really good time to get in touch with your members of Congress.  (Although, any time you have available is a good time – they always need to hear from constituents about what is really going on outside DC.) But this time of year is important because it is when the annual process of “appropriations” begins. That means the long process of setting the spending levels for agencies like USDA, which starts with proposals about how much money the agencies should get and what they should do with it. OFA and our allies will be working throughout the spring and summer as these bills move through the process to make sure our priorities are getting their due (and keeping an eye out for bad ideas that might pop up.) Talking to your members of Congress about what your organic farm needs (like improving NOP enforcement, better organic research, or organic certification cost share) reinforces the work we do in DC to make the case for organic.

Want to learn more about how to get in touch with your legislators and what to say when you do? Tune in to our webinar on February 18 at 2:00ET for tips and ideas. Register here.


Letter sent to Organic Eye expressing concern for strategy

The following letter was sent to Organic Eye. 

January 29, 2020

Mark Kastel, Jay Feldman, and Terry Shistar Founders, Organic Eye
C/O Beyond Pesticides
701 E Street, SE, Suite 200

Washington, DC 20003

RE: Beyond Pesticide’s Organic Eye Post Entitled “Regulatory Capture: USDA’s Organic Governance Board Dominated by Affiliates of Corporate Lobby” (January 22, 2020)

Dear Mark, Jay, and Terry,

We are writing to express disappointment and concern with the tone and strategy of your recent letter to the organic community about the new National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) appointments.

Organic Farmers Association was created by and is run by certified organic farmers to support a strong voice for domestic certified organic farmers at the national level. As an organization, strong principles guide the way we work internally as well as with our external organic partners. We are committed to transparency and meaningful change for organic farmers that embodies social, environmental, and health values of the organic movement for current and future generations. We believe that the ways in which we work with each other and in organizations and movements must reflect the values we hold for the world.

While we welcome the creation of Organic Eye as an investigative arm to Beyond Pesticides, we disagree with the approach you have taken in your early opposition to the USDA’s appointment of NOSB members. We find the approach you have taken contrary to your mission of ensuring that organic values and commitments are not compromised in the modern food system. You cite yourself that the organic movement is built on a loving and collaborative relationship that embraces environmental stewardship and justice.

Organic Farmers Association endorsed one of the candidates selected to the NOSB, and we were not made aware of the other candidates submitting application for consideration. Both Beyond Pesticides, through your affiliation with the National Organic Coalition, and the Organic Farmers Association endorsed the candidacy of the new farmer appointee Nathaniel (Nate) Powell-Palm.

Organic Farmers Association continues to strongly stand behind Nate as a first-generation, young, successful organic farmer who has volunteered his experience representing certified organic farmers in the Western U.S. to the Organic Farmers Association Governing Council and Executive Committee. Nate farms in Montana where the average farm size is 2,036 acres and median farm size is between 4,000-

611 Siegfriedale Road • Kutztown, PA 19530-9320

202-643-5363 • info@organicfarmersassociation.org • www.OrganicFarmersAssociation.org

8,000 acres. The regional growing conditions require more land for grazing, so in a pasture-based farm operation, more pastureland is required to support a grassfed operation. Nate’s farm includes a total of 1,000 acres with 300 of those acres in hay and grain and the rest in pasture to support 40 grassfed beef cows. When looking at the facts, this size of operation is not the type of large corporate farm you describe in your letter and an unfair depiction of a young farmer committed to caring for his land and advocating for his fellow organic farmers. We feel you were out of line in your vilification of Nate and he deserves an apology.

While we are not familiar with the other NOSB members, Organic Farmers Association will be introducing our stakeholders and their policy priorities to the new members. We will continue to educate all National Organic Standards Board members on the priorities, policy positions, and concerns of certified organic farmers. We will hold them accountable to serving in their role with an objective and open view—assessing organic issues outside of their own personal occupations and personal experiences and being open to making the best recommendations based on the needs of the organic community as a whole. We will encourage them to hold special credence to the needs of certified organic farmers, the backbone of the U.S. organic market. We believe we can do this in a collaborative manner that embraces the values of the organic movement we work to uphold through our own conduct as an organization representing farmers.

While we agree with Organic Eye that the USDA should be transparent in its appointment process for the National Organic Standards Board, we disagree with the tone and attack on current appointees. We hope that in the future, your information will better embody your mission, organic values, and put fact above political agenda.

Sincerely,

Kate Mendenhall, Director

David Colson, President


Meet New Policy Director, Patty Lovera

In 2020, Organic Farmers Association hired Patty Lovera as its new Policy Director.

Lovera brings an impressive background in grassroots organizing on farm and food issues and lobbying in Washington, D.C., as well as extensive knowledge of organic farming topics. Previously, she helped start and grow Food & Water Watch (FWW), serving as their Food and Water Program Director for 14 years. In this role, she represented FWW in the National Organic Coalition.

“I am looking forward to working directly with organic farmers from across the nation and supporting a strong voice for organic farmer issues in Washington, D.C.,” said Lovera. “Working directly with farmers has always been a passion of mine. I am eager to continue working to build a strong organic farmer movement with Organic Farmers Association.”

Lovera has a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from Lehigh University and a Master’s degree in Environmental Policy from the University of Michigan. Before joining FWW, she was the deputy director of the Energy and Environment program at Public Citizen and a researcher at the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.

“Patty’s extensive background in grassroots mobilization around sustainable and organic food policy will help Organic Farmers Association expand our engagement among domestic certified organic farmers as well as continue to impact those policies on the hill,” said Organic Farmers Association director Kate Mendenhall.

As Policy Director, Lovera will work directly with Organic Farmers Association’s elected Policy Committee, comprised of twelve certified organic farmer members and six advisory organizational members from six U.S. geographic regions. She will facilitate the annual grassroots policy development process, where all U.S. certified organic farmers are invited to submit policy priorities and policy positions for the Policy Committee’s review, and ultimately OFA farmer members’ vote.

Lovera will build extensive grassroots campaigns around key organic farmer policy priorities, as well as ensure the participation of a strong organic voice in the development of the next Farm Bill. The OFA Policy Director is directly responsible for bringing the concerns of OFA members to Congress through lobby days and other advocacy efforts.

Lovera’s addition to the Organic Farmers Association team comes as the organization is still gathering input from certified organic growers on their policy priorities for 2020. She will also guide the organization during their Advocacy Day in March 2020. OFA’s legislative priorities in 2019 included improving enforcement of the Origin of Livestock Rule and organic dairy standards, removing hydroponics from organic certification, and eliminating organic fraud.

“We’re thrilled to bring such as impressive organic advocate to Organic Farmers Association,” said OFA President David Colson.

Lovera will begin her work at Organic Farmers Association preparing certified organic farmers for the upcoming organic farmer advocacy day on March 10, 2020 in Washington, DC. Certified organic farmers from across the country will unite for training and advocacy in Washington to represent their fellow organic farmers and make sure our elected officials hear the policy priorities of organic farmers to continue to supply communities across the country with healthy food and fiber.


Presidential Candidates Release Statements on Organic Agriculture & Climate Change

Senator Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Pete Buttigieg submitted written responses to Organic Farmers Association addressing ag policy, soil, and organic fraud.

Organic Farmers Association (OFA) has received responses from two presidential candidates following its recent forum, “Combating Climate Change with Organic and Regenerative Agriculture,” held in Story City, Iowa on December 5, 2019. The forum was attended by Senator Bernie Sanders, who spoke to a crowd of 50 organic farmers and fielded questions.

Senator Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Pete Buttigieg submitted written responses to the questions posed by organic farmers at the event. Their responses have been posted in full here.

Each candidate identified the need for the government to provide incentives to farmers to introduce regenerative practices that can help combat global issues like climate change.

“As president,” said Warren’s response, “I will lead a full-out effort to decarbonize the agricultural sector and rebuild our soil and water by paying farmers for using sustainable farming practices, expanding research and development in regenerative techniques, and building demand for locally-grown, sustainable farm products.”

Buttigieg referenced his climate change plan and the place that carbon sequestration in soil holds within that framework.

“My administration will also improve soil health and promote policies to keep our environment safe and healthy,” Buttigieg stated. “I will provide opportunities for farmers to get paid for sequestering carbon in their soil, including through reduced and no tillage of soil, cover crops, precision nitrogen management, improved grazing systems, and science-based crop rotation plans.” However, they differ on the specific strategies their administrations would utilize to increase the implementation of regenerative agriculture across the United States.

Warren expressed the need for reinvestment in land grant universities in particular to shift their research focus to “evaluating farmers’ ideas to decarbonize the agricultural sector, including on breeds, seeds, and methods of farming that will empower us to meet benchmarks in the Green New Deal.”

Buttigieg instead focused on organic integrity and consumer faith in the organic label.

“Continued growth in and demand for organic foods by consumers is an incredibly important part of the agricultural and rural economies,” said his response. “I understand—as any Secretary of Agriculture in my administration will also understand--that the relationship to the consumer is absolutely critical for organic markets to succeed.”

Both candidates state they will commit to hiring a Secretary of Agriculture that supports regenerative organic agriculture.

Sanders’ identification of regenerative organic agriculture as a major topic in 2020 election policy, as well as the remaining candidates’ absence, made significant news following the forum. While all Democratic presidential candidates were invited to speak at the Iowa event, which was jointly hosted by Organic Farmers Association and Iowa Organic Association and featured a Q&A with certified organic Iowa farmers, Senator Bernie Sanders was the only candidate to attend in person.

Watch Bernie Sanders' Remarks Here

Organic Farmers Association is sponsored by Rodale Institute, a nonprofit widely recognized as the global leader in regenerative organic agriculture. While both Organic Farmers Association and Rodale Institute do not endorse candidates for office, their missions are focused on growing the regenerative organic movement in the policy sphere and beyond.

The candidates’ eagerness to respond to organic farmers’ questions solidifies regenerative organic agriculture as a new and influential policy topic in the 2020 election, as voters are facing pressing issues like climate change, water pollution, and food inequality.


Organic Farmers Association thanks Farm Aid for their support!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Dec. 13th 2019

 

ORGANIC FARMERS ASSOCIATION RECEIVES $6,500 GRANT FROM FARM AID

 

Kutztown, PA — Organic Farmers Association was awarded a $6,500 grant from Farm Aid to support grassroots farmer-led work to build power and consensus among the organic farmer community to preserve organic integrity, support more U.S. organic acres and increase environmental services.

 

Organic Farmers Association thanks Farm Aid for their continued support of our work to provide organic farmers with a strong voice in Washington, D.C.

 

Farm Aid’s grantmaking is focused on work that enhances the viability of family farm agriculture in the United States. They issue grants to qualifying nonprofit organizations that serve family farmers in one of three funding areas: growing the good food movement, helping farmers thrive and taking action to change the food and farm system. This grant will allow Organic Farmers Association to provide organic farmers with a strong voice in Washington, D.C. .

 

“In addition to Farm Aid’s work throughout the year to build a thriving family farm-centered system of agriculture, Farm Aid funds family farm, rural service and urban agriculture organizations through our annual grant program,” said Alicia Harvie, Farm Aid’s Advocacy & Farmer Services Director. “Our grantees around the country are critical on-the-ground partners in the movement to keep family farmers on the land, producing good food for all.”

 

“Our goal is to create real change in our farm and food system, from the ground up,” said Farm Aid President Willie Nelson. “Farm Aid grantees strengthen family farmers, they build communities that can support each other in hard times, and they organize people to stand up and challenge corporate power in our food system. These are essential activities that benefit everyone — eaters and farmers.”

 

To learn more about Organic Farmers Association, visit: www.organicfarmersassociation.org.

 

For a complete listing of Farm Aid’s 2019 grant recipients, visit www.farmaid.org/2019grants.

 

Organic Farmers Association provides a strong and unified national voice for domestic certified organic producers.

 

Farm Aid’s mission is to build a vibrant, family farm-centered system of agriculture in America. Farm Aid artists and board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews host an annual festival to raise funds to support Farm Aid’s work with family farmers and to inspire people to choose family farm food. For more than 30 years, Farm Aid, with the support of the artists who contribute their performances each year, has raised $57 million to support programs that help farmers thrive, expand the reach of the Good Food Movement, take action to change the dominant system of industrial agriculture and promote food from family farms.

 

—30—

 


Update on the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis

House Democrats are driving the climate change agenda in the 116th Congress.  Major Leader Pelosi created the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis to make a recommendation to Congress on policies and innovations to achieve substantial and permanent carbon reduction. 

As part of its effort to engage the various segments of the economy, the Select Committee solicited the agriculture industry for ideas and will release those policy ideas in a March 2020 policy paper.

The Organic Farmers Association responded to the request for policy priorities and submitted a letter late November to the Select Committee where we encouraged Congress to recognize the immediate availability of organic soils to store carbon.  

We followed up our comments with a meeting with Select Committee staff on the Hill.  In this meeting, OFA reviewed the policy priorities outlined in our letter and provided feedback on aspects of the report they are considering for the expected March 2020 report.  Some issues were brought to the OFA policy committee for discussion and then reported back to the Select Committee with feedback. We hope to continue to provide feedback from Organic Farmers Association into this process. 

Organic Farmers Association encouraged the Subcommittee to proceed with a “whole-farm view” as they establish policy priorities for the carbon-sequestration potential. This approach brings hope and practical solutions for climate stability. Organic farming’s potential can be magnified with Congress’s help to update federal policies considering climate change and evolving food systems. 

We will continue our engagement with the Select committee staff as it works to write its agriculture section of the March 2020 report.