2022 OFA Annual Meeting and Reception

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 22

Join us Wednesday, June 22 at 7:00 pm ET/4:00 pm PT via Zoom for a short review of OFA’s work in 2021 and what we are looking forward to in 2022. Then engage with ORGANIC FARMER and USDA Under Secretary of Agriculture for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, Jenny Lester Moffitt, for a lively conversation about her family’s California organic farm, how she got involved in government, and why it is important for organic farmers to get involved in policy!

Pre-Registration Required

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OFA ANNUAL MEETING

7:00 PM Eastern/4:00 PM Pacific: Welcome by David Colson, President
– Introduction of our new Governing Council & Policy Committee members.
– Thank you to outgoing members.
7:15 PM: Overview of 2021 -Kate Mendenhall, Executive Director

RECEPTION
7:30 PM: Introduction of USDA Under Secretary Jenny Lester Moffitt
7:35 PM: USDA Under Secretary Jenny Lester Moffitt
7:50 PM: Q&A with Under Secretary Lester Moffitt
8:00 PM: Adjourn


Under Secretary Jenny Lester Moffitt

Jenny Lester Moffitt has roots in organic farming, which she brought to her work in California and now in Washington, D.C.

Jenny Lester Moffitt was confirmed as Under Secretary of Agriculture for Marketing and Regulatory Programs at the USDA last fall and is responsible for facilitating trade and setting national and international agricultural standards, including the National Organic Program (NOP).

Jenny is a 5th generation farmer, who has established a successful career in agricultural policy.  She managed her family’s organic walnut farm for ten years and then served as Undersecretary and Deputy Secretary at the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) for six years before being asked to come to Washington, D.C. and work for the current administration.  Her experience and roots in organic allow her to understand the needs of both farmers and consumers and how both are essential to a strong organic movement.

Jenny’s father transitioned the family’s walnut farm to organic in 1989 and became certified organic in 1992. She says, “Growing up and helping run my family’s walnut farm showed me just how valuable the USDA is to farmers, processors, and consumers. I developed a passion for agriculture, farmers, and the food system, so I’ve always wanted to work in agriculture.”


June 2022 Policy Update

June 2022

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

New USDA Support for Organic Transition

On June 1st, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack gave a speech on the USDA’s plans to transform the American food system, focusing on increasing resilience in food supply chains. One of the plans he announced was for USDA to establish a program, funded with $300 million, to assist farms that are transitioning to organic. We don’t have any details yet about how the program will operate, but the initial announcement listed farmer-to-farmer mentorship programs, technical assistance, direct support through conservation and crop insurance programs, and efforts to help develop organic markets as focus areas. OFA will continue to engage with USDA about the most useful ways to implement this program and will spread the word when details become available.

Delayed Organic Regulations

Now that the Origin of Livestock final rule has finally been released, we still need USDA action on several other critical issues related to the integrity of the organic label. The Office of Management and Budget, a division of the White House that signs off on federal regulations, continues to review the Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards rule. After the OMB finishes their review, the USDA will have to make any changes required by the OMB and can then release the OLPS proposed rule for public comment. We are also waiting for the USDA to finalize the Strengthening Organic Enforcement rule, which includes a long list of changes to USDA’s process for detecting and preventing fraud in organic supply chains. When asked at a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing about these delayed regulations, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack pledged that they would be released this year.

Setting Organic Priorities for the Next Farm Bill

The current Farm Bill expires in 2023, and Congress has started to take the first steps in the process of developing the new version. The House Agriculture Committee is working through a series of hearings to examine how USDA programs are working, including a hearing in late March in the subcommittee that covers organic issues. The hearing covered a range of topics, including the release of the final rule on Origin of Livestock and ways to streamline application to USDA conservation programs. In early May, the Senate Agriculture Committee had its first Farm Bill hearing in Michigan, home to the Chair of the committee, Senator Stabenow. The lineup of witnesses included several organic farmers, who talked about the potential they see for growth in organic agriculture and how increased research on organic methods and other USDA programs like organic certification cost-share could help. This summer, OFA will be working with our allies in the organic community to refine our Farm Bill proposals, on fixing organic certification cost-share, supporting organic research, tackling fraud in organic supply chains and other issues.

Get Involved: Advocate for Organic Farms This Summer!

As discussions about the next Farm Bill ramp up, this summer is an important opportunity to share policy priorities for organic farmers with your members of Congress. A good way to do that is to try to meet with your elected officials while they are back home more often during the summer. During periods when Congress is not meeting in Washington, DC, legislators spend time at home in their districts, and you can arrange a meeting with them or their staff there.

For tips on setting up a meeting in your legislator’s district office, check out OFA’s website.

And if you do get a meeting set up, here are some of OFA’s top priorities for the next Farm Bill:

  1. Organic Certification Cost Share - In the next Farm Bill, Congress should:
  • Increase the reimbursement level to 100% (up to $1500 per scope) to make organic certification free for small operations.
  • Streamline the program. The organic community is discussing ways to improve the program and our surveys reveal that farmers are interested in making the program function differently – to reduce the up-front cost of certification instead of reimbursement
  1. Organic and Climate - Organic must be included in whatever climate programs are developed for agriculture, and the USDA must make sure that organic is the gold standard for climate-smart agriculture by prohibiting hydroponic production in organic and enforcing organic regulations to make sure livestock are raised on pasture.
  2. Stronger Standards for Organic Integrity – USDA needs to finish long-delayed improvements to the organic standards, including the Strengthening Organic Enforcement rule to prevent fraud and stronger animal welfare standards.

2022 Organic Certification Cost Share

Thanks to years of advocacy from Organic Farmers Association and our partner organic organizations pushing USDA to open the cost share program earlier and provide more funds, USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced yesterday that they have opened two pots of money to reimburse farmers for 2022 organic transition & certification fees & other expenses.

Applications are open now and due October 31, 2022.  

Two USDA programs cover costs incurred from October 1, 2021 to September 30, 2022 (Organic and Transitional Education and Certification Program (OTECP) and the Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP)). Organic and transitioning agricultural producers should contact their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office and/or participating State agency to apply. See more about each program below.

Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP)

This is the standard Organic Cost Share program that reimburses farmers and processors up to 50% (max. $500) for each certification category (Crops, Livestock, Wild Crops, Processing). If you are certified for multiple categories (scopes) you can be reimbursed up to $500 for each. All FSA county offices will process this program & some certifiers or state agencies process this program.

You will need to provide a receipt of your certification fee payment and proof of organic certification.  Once you have had your inspection, contact your certifier for the documentation you will need. Click for more information on OCCSP.

Organic and Transitional Education and Certification Program (OTECP)

The OTECP program was created to patch the missing cost share funds from the historic 75% ($750 max) reimbursement. This program will reimburse up to 25% ($250) per category (Crops, Livestock, Wild Crops & Processing) for 2022 certification fees AND reimburse for education (did you attend a conference?), soil tests, and myriad costs related to organic transition.

This program is only available at your FSA office. FSA recommends submitting ONE application to OTECP, so wait until you've completed your 2022 expenses (10/1/2021 - 9/30/2022) & then apply before Oct 31, 2022. You will need to provide receipts for reimbursement. Click for more information on OTECP.

Alternative USDA resource for help:

You may also call 877-508-8364 to speak directly with a USDA employee ready to provide one-on-one assistance with OTECP or OCCSP. 877-508-8364  (1- English) (2-Espanol)

INTERPRETATION IS AVAILABLE FOR USDA FSA, NRCS, RMA CUSTOMERS - USDA service centers provide FREE translation in 48 languages.

Download poster here to bring to your FSA office.


Danone Shareholders Meeting

April 25, 2022  Danone, owner of Horizon Organic, will hold its annual shareholders meeting tomorrow, Tuesday, April 26, 2022 in France.  In August 2021, Danone notified 89 organic dairy farm families they would be ending their contracts and pulling out of the Northeast U.S. market.  Many of the affected farm families have been providing organic milk to Horizon Organic for decades and were instrumental in building the successful Horizon Organic brand.

Danone’s decision to leave the Northeast region, one of the largest consumer markets, is devastating to the region, and farm-advocates voiced their fury with 15,324 petition signatures in November 2021 calling for Danone to repair the damage leaving the entire Northeast region will have on the farm economy and rural communities. In December, Danone responded with a commitment to 1.) extend farm contracts an additional 6-months for the 89 producers, 2.) provide a small (6% of the milk check for 6 months or $2 per hundred pounds of milk) transition payment for the affected farm families, and 3.) provide a monetary investment in the Northeast region to support these dairy farmers and the region’s organic dairy industry.

Danone has honored their first commitment to extend contracts, but has not provided specific details on how they plan to pay farmers their transition payment nor how they intend to invest in the region.

Producer groups supporting farmers affected by the Danone exit, Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, Inc., Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Hampshire, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, and Organic Farmers Association, call on Danone to pay farmers their transition payments immediately based on the last 6 months of production from the date of their 2021 termination notice.  They also urge Danone to match the $20 million granted by the USDA to the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center to follow through on their commitment for financial investment in the region to support northeast organic dairies.

Danone is one of the largest B Corporations and thus has committed to putting people over profits—a commitment its corporate decision to leave the Northeast region decision directly violates.  It is imperative that shareholders hold Danone accountable at the shareholder meeting tomorrow.  Danone must stand up for its farm families that have built the corporate success Danone will be celebrating tomorrow.

###

Media Contact:

Ed Maltby, Executive Director, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA)

emaltby@comcast.net; 413-427-7323


May 2022 Policy Update

May 2022

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

The National Organic Standards Board held its spring meeting in April, and the Senate Agriculture Committee kicked off its Farm Bill process with its first field hearing.

National Organic Standards Board

The NOSB held their spring meeting online during the last week of April. Some of the big topics the board discussed included:

  • Potential ways to provide NOSB members with technical help and research assistance.
  • How to increase traceability in complicated organic supply chains (for bulk commodities like grain) to combat fraud.
  • Updating the list of types of genetic engineering that are prohibited in organic production.
  • Restrictions on the use of highly soluble forms of nitrogen.

The board voted unanimously to approve a recommendation that would limit the use of highly soluble forms of nitrogen fertilizer. The recommendation calls for the use of fertilizers with a carbon to nitrogen ration of less than 3:1 to be limited to 20 percent of the crop’s nitrogen needs. The Board also unanimously adopted a recommendation to update the list of types of genetic engineering that are prohibited in organic production.

The National Organic Coalition is hosting a briefing on the NOSB meeting on May 11 at 1:00 eastern. You can register for their webinar here.

You can read OFA’s comments to the NOSB here.

Organic Priorities in the Next Farm Bill

The current Farm Bill expires in 2023, and Congress is taking the first steps in the process of developing the new version of the bill. The House Agriculture Committee has been doing a series of hearings to examine how USDA programs are working. In early May, the Senate Agriculture Committee had its first Farm Bill hearing in Michigan, home to the Chair of the committee, Senator Stabenow. The lineup of witnesses included several organic farmers, who talked about the potential they see for growth in organic agriculture and how increased research on organic methods and other USDA programs like organic certification cost-share could help. Other witnesses talked about how USDA nutrition programs can help support farms that provide healthy food to underserved communities. And, in a reminder of what we are up against in the fight for strengthening the integrity of the organic standards, a large organic egg producer from Michigan was also a witness, highlighting what they claim are the advantages of keeping chickens confined indoors for biosecurity. (This is an argument we will hear a lot when the USDA publishes a proposed rule to update the animal welfare standards for organic, called the Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards rule. The draft is currently being reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget.)

This summer, OFA will be working with our allies in the organic community to refine our Farm Bill proposals, on fixing organic certification cost-share, supporting organic research, tackling fraud in organic supply chains and other issues.

Assisting Northeast Organic Dairy Farmers Losing Horizon Contracts

In late April, Danone held their annual shareholders meeting in France. Danone North America owns Horizon Organic, which notified 89 farms in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and parts of New York that it will be dropping their contracts in early 2024. OFA and other regional organic farming groups worked with a shareholder advocacy firm called Trillium Asset Management, which asked Danone management questions about this situation at the annual meeting. Specifically, Trillium asked Danone about their lack of communication with the 89 farms and whether a promised increase in pay price for their milk during the last portion of their contracts had gone into effect yet. The company gave unsatisfactory answers at the annual meeting, so we will be working with Trillium to meet with Danone officials to continue to advocate for the impacted farms. We are also working with the regional farm groups to make sure that USDA’s investment into the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center as a response to this situation actually yields concrete assistance for the impacted farms.

 


April 2022 Policy Update

April 2022

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

Good news! After years of work from the organic community, the USDA finally released the Origin of Livestock final rule, closing loopholes that will level the playing field for organic dairy farms. And Congress continued to slowly move towards the next Farm Bill while the National Organic Standards Board gets ready for its spring meeting.

A WIN for Organic Integrity!

Organic Farmers Association has been pushing the USDA for a strong final Origin of Livestock Rule since we were created in 2016.  This issue has been at the top of our farmer-identified priority list every year. On March 29, USDA finally released the final rule!

The new final rule:

  • Specifies that a dairy livestock operation transitioning to organic, or starting a new organic farm, is allowed to transition non-organic animals ONCE.
  • Prohibits organic dairies from sourcing any transitioned animals. Once a dairy is certified organic, any new animals must have been born as certified organic (managed as organic from the last third of gestation).

This win would not have been possible without the support and action from so many organic farmers, organic farm organizations, and organic consumers who signed on to letters to Congress and USDA asking for support for organic dairy farmers with clear Origin of Livestock Standards.

Now that we have a final Origin of Livestock rule that clarifies the standards for organic dairy transition and growth, we will need to make sure that the USDA’s National Organic Program is requiring organic certification agencies to enforce this rule uniformly.

Setting Organic Priorities for the Next Farm Bill

The current Farm Bill expires in 2023, and Congress has started to take the first steps in the process of developing the new version. The House Agriculture Committee has kicked off a series of hearings to examine how USDA programs are working, including a hearing in late March in the subcommittee that covers organic issues. The hearing covered a range of topics, including the release of the final rule on Origin of Livestock and ways to streamline application to USDA conservation programs.

Delayed Organic Regulations

Now that the Origin of Livestock final rule has finally been released, we still need USDA action on several other critical issues. The Office of Management and Budget, a division of the White House that signs off on federal regulations, continues to review the Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards rule. After the OMB finishes their review, the USDA will have to make any changes required by the OMB and can then release the OLPS proposed rule for public comment.

In the middle of the month, the National Organic Program held a public meeting and comment period to get input on the long list of regulations and guidance on the agency’s to-do list. OFA told NOP to prioritize the Strengthening Organic Enforcement final rule, the Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards, prohibiting hydroponic operations from being certified organic, clarifying the rules for transitioning greenhouse facilities, finalizing guidance to protect native ecosystems and other issues. You can read OFA’s comments here.

Spring Meeting of the National Organic Standards Board

The spring meeting of the National Organic Standards Board will be held during the week of April 25th. It will be a virtual meeting that can be watched online.

Some of the big topics on the board’s meeting agenda include:

  • Potential ways to provide NOSB members with technical help and research assistance.
  • Discussion of how to increase traceability in complicated organic supply chains (for bulk commodities like grain) to combat fraud.
  • Defining new types of genetic engineering that should be prohibited in organic production.
  • Possible restrictions on highly soluble forms of nitrogen.
  • A list of "sunset" materials that are up for their 5-year review to be allowed in organic production.

You can read the Board’s proposed recommendations and discussion documents here.  For information on watching the meeting on Zoom, go to the USDA’s page for this meeting. The public comment sessions for this meeting will be held on the afternoon of Tuesday April 19 and the afternoon of Thursday April 21.  You can read OFA’s comments to the Board here.


March 2022 Policy Update

March 2022

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

Setting Organic Priorities for the Next Farm Bill

The current Farm Bill expires in 2023, and Congress has started to take the first steps in the process of developing the new version. The House Agriculture Committee has kicked off a series of hearings to examine how USDA programs like conservation and commodity programs are working under the current Farm Bill.

On March 2nd, OFA co-hosted a virtual meeting with the Organic Trade Association to gather input from almost 100 organic farmers and representatives from organic farm groups. The session was focused on how the next Farm Bill can best address the challenges facing organic, including continuous improvement in organic standards, increasing enforcement, removing obstacles to new farms getting certified organic and economic viability for all organic farms. This virtual meeting will be combined with feedback from regional meetings held by organic farm groups and an online survey for organic farmers, to identify OFA’s priorities for the next Farm Bill. You can still get involved in OFA’s process for setting our priorities for organic in the next Farm Bill by taking our Farm Bill priorities survey.

Tracking Delayed Organic Regulations

Two long-awaited regulations that are needed to increase the integrity of the organic standards are still in the approval process. The Office of Management and Budget, a division of the White House that signs off on federal regulations, continues to review USDA’s Origin of Livestock rule and the Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards rule. After the OMB finishes their review, the USDA will have to make any changes required by the OMB and can then release the OLPS proposed rule for public comment and the final version of the OOL rule.

Virtual Advocacy Days

This week, members of OFA’s policy committee and governing council will be doing online visits with their members of Congress, outlining our priority issues. We will be talking about how to fix organic certification cost share, why organic agriculture is a climate solution, and the need for USDA to protect the integrity of the organic label with ramped up enforcement and updates to the organic standards.

Spring Meeting of the National Organic Standards Board

The spring meeting of the National Organic Standards Board will be held during the week of April 25th. It will be a virtual meeting that can be watched online.

Some of the big topics on the board’s meeting agenda include:

- Potential ways to provide NOSB members with technical help and research assistance.

- Discussion of how to increase traceability in complicated organic supply chains (for bulk commodities like grain) to combat fraud.

- Defining new types of genetic engineering that should be prohibited in organic production.

- Possible restrictions on highly soluble forms of nitrogen.

- And a list of "sunset" materials that are up for their 5-year review to be allowed in organic production.

You can read the Board’s proposed recommendations and discussion documents here. For information on watching the meeting on Zoom, go to the USDA’s page for this meeting. The public comment sessions for this meeting will be held on the afternoon of Tuesday April 19 and the afternoon of Thursday April 21. Sign up soon to get a spot to offer comments to the Board! There is a form at the bottom of the meeting website to sign up.

 


February 2022 Policy Update

February 2022

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

New USDA Program on Climate Smart Commodities

Yesterday, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack announced that the USDA would spend $1 billion on grants for pilot programs that create market opportunities for U.S. agricultural and forestry products that use climate-smart practices and include ways to measure and verify greenhouse gas benefits. OFA will be closely reading the rules for the new grant program to see how organic farming fits into the program’s definition of climate-smart. You can read more about this new program here.

Organic Regulations Moving Through Approval Process

Two long-awaited regulations that are needed to increase the integrity of the organic standards are finally moving through the rulemaking process. The Office of Management and Budget, a division of the White House that signs off on federal regulations, is reviewing USDA’s Origin of Livestock rule and the Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards rule. OFA and our allies have met with the OMB about both of these rules to make the case that stronger rules are desperately needed to ensure a level playing field for organic farms and ensure the integrity of the organic label. After the OMB finishes their review, the USDA will have to make any changes required by the OMB and can then release the OLPS proposed rule for public comment and the final version of the OOL rule.

Northeast Organic Milk Update

OFA is still working with regional organic farm organizations and the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance to identify options for the 89 organic dairy farms in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and part of New York who were notified by Horizon Organic that the company plans to end their contract to buy their milk. OFA and other farm organizations participated in a task force organized by the USDA that offered a long list of recommendations for steps USDA could take, ranging from finalizing long-delayed rules like Origin of Livestock, to investing in new processing infrastructure for organic milk. When asked by members of Congress during a hearing about the status of these recommendations, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack said he expected to be making some decisions quite soon.

There are still many details to figure out for the impacted farmers and lots of work to be done to improve infrastructure for organic milk processing in the region. A 6-month contract extension announced by Danone will give the farms a little bit more time to investigate new paths forward, but what the region really needs is a sound market with more buyers for organic milk. OFA and our allies will continue to push Danone and USDA to co-invest in solutions for Northeast dairy infrastructure that will secure a future for Northeast dairy and provide local organic milk for the Northeast.

Unclear Path Forward for Build Back Better bill

With the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law in the fall, the future of a second major spending bill is still up in the air. The second package, called Build Back Better, is a “budget reconciliation” bill that uses a special procedure and can be passed only with Democratic votes (which will be necessary because all Republicans have vowed not to vote for it). The House passed its version of Build Back Better just before Thanksgiving, and it includes a big increase in funding for organic research as well as a historic $28 billion increase (over 10 years) for USDA conservation programs including the Conservation Security Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, with a focus on addressing climate change. The House package also included a new program to forgive USDA farm loans for some small farms.

Senate Democrats have not been able to find agreement on their version of the bill, with key players like Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) blocking the process. There is a lot of speculation about the path forward for this package, with some proposals to break the larger package up into smaller pieces. If that is the path forward, we will need to see if a climate package includes the same historic level of funding for USDA conservation programs that was in the original Build Back Better package.

Congress Starts to Prepare for the Next Farm Bill

Even as we try to figure out what will happen with the agriculture and climate spending in the Build Back Better bill, Congress has started to take the first steps in the process of developing the next Farm Bill. The current Farm Bill, passed in 2018, expires in 2023. But the debate over what should be in the bill will begin this year. The House Agriculture Committee has kicked off a series of hearings to examine how USDA programs like conservation and commodity programs are working under the current Farm Bill. And many members of Congress will start to do events like listening sessions or other meetings to gather input about the Farm Bill during their recess periods this spring and summer.

There are several ways you can get involved in OFA’s process for setting our priorities for organic in the next Farm Bill:

  1. Take our Farm Bill priorities survey
  1. Attend a virtual meeting with organic farmers from across the country to talk about what organic needs in the next Farm Bill.

 


January 2022 Policy Update

January 2022

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

Organic Regulations Moving Through Approval Process

Two long-awaited regulations that are needed to increase the integrity of the organic standards are moving through the rulemaking process. The Office of Management and Budget, a division of the White House that signs off on federal regulations, is reviewing USDA’s Origin of Livestock rule and the Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards rule.

Origin of Livestock Rule: The USDA National Organic Program (NOP)’s failure to strengthen the standards for organic dairy has allowed large-scale organic dairies to undermine those organic farms that comply with the intent of the organic label. In 2015, the NOP published a proposed rule to clarify that, after completion of a one-time transition from a conventional dairy farm, all new dairy animals milked on an organic dairy farm would need to be managed organically from the last third of gestation. The 2015 proposed rule garnered strong public support from the entire organic community, but was never finalized. In 2020, Congress gave the NOP 180 days to finalize the rule, but the agency missed this deadline. OFA and other organizations have been advocating for a final OOL rule that can be consistently enforced and that requires that the entire one-time transition happen over a twelve-month period under the supervision of an organic certification agency as part of the producer’s Organic System Plan.

Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards Rule: This rule is a new version of the long-delayed Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) rule. The OLPP rule was delayed and ultimately withdrawn by the Trump Administration. The new rule would allow USDA to consistently enforce stronger animal welfare standards on organic farms and close loopholes being taken advantage of by some large operations. The OLPP rule was discussed and vetted in the organic community for more than a decade and has widespread support. Animal welfare is an issue of critical importance to organic consumers, and these standards must be tightened to retain consumers’ confidence in the organic label.

After the OMB finishes their review, the USDA will have to make any changes required by the OMB and can then release the OLPS proposed rule for public comment and the final version of the OOL rule.

Northeast Organic Milk Update

OFA is still working with regional organic farm organizations and the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance to identify options for the 89 organic dairy farms in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and part of New York who were notified by Horizon Organic that the company plans to end their contract to buy their milk. Just before Thanksgiving, the groups met with Danone to lay out options for how the company could do better by the organic farmers in the Northeast who helped build their brand. In mid-December, the company announced it will meet one of the requests, by extending farm contracts to 18 months. The company will also provide a small (6% of the milk check for 6 months or $2 per hundred pounds of milk) transition payment for the affected farm families.

There are still many details to figure out for the impacted farmers and lots of work to be done to improve infrastructure for organic milk processing in the region. The contract extension will give the farms a little bit more time to investigate new paths forward, but what the region really needs is a sound market with more buyers for organic milk. OFA and our allies will continue to push Danone to co-invest in solutions for Northeast dairy infrastructure that will secure a future for Northeast dairy and provide local organic milk for the Northeast.

Congress Debates Climate and Social Spending Bill

With the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law in the fall, the future of a second major spending bill is still up in the air as Congress starts the new year. The second package, the Build Back Better, is a “budget reconciliation” bill that uses a special procedure and can be passed only with Democratic votes (which will be necessary because all Republicans have vowed not to vote for it). The House passed its version of Build Back Better just before Thanksgiving, and it includes a big increase in funding for organic research as well as a historic $28 billion increase (over 10 years) for USDA conservation programs including the Conservation Security Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, with a focus on addressing climate change. The House package also included a new program to forgive USDA farm loans for some small farms.

Now Senate Democrats have to find agreement on their version of the bill, with key players like Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) blocking the process over concerns about the total size of the spending package, as well as specific programs like the child tax credit. If the bill finally passes Congress, there will be lots of work to do to communicate with USDA about the details for spending this new money on conservation and research programs, and making sure that organic agriculture is on the list of practices that meet the goals of the Build Back Better bill.

Reminder – Apply for Additional Organic Certification Cost Share!

Organic producers can apply until February 4th for additional assistance for organic certification cost share. The additional funding for organic certification cost share comes from pandemic response money Congress provided to the USDA. In addition to providing additional funding for cost share, USDA has also created new opportunities for farms that are in the process of transitioning to organic certification to get some costs reimbursed.

This additional funding is necessary because reimbursement levels were cut in 2020. Since 2008, the federal government has reimbursed up to 75 percent of organic certification fees paid by organic farms and businesses, with a maximum reimbursement of $750 per certification scope (crops, livestock or handling) per operation. But starting in 2020 and again in 2021, USDA’s Farm Services Agency (FSA) cut reimbursement rates to 50 percent, up to a maximum of $500 per scope.

Some details about the new program:

  • Organic certification cost share limits are 25% or $250 from this round of funding. This could be in addition to reimbursement provided under the normal cost share program (which means you could get up to $500 from the original program and an additional $250 from this new round.)
  • This new funding covers expenses from 2020, 2021 and 2022. You can apply for 2020 and 2021 at the same time.
  • There are two new options for expenses that can get some amount of reimbursement (for either certified or transitioning operations):
  1. Educational expenses (such as conference registrations, reimbursable for 75% up to $200)
  2. Soil testing expenses (reimbursable for 75% up to $100.)

The application period for expenses from 2020 and 2021 closes on February 4th.

For more details on how to apply:

https://www.farmers.gov/pandemic-assistance/otecp


December Policy Update

December 2021

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

Reminder – Apply for Additional Organic Certification Cost Share!

In November, after many months of delay, the USDA announced that additional assistance for organic certification cost share is available. This additional funding is necessary because reimbursement levels were cut in 2020. Since 2008, the federal government has reimbursed up to 75 percent of organic certification fees paid by organic farms and businesses, with a maximum reimbursement of $750 per certification scope (crops, livestock or handling) per operation. But starting in 2020 and again in 2021, USDA’s Farm Services Agency (FSA) cut reimbursement rates to 50 percent, up to a maximum of $500 per scope.

The additional funding for organic certification cost share comes from pandemic response money Congress provided to the USDA. In addition to providing additional funding for cost share, USDA has also created new opportunities for farms that are in the process of transitioning to organic certification to get some costs reimbursed.

Some details about the new program:

  • Organic certification cost share limits are 25% or $250 from this round of funding. This could be in addition to reimbursement provided under the normal cost share program (which means you could get up to $500 from the original program and an additional $250 from this new round.)
  • This new funding covers expenses from 2020, 2021 and 2022. You can apply for 2020 and 2021 at the same time.
  • There are two new options for expenses that can get some amount of reimbursement (for either certified or transitioning operations):
  1. Educational expenses (such as conference registrations, reimbursable for 75% up to $200)
  2. Soil testing expenses (reimbursable for 75% up to $100.)

The application period for expenses from 2020 and 2021 closes on January 7th. OFA is working to get USDA to extend this deadline, but right now the deadline is January 7th, so apply as soon as you can.

For more details on how to apply:

https://www.farmers.gov/pandemic-assistance/otecp

Congress Debates Climate and Social Spending Bill

In mid-November, President Biden signed the long-awaited bipartisan infrastructure bill in law. The new law will fund major investments in the nation’s roads, bridges, public transit systems, broadband internet, energy grid and water systems. But this is only one of the major spending bills Congress has been debating for much of the year, and a second bill with funding for social programs, agriculture and addressing climate change is still in play. The second package, the Build Back Better, is a “budget reconciliation” bill that uses a special procedure and can be passed only with Democratic votes (which will be necessary because all Republicans have vowed not to vote for it).

The House passed its version of Build Back Better just before Thanksgiving, and it includes a big increase in funding for organic research as well as a historic $28 billion increase (over 10 years) for USDA conservation programs including the Conservation Security Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, with a focus on addressing climate change. The House package also included a new program to forgive USDA farm loans for some small farms.

Now Senate Democrats are negotiating on their version of the bill, with key players like Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) demanding changes to the bill on issues like clean energy programs and spending for social programs like childcare. The process of getting agreement within Senate Democrats will determine when (and if) this bill passes, and it looks likely that the process will drag on into the new year. If the bill finally passes Congress, there will be lots of work to do to communicate with USDA about the details for spending this new money on conservation and research programs, and making sure that organic agriculture is on the list of practices that meet the goals of the Build Back Better bill.

Organic Dairy in the Northeast

OFA has continued to work with regional organic farm organizations and the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance to identify options for the 89 organic dairy farms in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and part of New York who were notified by Horizon Organic that they would not be renewing their contract to buy their milk after next September. We have been participating in a task force convened by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is about to send a list of recommendations for what the federal government could do to help to the Secretary of Agriculture.

And just before Thanksgiving, the groups met with Danone to lay out options for how the company could do better by the organic farmers in the Northeast who helped build their brand. Unfortunately, the company has not committed to taking any steps the groups recommended to either stay in the region or to compensate farmers who will lose contracts next year.

We will continue to work with our allies to let consumers know that Danone North America (which owns Horizon Organic) is not living up to its commitment to being a socially responsible company. You can take action here to tell Danone to live up to its social mission.

Advocating for Organic in the Next Farm Bill

The Farm Bill is a massive piece of legislation that Congress passes roughly every five years. The Farm Bill covers the broad range of programs run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including commodity support programs, agricultural conservation programs, trade and international food aid, domestic nutrition assistance (SNAP), farm credit programs, rural development, agricultural research and extension, forestry, horticulture, crop insurance, and a variety of other policies. The current Farm Bill became law in late 2018, and expires in late September 2023.

But even when Congress is not actively writing a new Farm Bill, there is still work to be done. In between periods of congressional debate on the text of the bill, advocates like OFA work to make sure that the USDA is implementing the programs created by the Farm Bill. For example, the 2018 Farm Bill instructed the USDA to establish new regulations to increase the department’s capacity to detect and prevent fraud in organic supply chains. The USDA is still working on finalizing these new rules, three years after the Farm Bill became law, and OFA and other advocates have been pushing the department to finish a strong rule as soon as possible.

Other important topics for organic farmers in the Farm Bill include funding for organic-focused research, as well as the organic certification cost-share program. And the Farm Bill can create opportunities for harmful changes too, such as past attempts to change the requirements for who can serve on the National Organic Standards Board.

That’s why OFA is starting a process to set our priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill. Even though Congress won’t pass new legislation until 2023, the debate over what should be in that bill has already begun and will pick up steam in 2022. To get ready, we are going to be reaching out to organic farmers and farm organizations around the country to get your input on what priorities we need to advocate for in the next Farm Bill.

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) has been hosting meetings with organic stakeholders in partnership with Dr. Kathleen Merrigan from the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University. One meeting was for organic certifiers, one for national advocacy groups, one is for organic farmers and farmer organizations, and one meeting was open to all.

Organic Farmers Association will be co-hosting the national farmer meeting on March 2nd (Virtual). OFA will bring a grassroots effort to the national organic farmer meeting and we invite state and regional groups to engage your organic farmer members in a state-level conversation to identify their farm bill priorities. An organic farmer representative and staff/board representative from each organic farmer organization will be invited to the March 2nd meeting to represent their farmers’ priorities.