February 2024 Policy Update

February 2024

By Lily Hawkins, Policy Director

Agriculture Appropriations Deadline Postponed Again

Last fall, Congress passed a resolution to extend a short-term government funding patch through the new year, and to extend the Farm Bill until September of 2024. But last month, lawmakers were again unable to reach agreement on the annual appropriations process and passed another extension for funding bills. The new deadline for the agriculture bill is March 1—just days before OFA’s annual Farmer Fly-in to D.C. It’s too soon to say if they will be able to make a deal by then.

Either way, OFA will be advocating for increased funding for organic programs in the Fiscal Year 2025 funding process which kicks off in March. We are currently working with allies like NOC and OTA to coordinate our requests.  

House Still Aims for Spring Farm Bill

Congress’s extension of the 2018 Farm Bill until September of 2024 still stands. House Agriculture Chair G.T. Thompson has continued to indicate that he aims to pass a farm bill in the springtime, citing March as the first window when this could be possible, but with the delays in the appropriations process that will be more challenging than ever.

This week House Democrats met to plan a push back against Republican proposals to cut nutrition spending and use Inflation Reduction Act funds to top up some programs that Democrats would like to see funded separately.

The delay in writing a new bill means that marker bills are still being introduced and there is still opportunity for farmers to advocate for their needs. Bookmark our Farm Bill Marker Bill Tracker to stay up to date.

Organic Market Development Grants Awarded

The Organic Market Development Grant (OMDG) program supports the development of new and expanded organic markets to help increase the consumption of domestic organic agricultural commodities. The program focuses on building and expanding capacity for certified organic production, aggregation, processing, manufacturing, storing, transporting, wholesaling, distribution, and development of consumer markets.

OMDG offers both 24-month Simplified Equipment-Only grants with funding between $10,000 and $100,000 and 3-year Market Development and Processing Capacity Expansion grants with funding ranging between $100,000 and $3,000,000.

Congratulations to Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, and other groups that received funding. You can read the full list of grantees here.

Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Representative Ann Kuster (D-NH-2) are working to make this grant program permanent through the Organic Market Development Act (S. 2936/H.R. 5763).

Spring NOSB Meeting in Milwaukee

The spring NOSB meeting will be held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with a Public Comment Webinar the week prior. 

NOSB Spring 2024 Meeting Dates:

Public Comment Webinars

  • Day 1: Tuesday, April 23 from 11 am - 5:00 pm Eastern
  • Day 2: Thursday, April 25 from 11 am - 5:00 pm Eastern

Public Meeting

  • Day 1: Monday, April 29 from 9:00 am - 6:00 pm Central
  • Day 2: Tuesday, April 30 from 9:00 am - 6:00 pm Central
  • Day 3: Wednesday, May 1 from 9:00 am - 6:00 pm Central

The full meeting materials and the link to register to provide oral comment should be posted in early March. Be sure to sign up promptly as the number of speakers is limited. If you are interested in participating you can reach out to OFA Policy Director Lily Hawkins at lily@organicfarmersassociation.org or OFA Farmer Services Director Julia Barton at julia@organicfarmersassociation.org.


January 2024 Policy Update

January 2024

By Lily Hawkins, Policy Director

Agriculture Appropriations Deadline Looms

Last fall, Congress passed a resolution to extend a short-term government funding patch through the new year, and to extend the Farm Bill until September of 2024.

With the holidays behind them lawmakers are yet again working to pass 2024 funding bills. The large package of bills has been divided into two tranches with different deadlines. Agriculture spending is in the earlier group with a deadline of January 19th. With the Republican controlled House yet to pass their version of the bill, there is a risk of a partial-government shutdown.

It is possible that Congress could pass a full-year continuing resolution to extend FY 2023 spending bills until Sept. 30th of 2024. However, this approach would trigger spending cuts agreed to in the debt ceiling deal, and the Senate has indicated that they will oppose this move.

House Aims for Spring Farm Bill

Congress has extended the 2018 Farm Bill until September of 2024 and neither chamber of Congress has yet published bill text. House Agriculture Chair G.T. Thompson has indicated that he aims to pass a farm bill in the springtime, citing March as the first window when this could be possible.

The delay in writing a new bill means that marker bills are still being introduced and there is still opportunity for farmers to advocate for their needs. Bookmark our Farm Bill Marker Bill Tracker to stay up to date.

Historic Funding for Conservation Practices

Thanks to USDA’s $300 million Organic Transition Initiative, NRCS has a historic amount of funding for producers to adopt conservation practices in fiscal year 2024. While NRCS has set a national application deadline of March 1, deadlines vary by state. Find your state's ranking date and apply by contacting your local NRCS office here.

OFA is available to help in navigating the application process via our Farmer Helpline at (833) 724-3834, and will circulate more resources in the coming weeks.

Public comment requested on National Organic Program Information Collection Renewal

USDA is requesting public comment on reporting and recordkeeping burdens in the organic certification system. 

USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) has published in the Federal Register a notice announcing its intent to revise and update forms included in the previously approved information collection package. It also requests changes to eliminate the collection of redundant information and to account for paperwork burden estimates related to the USDA Transition to Organic Partnership Program and public use of the NOP Online Complaint Portal.

NOP is seeking public comment on the proposed revisions, including the burdens, costs, and other effects of the information collection required by the USDA organic regulations. Online comments are encouraged. Information on how to submit comments can be found on Regulations.gov and by clicking here. The comment period closes January 22, 2024.

Reminder: Fill Out OFA’s Annual Policy Survey

Each year, the Organic Farmers Association asks ALL CERTIFIED ORGANIC FARMERS and ORGANIC FARM ORGANIZATIONS to share their top policy priorities and policy positions. 

The OFA farmer-elected Policy Committee reviews the results, identifies the top priorities, and drafts policy statements from this broad-based solicitation to submit to OFA members for comment. The Policy Committee uses the member comments to finalize the proposed policies, then OFA Farm Members vote on the final policies. Policies that pass the national vote by 60% AND two-thirds of the regional vote by 60% become official OFA policies. 

Please take the survey to submit policy proposals, then share this survey with certified organic farmers in your network!!


December 2023 Policy Update

December 2023

By Lily Hawkins, Policy Director

Appropriations Package Delayed Again

Last month, Congress passed a resolution to extend a short-term government funding patch through the new year, and to extend the Farm Bill until September of 2024. The Farm Bill extension includes funding for all programs, including organic certification cost-share and other programs that were at risk due to a lack of baseline funding. 

Now, lawmakers must pass 2024 funding bills. This large package of bills has been divided into two tranches with different deadlines. Agriculture spending is in the earlier group with a deadline of January 18. The Republican-controlled House has yet to pass their version of the bill, and it’s possible that they’ll go straight to conference with the Democratically controlled Senate to work towards a compromise.

Farm Bill Extended

Congress has extended the 2018 Farm Bill until September of 2024 and neither chamber of Congress has yet published bill text. House Agriculture Chair G.T. Thompson recently disclosed his diagnosis with prostate cancer, but has stated he will continue to lead work on the huge package of food and farm legislation. 

The delay in writing a new bill means that marker bills are still being introduced and there is still an opportunity for farmers to advocate for their needs. Bookmark our Farm Bill Marker Bill Tracker to stay up to date.

New Report Shows Inequities in Crop Insurance Subsidies 

This week the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report detailing opportunities to reduce government spending on crop insurance programs. The report shows large proportions of program costs going to private insurance companies and agencies that write policies. The GOA goes on to recommend that millions of taxpayer dollars could be saved or repurposed by reducing subsidies for the highest income farmers, and urges Congress to repeal a 2014 provision that any revision to agreements with insurance companies not reduce their expected underwriting gains. 

Senator Welch Introduces the WEATHER Act

OFA has endorsed the Withstanding Extreme Agricultural Threats by Harvesting Economic Resilience (WEATHER) Act, legislation that calls for the development of an index-based insurance policy that is more responsive to crop and income losses faced by farmers as a result of extreme weather. The bill was introduced by Senators Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) 

The legislation would direct the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to research the possibility of developing an index-based insurance program that:

  • Creates a multi-peril index insurance product for farmers based on weather indices correlated to agricultural income losses using data from NOAA, satellites, climate models, and other data sources. 
  • Pays out within 30 days in the event of indices exceeding any of the pre-determined county-level thresholds for the following events: High winds, excessive moisture and flooding, extreme heat, abnormal freeze conditions, hail, wildfires, drought, and other perils the Secretary determines appropriate. 

Read more about the WEATHER Act here, and the full text of the bill here

Please Fill Out OFA’s Annual Policy Survey

Each year, the Organic Farmers Association asks ALL CERTIFIED ORGANIC FARMERS and ORGANIC FARM ORGANIZATIONS to share their top policy priorities and policy positions. 

The OFA farmer-elected Policy Committee reviews the results, identifies the top priorities, and drafts policy statements from this broad-based solicitation to submit to OFA members for comment. The Policy Committee uses the member comments to finalize the proposed policies, then OFA Farm Members vote on the final policies. Policies that pass the national vote by 60% AND two-thirds of the regional vote by 60% become official OFA policies. 

Please take the survey to submit policy proposals, then share this survey with certified organic farmers in your network!!

 


November 2023 Policy Update

November 2023

By Lily Hawkins, Policy Director

Win for Organic!

For years, Organic Farmers Association and others in the organic community have advocated for more clear and stringent standards for organic livestock and poultry production, sending over 3000 messages to USDA and Congress advocating for finalization of a strong rule. This October, the new Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards (OLPS) Rule was filed in the Federal Register! OFA applauds the release of this long-awaited rule, which we have advocated for before Congress and the USDA for years

OLPS clarifies the production standards of avian and ruminant livestock to support consistent enforcement across producers and re-establish a strong organic label that assures consumers that USDA-certified organic livestock products meet a robust and uniform standard valuing both environmental and animal welfare.

Farm Bill Extension possible this week

On September 30, the 2018 Farm Bill and the 2023 federal spending bills expired. Congress narrowly averted a government shutdown to pass a last minute government funding patch to keep the federal government open until November 17. This week they are working to pass another Continuing Resolution to allow current funding levels to continue through the holidays while they negotiate funding for fiscal year 2024.

Congress hopes to include a provision to extend the current Farm Bill in that resolution. This weekend they reached an agreement to extend funding levels for the last year of 2018 Farm Bill for another year. Senate Agriculture Committee staff has indicated that this will include funding for Organic Certification Cost Share. This is great news, but remains to be seen if new House Speaker Johnson has the votes to pass the Continuing Resolution the farm bill extension is tied to. 

OFA Endorses Newly Introduced Marker Bills

OFA is proud to endorse several recently introduced marker bills intended for inclusion in the upcoming Farm Bill. For a full list of bills we’re supporting and information on how to contact your lawmakers and ask for their support, visit our Farm Bill Tracker.

The Organic Dairy Assistance, Investment, and Reporting Yields Act

The Organic Dairy Assistance, Investment, and Reporting Yields Act (O DAIRY Act) was recently introduced by Senator Welch (D-VT) and is cosponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).  It aims to provide long-needed support for organic dairy producers. The O DAIRY Act will provide improved data collection, support to help cover dramatically increased input costs, and key investments in infrastructure. 

For more information on the bill, please read our factsheet or the full text of the O DAIRY Act here.   

Organic Market Development Act

Last month, U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Angus King (I-ME) and Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME-01) and Annie Kuster (D-NH-02) introduced the Organic Market Development Act to codify and increase support for the USDA Organic Market Development Grant Program. The act aims to build and expand organic markets and address the need for additional market paths for organic farmers and producers through simplified grants for equipment and larger grants aimed at market development and processing capacity expansion.

You can view a one-page summary of the bill from Senator Baldwin’s office here, and full text of the legislation here.

Continuous Improvement and Accountability in Organic Standards Act

The Continuous Improvement and Accountability in Organic Standards Act (CIAO) 2023 H.R. 5973 was introduced on October 17, 2023, by Representatives. Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), David Valadao (R-CA) Chellie Pingree (D-ME). The bill proposes a two-step transparent and predictable process to prioritize and carry out updates to the organic standards.

OFA worked in coalition with the Organic Trade Association, the National Organic Coalition, the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance and the Organic Produce Alliance to advocate for the inclusion of this bill in the next Farm Bill.

Click here to read the full text of the bill.

If you haven’t already, please use our Take Action tool to tell your elected officials you want their support for organic priorities in the farm bill. There’s still time for them to give their support and hearing from their constituents is what moves the needle!

 


October 2023 Policy Update

October 2023

By Lily Hawkins, Policy Director

Farm Bill Delays

On September 30th, the 2018 Farm Bill expired, and congress narrowly averted a government shutdown. Since-ousted Speaker of the House McCarthy compromised with Democrats to pass a last minute government funding patch, keeping the federal government open until November 17th. QUickly thereafter members of his own party adn democrats voted to remove him from the position of speaker. Efforts to elect his successor are expected to be messy, and distract from efforts to pass a new farm bill.

Expired Farm Bill Threatens Organic Certification Cost Share Program

The organic certification cost-share program is authorized every 5 years through the Farm Bill. 

After reductions in 2020, this spring, USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced that they will be restoring reimbursement rates for the Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP) to 75% of the certified organic operation’s eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $750 per scope. This brings the amount of funding back up to the maximum allowed by the 2018 Farm Bill. 

Now that Congress has allowed the 2018 Farm Bill to expire, the cost share program is at risk. If a new Farm Bill is passed in the next few months with adequate funding for the cost share program, reimbursement will continue without disruption in 2024. But as a very small program cost-share does not have ‘permanent baseline’ funding status. This means that if the current Farm Bill is extended without a special provision, cost share will expire, leaving organic farmers who use the program with large increases to their certification expenses.

Take action: Please visit usa.gov to find contact information for your members of Congress and urge them to renew funding for the organic certification cost share program and modernize cost-share by supporting the Opportunities in Organic Act.

Congress introduces a Marker Bill to Support Organic Market Development

Last month, U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Angus King (I-ME) and Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME-01) and Annie Kuster (D-NH-02) introduced the Organic Market Development Act to codify and increase support for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic Market Development Grant Program, which aims to build and expand organic markets and address the need for additional market paths for organic farmers and producers through simplified grants for equipment and larger grants aimed at market development and processing capacity expansion.

The Organic Market Development Act aims to:

  • increase the capacity of the domestic organic product supply chain for producers, handlers, suppliers, and processors of certified organic products;
  • modernize manufacturing, tracking, storage, and information technology systems;
  • improve the capacity of eligible entities to comply with applicable regulatory requirements or quality standards required to access markets;
  • expand capacity for processing, aggregation, and distribution of certified organic products to create more and better markets for producers of certified organic products; facilitate market development for domestically produced certified organic products;
  • conduct feasibility studies and market viability assessments to inform organic transition strategies and opportunities;
  • address barriers to entry to organic product certification for historically underserved entities; and
  • support market and promotional activities that help build commercial markets for certified organic products in the United States.

You can view a one-page summary of the bill from Senator Baldwin’s office here, and full text of the legislation here.

USDA Expands Crop Insurance Options for Specialty and Organic Crops

Last week USDA announced new and improved crop insurance tools for organic and specialty crop growers. These changes have been announced on the heels of a two-year outreach and engagement effort from USDA’s Risk Management Agency. In addition to numerous changes for specific crops, organic growers will note the following updates:

New Insurance Options:

  • Transitional and Organic Grower Assistance Program (TOGA): For 2022, RMA offered this new program reduce a producer’s overall crop insurance premium bill allowing them to continue using organic agricultural systems. Premium benefits for TOGA included: 10 percentage points of premium subsidy for all crops in transition, $5 per acre premium benefit for certified organic grain and feed crops, and 10 percentage points of premium subsidy for all Whole-Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) policies covering any number of crops in transition to organic or crops with the certified organic practice.
  • Tropical Storm Coverage: For crop year 2023 and succeeding years, RMA added a new option to Hurricane Insurance Protection – Wind Index (HIP-WI) for named tropical storm weather events. The Tropical Storm Option covers damage caused by strong weather systems not categorized as hurricanes. Both a wind and precipitation trigger must occur for an indemnity to be paid. This new option helped many producers recover after Hurricane Idalia this year. About 60% of eligible policies elected this option.

Improved Insurance Options:

  • Whole-Farm Revenue Protection Program (WFRP): Several improvements will begin in the 2024 policy year including: allowing all eligible producers to qualify for 80% and 85% coverage levels; allowing producers to purchase catastrophic coverage level policies for individual crops with WFRP; expanding yield history to a 10-year maximum (from four years) for all crops not covered by another federal crop insurance policy; making the policy more affordable for single commodity producers; and allowing producers to customize their coverage by choosing whether WFRP will consider other federal crop insurance policies as primary insurance when calculating premium and revenue to count during claim time.
  • Micro Farm: Several updates were made to Micro Farm including: moving the sales closing date to a less busy time of year to help agents dedicate time to marketing the program, allowing producers to purchase other federal crop insurance with Micro Farm, allowing vertically integrated entities to be eligible and making the Expanding Operations feature available.
  • Quality Loss Option (QLO): RMA is making the QLO available to several initial specialty crops, including avocados (California only), blueberries, cranberries, grapes, peaches, stone fruit, and table grapes. RMA plans to make the option available to additional specialty crops in the upcoming months after further review.

Read the full announcement from USDA here.

More Funding for Organic Dairy Farmers

On September 20, USDA announced a second round of payments for the Organic Dairy Marketing Assistance Program (ODMAP), which provides certified organic dairy producers with funding to help cover projected marketing costs in 2023.

The program originally covered 75% of estimated marketing costs at a rate of $0.825 per hundredweight, capped at the first 5 million pounds of estimated production. This second round of payments will cover the remaining 25% of estimated 2023 marketing costs, bringing payments up to $1.10 per hundredweight for eligible applicants.

The second ODMAP payment is automatic, producers who successfully applied for the first round of funding do not need to take further action.

This round of payments will bring total funds distributed through the program up to $20 million. The ODMAP program was allocated $104 million.

Since there is a significant lack of available data on the production and utilization of organic milk and in the absence of reliable independent data, USDA had to use the data from the conventional marketing of milk to calculate the producers’ cost of marketing milk for the ODMAP. Organic producers say that the cost of producing organic milk is significantly higher than that of conventional milk, and OFA will continue to advocate for more funding to reflect the difference. 

Take action: Please visit usa.gov to find contact information for your members of Congress and urge them to call on the USDA to provide another round of disbursements to reflect the higher cost of marketing for organic milk, and to support improved data collection and other support for organic dairy producers in the 2023 Farm Bill.


September 2023 Policy Update

September 2023

By Lily Hawkins, Policy Director

New OFA Farm Bill Marker Bill Tracker

In the lead up to drafting the massive omnibus bill that is the Farm Bill, smaller marker bills are introduced to promote policy ideas in the hope that they will be included in the final Farm Bill.

Marker bills are not intended to pass as standalone bills, but rather they’re introduced to show collective interest in an idea and build momentum. Marker bills with more congressional support have a better chance of making it into the final version of the Farm Bill.

OFA has introduced a tracker to help you learn more about the marker bills we are supporting that may impact organic farming. Check back regularly for updates as Farm Bill conversations continue in D.C.

Click here to view the tracker! 

Please visit https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials to find contact information for your members of Congress, and call or email to ask them to support organic-friendly marker bills in the Farm Bill. 

Don’t see a bill you think OFA should be tracking? Feel free to reach out to OFA Policy Director Lily Hawkins lily@organicfarmersassociation.org) to flag it for us!

Farm Bill Timeline

September 30th is the date when both the annual federal spending bills and the Farm Bill (last passed in 2018) are set to expire. With the Republicans pushing spending bills with no Democratic support it’s increasingly unlikely that they will avoid needing to pass a continuing resolution (an emergency funding patch) to keep federal agencies running. 

With efforts to finalize spending bills ongoing, efforts to complete the 2023 Farm Bill will almost certainly continue into the fall. Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (MI) has indicated that there are currently no plans to include a farm bill extension in a continuing resolution for government spending. Passing the deadline with no extension will impact different programs in different ways. 

Some programs, like SNAP and crop insurance, will keep running even after the deadline is passed. Other programs, usually smaller or newer ones, will stop running if the Farm Bill is allowed to expire. Organic Certification Cost Share is one of these. Fortunately, funds are already secured for 2023 reimbursements, so there is time for the Farm Bill negotiations to run their course before cost-share funding for 2024 is at risk. At this time, OFA is communicating with Congress about the importance of preserving and modernizing the cost share program in the Farm Bill and, if needed, will advocate for a Farm Bill extension that covers all Farm Bill programs.

Cost Share Application Deadline is October 31

This spring, USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced that they will be restoring reimbursement rates for the OCCSP to 75 percent of the certified organic operation’s eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $750 per scope. This brings the amount of funding back up to the maximum allowed by the 2018 Farm Bill, after a 2020 reduction to 50 percent of the certified organic operation’s eligible expenses, and a maximum of $500 per scope.

Producers can apply for certification cost share through FSA at their local USDA Service Center. The deadline for producers to apply for reimbursement for 2023 certification costs is October 31. 

Organic certification provides producers with a way to validate the valuable ecosystem services they provide, but the associated fees can be burdensome, especially for small and beginning farmers. The Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP) provides reimbursements to organic farms and handling operations to help cover certification costs, and is crucial for farmers transitioning to and maintaining organic certification

Ask your members of congress to protect and build upon OCCSP by supporting the Opportunities in Organic Act (S. 1582, H.R. 3650). You can find your legislator’s contact information here. When you call or email them, be sure to share details on why the cost share program is important to you, how long you’ve used it, and urge lawmakers to stabilize and modernize the program through the Farm Bill.


August 2023 Policy Update

August 2023

By Lily Hawkins, Policy Director

Time-crunch on Appropriations and Farm Bill

By September 30, Congress needs to pass both the annual Appropriations Package that will provide funding for the federal government, and pass the 2023 Farm Bill—a huge package of federal legislation that influences most aspects of the food system.

Congress left for their August recess with much work remaining to be done on both packages of legislation. When they return in September they will need to hurry to pass these bills or extensions in order to avoid a government shutdown and keep essential programs funded.

Meanwhile, OFA is continuing to work for an organic-friendly Farm Bill. Our priorities include supporting organic certification cost share, protecting organic dairy, increasing organic research, and improving organic integrity. Read our full Farm Bill priorities here.

Long-Awaited OLPS Rule in Final Review

The Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards (OLPS) is a long-awaited animal welfare rule that will  allow the NOP to consistently enforce stronger animal welfare standards on organic farms and close loopholes being taken advantage of by some large operations.

OLPS was sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget for final regulatory review on August 2. This is the last step before this long-overdue rule is finally released. Animal welfare is an issue of critical importance to organic consumers, and tightening these standards will help increase consumer confidence in the organic label.

Cost Share Updates

This spring, USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced that they will be restoring reimbursement rates for the OCCSP to 75 percent of the certified organic operation’s eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $750 per scope. This brings the amount of funding back up to the maximum allowed by the 2018 Farm Bill, after a 2020 reduction to 50 percent of the certified organic operation’s eligible expenses, and a maximum of $500 per scope.

Producers can apply for certification cost share through FSA at their local USDA Service Center. The deadline for producers to apply for reimbursement for 2023 certification costs is October 31.

Organic certification provides producers with a way to validate the valuable ecosystem services they provide, but the associated fees can be burdensome, especially for small and beginning farmers. The Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP) provides reimbursements to organic farms and handling operations to help cover certification costs, and is crucial for farmers transitioning to and maintaining organic certification. Ask your members of congress to protect and build upon OCCSP by supporting the Opportunities in Organic Act (S. 1582, H.R. 3650). You can find your legislator’s contact information here. When you call or email them, be sure to share details on why the cost share program is important to you, how long you’ve used it, and urge lawmakers to stabilize and modernize the program through the Farm Bill.

Summer Farm Bill Listening Sessions 

House Agriculture Committee Chair GT Thompson’s official Farm Bill listening tour has concluded, with recent stops in Maine and Minnesota. OFA members and staff testified in favor of policies to support organic farmers at both sessions. You can view the recordings here.

This month, two more Farm Bill listening sessions are scheduled in the Midwest. If you can attend one of these meetings, feel free to email OFA Policy Director Lily Hawkins at lily@organicfarmersassociation for help with talking points!

August 16 - Congressman Derrick Van Orden will host a Farm Bill Listening Session featuring House Agriculture Committee Chair GT Thompson and Senator Ron Johnson in La Crosse Wisconsin.  RSVP here.

August 18 - Senator Stabenow’s staff will join Organic Seed Alliance for a Farm Bill Town Hall in Dexter Michigan. RSVP here.

Going forward into the fall, OFA will work to notify members of any Farm Bill listening sessions in their area.

Get Involved! Invite Your Legislators to Farm Visit in October

Inviting your members of Congress to visit your farm is a great way to build support for organic by showing off the hard work you do on your farm!

This year, members of the House of Representatives will be working in their home districts the first two weeks of October, and Senators will be in their home districts the week of October 9. This can be an easier time to host a farm tour than the busy summer months! 

If you’d like help inviting lawmakers to visit your farm, email OFA Policy Director Lily Hawkins at lily@organicfarmersassociation.org.

 


July 2023 Policy Update

July 2023

By Lily Hawkins, Policy Director

House and Senate Approve Agriculture Appropriations Bills

The House and Senate have each approved agriculture spending bills for next year. While funding levels for key organic programs remain essentially level from 2023 in both bills, the House bill would cut more than $8 billion from the USDA’s operating budget.

In addition to deep cuts to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) the Republican-backed House bill includes damaging cuts to research and technical assistance programs, market opportunities, and equity initiatives. The bill also contains riders that would stop the Biden administration's efforts to increase competition in agriculture and restrict Secretary Vilsack’s use of Commodity Credit Corporation funding.

Now the House and Senate must work together through the conference process to write and pass consensus legislation. The deadline for passing a final spending bill is September 30, 2023.

OFA Supports Organic-Friendly Farm Bill Marker Bills

OFA is supporting several bills that, if included in the final text of the Farm Bill, will create and improve programs that are crucial to organic farmers.

Opportunities in Organic Act (S. 1582 and H. 3650)

The Opportunities in Organic Act will build on USDA’s Organic Certification Cost Share Program and Organic Transition Initiative to remove barriers to organic production by allowing cost-share payments that cover 100% of certification costs. It will also provide flexible funding for organizations to support organic transition and for organic operations to offset costs and reduce barriers associated with the transition process, and by improving technical assistance available through public agencies, universities, and NGOs.

Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research Act (HR 2720)

Investing in organic research has significant benefits for all farmers, as well as for rural communities and ecosystems. The Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research Act, or SOAR act, will provide additional funding for several important organic research programs.

In addition to the marker bills that have already been introduced, OFA is participating in conversations that we hope will lead to the introduction of strong marker bills to support organic producers in the following ways:

  • Improve data collection, build a functioning safely net, and invest in regional infrastructure for organic dairy
  • Improve crop insurance access and functionality for organic producers
  • Ensure continuous improvement of the organic standards.

Urge your Members of Congress to support organic farmers in the Farm Bill

Organic Dairy Marketing Assistance Program Application Period Closes this Month

In May, USDA announced the launch of the Organic Dairy Marketing Assistance Program (ODMAP), which will provide certified organic dairy producers with funding to help cover projected marketing costs in 2023.

Organic dairy producers can apply for the program by contacting their local USDA Service Center. They will need to produce documentation showing their 2022 production and proof of organic certification in addition to completing an application form.  Click here for a helpful template for pulling together the required information created by our friends at Northeastern Organic Dairy Producers Alliance and Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance.

Applications are due July 26th. Since less than 50% of the funds earmarked for the program are expected to be released in the first round, OFA will be advocating for additional rounds of disbursement.

NOP publishes new Human Capital Initiative Resources

The National Organic Program (NOP) has published new resources in its Growing the Organic Workforce course in the USDA Organic Integrity Learning Center. These free resources are intended to promote organic market development, protect organic integrity, and enhance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.

Newly added topics include Organic Education Curriculum Resources, Introduction to Organic Sector Careers, and an Organic Inspector Career Snapshot

You can access these resources by setting up an account at the Learning Center Access sign-up page, or logging in to your existing account here.

OFA signs on to the position statement Organic Agriculture is Soil-Based

Organic farmers have repeatedly prioritized prohibiting hydroponic production from organic certification because organic is based in the soil. And a group of organic certifiers has refused to certify hydroponic operations because they do not believe it is allowed under the National Organic Standards. The USDA National Organic Program disagrees and has previously issued noncompliances to these agencies.

Soil is inherent in organic agricultural production and critical for a healthy planet and healthy food system. OFA farmer members have voted to oppose organic certification of hydroponic production and urged the NOP to revoke the organic certification of such operations (See the full policy position here) because organic agriculture depends on soil health.

Organizations and farmers are signing on in support of the organic certification agencies who have received non-compliances, and to say that organic farming must be based in the soil.

Support organic farmers and organic integrity by signing on to the Soil Statement.

 


June 2023 Policy Update

June 2023

By Lily Hawkins, Policy Director

Congress Reaches Agreement on the Debt Limit

Congress has finally passed legislation raising the debt ceiling, allowing the federal government to continue borrowing money to fund essential programs. The compromise agreement will cap spending increases over the next few years at near current levels, impacting both the Farm Bill and annual spending bills.

The Republicans won an increased age limit for the SNAP work requirement, while Biden secured the removal of barriers to the program for veterans, people experiencing homelessness, and former foster youth. Projections say that overall costs of the program will slightly increase, and Republicans plan to go after further cuts in the Farm Bill. Democrats are prepared to reject any such attempts, so be prepared for a lengthy fight.

OFA Supports Organic-Friendly Farm Bill Marker Bills

OFA is supporting several bills that have been introduced this spring that, if included in the final text of the Farm Bill, will create and improve programs that are crucial to organic farmers.

Opportunities in Organic Act (S. 1582 and H. 3650

The Opportunities in Organic Act will build on USDA’s Organic Certification Cost Share Program and Organic Transition Initiative to remove barriers to organic production in several important ways:

  • Allow cost-share payments that cover 100% of certification costs, up to $1500 per scope 
  • Provide flexible funding for organizations to support organic transition, particularly for smaller scale producers, producers of color, and underserved regions
  • Flexible funding for organic operations to offset costs and reduce barriers associated with the transition process
  • Improve technical assistance available through public agencies, universities, and NGOs 

Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research Act 

Investing in organic research has significant benefits for all farmers, as well as for rural communities and ecosystems. The Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research Act, or SOAR act, will provide additional funding for several important organic research programs. We’re hoping to see a Senate-side version of this bill in the near future.

  • Increase funding for the Organic Research and Extension Initiative
  • Provides Congressional authorization and direction for the Researching the Transition to Organic Program
  • Increase funding for the Organic Production and Market Data Initiative (ODI)
  • Directs ERS to conduct a full, systematic evaluation of the economic impact organic agriculture has on rural and urban communities

In addition to the marker bills that have already been introduced, OFA is participating in conversations that we hope will lead to the introduction of strong marker bills to support organic producers:

  • Improve data collection, build a functioning safely net, and invest in regional infrastructure for organic dairy
  • Improve crop insurance access and functionality for organic producers
  • Ensure continuous improvement of the organic standards.

Urge your Members of Congress to support organic farmers in the Farm Bill

Organic Dairy Marketing Assistance Program Launches 

In May, USDA announced the launch of the Organic Dairy Marketing Assistance Program (ODMAP), which will provide certified organic dairy producers with funding to help cover projected marketing costs in 2023.  

Organic dairy producers can apply for the program by contacting their local USDA Service Center. They will need to produce documentation showing their 2022 production, proof of organic certification, and complete an application form.  

Click here for a helpful template for pulling together the required information created by our friends at Northeastern Organic Dairy Producers Alliance and Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance.

NOP Announces Fall 2023 NOSB Meeting Details

NOP has announced the details of the Fall 2023 NOSB Meeting, to be held in Providence, Rhode Island. 

The Online Comment Webinars will take place on October 17 & 19, 2023, and the In-Person Public Meeting will be held from October 24 - 26, 2023.  Meeting materials should be posted for review in late August. For more details click here.

 


May 2023 Policy Update

May 2023

By Lily Hawkins, Policy Director

National Organic Standards Board

The NOSB held their spring meeting over 2 weeks in April, starting with 2 days of virtual testimony and followed by an in person meeting in Atlanta, Georgia the following week. Some of the big topics the board discussed included: 

  • A proposal outlining why certified organic producers should automatically be considered climate-smart.
  • Discussion of the realities of crop insurance for organic farmers. 
  • Discussion of the possible use of geolocation technology to aid in deterring fraud.
  • A list of "sunset" materials that are up for their 5-year review to be allowed in organic production

The National Organic Coalition is holding a debrief on Key Outcomes from the Spring 2023 NOSB Meeting & NOC Pre-NOSB Meeting in Atlanta, GA on Wednesday, May 17 from 3:00 to 4:30 pm eastern. Register by Monday, May 15 to participate.

You can read OFA’s comments to the NOSB here

Origin of Livestock; New Information Collection

One year ago, USDA published the long awaited Origin of Livestock (OOL) final rule, creating clear standards for transitioning livestock to organic production and closing loopholes to create a level playing field for organic dairies. The rule allows organic dairy producers to transition non-organic animals to organic only one time. Any new animals are required to be managed organically from the last third of gestation, dairies may not source animals that have been transitioned elsewhere.

There is an allowance in the rule for variances to be requested by small operations under a limited circumstances: 

  • When the certified operation selling the transitioned animals is part of a bankruptcy proceeding or a forced sale 
  • When the certified operation has become insolvent, must liquidate its animals, and as a result has initiated a formal process to cease its operations 
  • If the certified operation wishes to conduct an intergenerational transfer of transitioned animals to an immediate family member 

This April, NOP put out a request for public comment on information collection required when requesting a variance under the above circumstances. They are seeking public comment on the following topics: 

  • Whether the proposed collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions of the agency, including whether the information will have practical utility
  • The accuracy of the agency's estimate of the burden of the proposed collection of information, including the validity of the methodology and assumptions used
  • Ways to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected
  • Ways to minimize the burden of the collection of information on those who are to respond, including the use of appropriate automated, electronic, mechanical, or other technological collection techniques or other forms of information technology.

For more details and to submit comments click this link. The 60-day comment period is scheduled to close on June 26, 2023.

NRCS Announces $75 Million to Assist Producers Transitioning to Organic

Last month NRCS announced that they would invest $75 million in conservation assistance for producers transitioning to organic as part of the Organic Transition Initiative (OTI). The majority of the funding will be used to provide direct assistance to farmers adopting the new EQUIP organic management standard

The remaining $5 million will be dedicated to partnering with technical experts to develop regional networks and support NRCS staff in providing organic training and expertise. USDA is accepting proposals for these partnerships until June 11, 2023. You can read more details on the funding opportunities here.