June Policy Update

June, 2021

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

Origin of Livestock

In mid-May, the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) opened a public comment period (again) on the proposed rule to update the Origin of Livestock regulation for organic. This rule needs to be updated to close a loophole in the organic standards that is being exploited by large dairy operations and the organic community has been working to fix this problem for over a decade. The NOP’s failure to strengthen the standards for organic livestock 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 has never been finalized. Now, after years of advocacy by the organic community, the NOP has released a revised proposed rule for public comment.

The comment period is open until mid-July. OFA will be submitting detailed comments to urge the NOP to make sure that conventional animals that are transitioned to organic using the one-time allowance are not transferred or sold as organic animals. And we will be urging the fastest possible effective date for this new rule. You can get more details to help you write your own comment here or sign on to OFA’s petition about the proposed rule here.

Climate Change and Agriculture

The debate on climate policy in Congress continued to be tied to the negotiations over the infrastructure package. Several bills related to agriculture and climate have been introduced in hopes that some pieces of those bills will be included in an infrastructure package passed by Congress later this summer.

The USDA is still working on its climate strategy and evaluating the input received earlier this spring in a public comment period. In May, USDA released a preliminary progress report that highlighted a long list of options they might include in their climate strategy without really narrowing the list down. There is a lot of debate, especially among Republicans in Congress, about what an appropriate role for is USDA in programs to pay farms for sequestering carbon – the options range from having USDA provide technical assistance and certification services for private carbon payment programs, all the way to USDA creating a “carbon bank” that puts USDA in the role of paying farmers for carbon sequestration and then selling those credits to carbon emitters. But while that debate rages on, one area where they does seem to be more agreement is expanding USDA conservation programs to promote climate-friendly practices. One bill that would encourage that, and that highlights organic as a climate solution, is the Agriculture Resilience Act. You can take action here to support that bill.

New USDA Officials

The process of filling USDA jobs for the new administration continues to move along. The Senate Agriculture Committee recently had a confirmation hearing for the nominee for USDA’s General Counsel, Janie Simms Hipp, who is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate soon. This is an important position for organic because the General Counsel is the top lawyer inside USDA who reviews new regulations, including organic standards, before they can be finalized.

And the USDA announced this spring that the nominee for Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs is Jenny Lester Moffitt – who comes from an organic farm in California!  The Under Secretary is responsible for several major agencies inside USDA, including the branch housing the National Organic Program. You can read more about Jenny Lester Moffit here.  We don’t know yet when she will be confirmed by the Senate, so stay tuned.

Take Action - Advocate for Organic This Summer!

Since the U.S. Capitol is still closed to the public, we don’t know when we can have organic farmers meet with their members of Congress in Washington, DC. But that doesn’t mean we have to wait to tell Congress what they need to do to help organic farmers.

Members of Congress will be home in their districts quite a bit this summer (most likely for the entire month of August), and they will be out and about trying to make up for the public appearances that were canceled last year. If you think you can attend a town hall or other public forum and ask a question about organic, let us know and we can help you get ready. Or if you want to try to meet with any of your members of Congress (or their local staff) in their local offices, we can help you set up an appointment and share OFA resources to bring to the meeting.


Origin of Livestock Rule

The Origin Of Livestock Rule started in 2015.  Will we finalize it this year? What must the rule do for organic dairy farmers?

Written by: Ed Maltby, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance and Jill Smith, Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance

Since 2013, the organic community has been working to fix a loophole in the organic standards regarding the Origin of Livestock (OOL) for organic cow dairies. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) needs to finalize the Origin of Livestock rule, ensuring that all organic dairy farms are being held to the same standards.

If you are not in the dairy industry, you might wonder what the Origin of Livestock rule is about and why it is so important to organic dairy producers and the entire organic community.

Organic dairy calves drink organic milk from a group nipple feeder on pasture.

WHAT IS THE ORIGIN OF LIVESTOCK RULE?

This is the National Organic Program’s guideline for transitioning conventional dairy livestock to organic dairy production. Simply put, it sets the standards for the who, what, when, and how a dairy goes into organic production. The Origin of Livestock specifies that for a calf to be considered organic when it is born, the mother cow must be raised organically for the last third of the gestation period and that once an animal leaves an organic herd, it may not return to organic.          

WHAT IS THE LOOPHOLE?

The Origin of Livestock rule allows an exception for conventional dairies transitioning to organic. For a dairy farm to transition its operation to organic, it must transition its land over a 3-year period. In the third year, it may transition its dairy herd, meaning the full herd must be managed organically for a year, then the animals in that herd will be considered organic animals for milk production (but not for meat production, since the animal was not born and raised organically its entire life).

Unfortunately, for the last decade, some dairies have manipulated this loophole to continually transition cows onto an organic farm. An example of this loophole being used by some large dairies is the practice of removing their organic calves from their farm to be raised elsewhere with conventional practices, including the use of milk replacer (calf formula). Feeding calves with conventional milk replacer and feed is less expensive than feeding them with organic whole milk. A year before these animals can be milked, they will be transitioned back to become organic and join the milking herd. This example of continual transition into the organic herd is not allowed by most certifiers, nor does it embody the intention of organic standards. However, some certifiers continue to allow this practice.

This loophole puts farmers complying with the Origin of Livestock rule as intended at a large economic disadvantage. Truly raising organic livestock from a newborn calf to a full-producing dairy cow is much more expensive when using organic practices throughout their lives. Farms taking advantage of the existing loophole to continually transition cows into the organic system can grow and manage their organic herds at a much lower cost and are benefiting from an unfair economic advantage within the industry.

WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?

We need the USDA to issue a Final Rule on the Origin of Livestock that is enforceable, consistently interpreted by organic certifiers, stops continuous dairy animal transition, and provides specificity on what the transitioned animals and their progeny can be used for.

ORIGINAL INTENTION OF THE RULE IS IMPORTANT

The final rule must clearly delineate the intention of the Origin of Livestock rule that allows for a finite exemption for a one-time herd transition to organic.

The intention of the rule was laid out in both the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) and the preamble of the National Organic Program (NOP) Final Rule (December 2000).

OFPA established a minimum standard that dairy cows must be managed under organic production for one year. The preamble of the NOP Final Rule contains several statements that build on that minimum and can be combined under three principles:

  1. The opportunity for a producer to convert a conventional herd of dairy animals to organic production is a one-time event per producer. This is clearly mentioned in two separate statements.
  2. Once the operation has been certified, all animals brought onto the farm must be organic from the last third of gestation. This is clearly stated in the first and fourth statements of the preamble.
  3. There is no allowance to move transitioned animals from the operation on which they were transitioned, to another certified organic operation.

The final rule must clearly delineate these principles so that all certifiers, operations, and the National Organic Program understand them the same way, without the possibility of varied interpretations, so the rule can be upheld in the court of law.

WHY ARE THE DETAILS SO IMPORTANT?

Organic farmers rely on an organic label with high integrity that consumers trust. This is achieved with high organic standards and regulations that are enforceable and upheld by law. Certified organic farmers voluntarily hold themselves to the highest standards. In fact, producers and industry stakeholders regularly share recommendations with the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to ensure that organic integrity is upheld with high standards that continually evolve and improve.

Organic dairy farmers call on the USDA to finalize the Origin of Livestock rule this year and ensure that the rule is strong, enforceable, and able to meet these principles:

Organic Integrity: Organic milk is a building block for consumer trust in the organic seal. With this seal, consumers trust that organic milk is provided from cows free of antibiotics and do not consume feed produced with the use of chemicals or pesticides. They trust that the offspring of these cows are raised organically, and future growth of the herd is not the result of continuously bringing conventionally raised animals into the fold.

Consistency and Fairness: One consistently interpreted standard for all dairies transitioning from conventional dairy to organic dairy production, no matter the size or scope of the operation.

Economic Equality: Applying two sets of rules or allowing for inconsistent interpretation of the rule creates an economic disadvantage for producers who follow original intentions of the Origin of Livestock rule when raising young stock for their herd. Those raising youngstock conventionally by taking advantage of the continuous transition regulatory loophole benefit financially by utilizing conventional feed and treating medical issues with antibiotics and other synthetic treatments not allowed in organic production.

Consistent application of OOL leads to a gradual growth of organic milk supply in the marketplace that doesn’t undermine existing producers. The continuous transition allows herds to grow at a rapid pace and creates market surpluses forcing down the price organic producers are paid for their milk. As a result, producers are paid at a level that makes them financially unstable and without a sustainable future in the dairy industry. This impacts the dairy family not only on a business level, but leads to potentially losing their sole income, farm ground, and the home they live in.

Enforceability: A clear regulation will be an enforceable regulation, ensuring farms are held to the same legal standard by all certifiers. A final rule must be an easily enforceable rule, clearly written with easily understood standards.

Growing the Organic Footprint: If organic dairy producers can be confident that everyone is following the same rules, producers can make better informed- decisions about the future value of their organic milk and their organic dairy farms. Addressing the problem of continuous transition of livestock will also help create value for organic farms to sell organically raised cattle, creating a new market for farmers.

Organic dairy producers plan for the grazing season and work to balance the right number of cattle to their farms’ pasture and water resources. This balance is one example of organic dairies being great stewards of the land. When farmers must make the hard decision to sell organic cattle, they currently do not receive a premium over conventionally-raised cattle. This is exacerbated by the continuous transition loophole, which some farms use to purchase conventional cattle and continuously transition them into their organic farms. The loophole is stifling industry market growth and diversification.

THE RULE IS LONG OVERDUE

The national organic community and consumers have been united in calling for

Consumers of organic milk expect farms to be managed like the farm featured above, and the great majority are. But an increasing amount of organic milk is coming from a few farms that do not uphold high organic integrity. Fixing the OOL loophole would level the playing field. (Photo from Chico State Organic Dairy by Darby Heffner)

this loophole to be closed for over a decade. Without consistent enforcement, organic dairy family farmers have been at an economic disadvantage for many years. Trust in the NOSB process and the USDA’s National Organic Program has faded.

Many dairy farmers leading the fight for a final OOL rule can be credited as pioneers in the organic industry—they are the very people who helped build consumer trust behind the organic seal. Unfortunately, we have lost many of our model pioneering organic dairies because of the low milk prices paid and the volatility of the organic dairy market because of this inconsistency in the rule. A stronger Origin of Livestock rule has been recommended by every National Organic Standards Board since 1994. The USDA’s Inspector General recommended finalizing the OOL rule seven years ago. Congress instructed the USDA to finalize a regulation as a priority by June 2020. However, the proposal has languished in the USDA internal review process.

Dairy producers have fought long and hard to create fairness in the organic dairy sector with the Origin of Livestock. Equality and fairness are essential to our hardworking producers throughout the organic community. As we look to support fairness for existing producers, we are also supporting fairness for future organic farmers, providing encouragement for organic production methods, and ensuring consumer trust in the organic label.

 

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National Organic Standards Board Update: SPRING 2021 MEETING

By Harriet Behar

Organic Farmers Association

Numerous important discussions of interest to organic crop producers occurred during the virtual 2021 spring National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting the last two weeks of April, including over 11 hours of public comment and 13 hours of Board discussion.

Ammonia extract, considered a natural substance since this version is derived from manure, was petitioned to be placed on the prohibited non-synthetic list, with many comments both pro and con.  Those wanting approval for this material point to the need for a highly soluble source of nitrogen to improve organic crop yields, as well as a way to deal with extreme climate issues such as very wet, cold, or dry conditions when the soil biological activity is stifled and not providing sufficient nutrients to the crop.  Those against this natural form of ammonia extract pointed to information that stated that soil biological activity can be damaged by this material.  Since the natural and synthetic forms cannot be distinguished in the soil, it could be difficult to determine fraudulent use of the synthetic version, which is not allowed under organic standards.

Many commenters felt the allowance of this highly soluble fertilizer will begin to change current organic methods which “feed the soil” to instead mimicking conventional agriculture’s method of “feeding the plant”.  Carbon sequestration and improvement of soil organic matter were also mentioned as foundational principles of organic, which is not encouraged in an agricultural system that relies upon soluble fertilizers.  The NOSB will continue this discussion and perhaps include a wider-ranging proposal in the fall, that might look at many types of highly soluble fertility inputs.  Possible annotations discussed for these nutrients included restricting them to either specific conditions or a maximum percentage of that specific nutrient provided by that fertility input within a crop season.

Kasugamycin, an antibiotic to prevent fire blight in pear and apple trees, was petitioned to be allowed.  The two antibiotics that had been allowed in the past, have been removed from the approved list for more than five years.  Most of our organic trading partners around the world do not allow the use of antibiotics for this crop use.  West coast fruit growers spoke mostly in favor of allowing this material since the current methods of fire blight control are labor-intensive and rely upon the use of copper and sulfur, both somewhat toxic materials. They stated other inputs such as a yeast-based product are somewhat experimental and not as reliable or easy to use as antibiotics to control the possibility of losing whole blocks of trees in an orchard when the climatic conditions during blossoming allow for the rapid spread of fire blight. Commentors and NOSB members were concerned about antibiotic resistance by widespread use, as well as consumer expectations that antibiotics are not allowed in organic and should remain that way.  It is expected that this material will be voted upon at the fall NOSB meeting.

A proposal for paper-based crop planting aids, including paper pots, was approved unanimously by the NOSB.  The NOSB has been reviewing and modifying this proposal for a couple of years since the paper’s ingredients such as synthetic adhesives and non-biodegradable fibers made the wording of the proposal more complicated.  In the proposed definition, at least 60% of the fiber must be cellulose-based and 60% of all of the ingredients must be non-synthetic. At least 80% of the content must be bio-based and verified by a third-party assessment.  Many small-scale growers using the chain paper pots will be happy to know that these pots meet this definition and will continue to be allowed in organic agriculture.

Biodegradable biobased mulch film is another material that has not yet been finalized, with an improved proposal coming back for review by the NOSB in the fall.  The current listing for this material requires 100% biobased ingredients, which is not available in the marketplace, other than a difficult-to-use paper mulch.  The current biodegradable mulch films (not allowed in organic) have 70% or higher content derived from petroleum, with some of these stretchable mulch films produced through genetically engineered bacteria.  Those in favor of this material point to the environmental problem caused by tons of plastic mulches that end up in landfills, and the lack of recycling opportunities that would be solved by the use of biodegradable plastic films. Having an easy-to-install, non-removable mulch with the many heat-producing, moisture conserving, and weed prevention positive characteristics of these biodegradable mulch films would be very popular with all types of growers.  Those having concerns point to the uneven biodegradability of the mulches and that they need to be incorporated into the soil to break down.  Pieces of mulch can blow into field edges or even waterways, causing problems for wildlife and the environment.  The remnants of microplastics in the soil and their effect on soil biological life by continued use were also discussed. Many commenters felt there is not quite enough research completed on this material to change the annotation and allow for widespread use in organic agriculture.

Organic producers will also be affected by the discussion on how to improve the numbers of knowledgeable and experienced organic inspectors and certification agency personnel. As the organic regulations become more complicated and more entities are covered under USDA organic certification, the need for better trained and more numerous people working in organic certification has become clear.  Discussion of partnering with colleges or universities to train certification personnel, as well as having experienced inspectors formally mentor novices for at least a year, were discussed.  The National Organic Program has asked the NOSB to work on this topic and within a week of the meeting, put out a request for proposals from non-profits to request funding for a variety of capacity building projects.

Many other topics were discussed in livestock, handling, and crops.  The fall 2021 NOSB meeting in Sacramento, CA is planned to be in-person, where many of the materials reviewed every five years on the National List will be voted upon as well as any updated proposals.

 


May Policy Update

May, 2021

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

Origin of Livestock

In early May, the White House completed its review of a notice from the USDA about the long-delayed origin of livestock rulemaking. This rule needs to be updated to close a loophole in the organic standards that is being exploited by large dairy operations. The review process at the White House is far from transparent – we don’t know what is in the document sent by USDA, just that it was sent and that the White House has sent it back to USDA. We expect USDA to publish the notice soon.

Economic Stimulus and Pandemic Response

USDA is making supplemental payments to producers of cattle and some row crops who received payments through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) 1 and 2 last year. Producers do not have to do anything else to receive these supplemental payments if they were in the system last year. Additionally, USDA announced that it was reopening the sign-up period for CFAP 2 for at least 60 days. If you did not apply to CFAP 2 last year and are interested, you can get more information on USDA’s website.

Climate Policy

In late April, OFA submitted a detailed comment, and a petition signed by over 1000 people, to the USDA about the department’s strategy on the climate crisis. We emphasized the need for high integrity in the organic standards, especially upgrading rules and enforcement to make sure organic livestock are raised in high welfare pasture-based systems and making sure soil is the foundation of organic production. [Do we want to post the climate comment and link to it? It should be in the policy folder.] In Congress, the debate about climate and agriculture continues because of the push by President Biden to pass an infrastructure package – several bills related to agriculture and climate have been introduced in hopes that some pieces of those bills will be included in an infrastructure package passed by Congress later this summer.

New Efforts to Increase Organic Integrity

With several critical rulemakings still stuck inside the USDA, including updates to the Origin of Livestock rule, reinstating the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule, and finishing the Strengthening Organic Enforcement rule, the level of frustration in the organic community continues to rise. At the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting in late April, the new Deputy Undersecretary of Marketing and Regulatory Programs as well as the administrator of the National Organic Program referenced these critical improvements to the organic standards, but did not offer any concrete updates on when the agency would finalize the rules. At the close of the NOSB meeting, board’s chair Steve Ela, an organic farmer from Colorado, made a point of saying that the board was excited to see a new bill in Congress (discussed below) to address the backlog of NOSB recommendations that the USDA has not moved into regulations. As the delays drag on, there were several new efforts in the organic community to increase the pressure on USDA to speed up the process.

On Earth Day, Francis Thicke, a former member of the NOSB wrote an open letter, signed by 40 other former NOSB board members, to the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The letter expressed their “concern that the integrity of the National Organic Standards has eroded significantly over the years” and that the “erosion of the Organic Standards is in violation of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and is undermining consumer confidence in the integrity of organic food and the confidence of real organic farmers in the integrity of the USDA National Organic Program.”

On April 30th, the Continuous Improvement and Accountability in Organic Standards Act was introduced by Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Rodney Davis (R-IL), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Dan Newhouse (R-WA) and Ron Kind (D-WI). The legislation would require the USDA to advance and implement recommendations from the organic industry in a timely manner and to ensure the continuous improvement of organic standards. OFA has endorsed this bill.

The bill would create three pathways to create continuous improvement:

  • The bill requires USDA to issue an Organic Improvement Action Plan to address the backlog of recommendations by the NOSB that have not been implemented. The plan must include detailed timelines, prioritization, and implementation plans for dealing with each recommendation.
  • When the NOSB passes a recommendation that is supported by the majority of the board, the bill requires USDA to issue a final rule implementing the recommendation within two years.
  • The bill requires USDA to report annually to Congress on whether accredited third-party certifiers have implemented new rules and guidance, and identify any inconsistencies found.

Take Action on Climate Change

As Congress starts to finally get serious about legislation to tackle climate change, one bill called the Agriculture Resilience Act would expand existing USDA research and conservation programs to create farmer-driven solutions, and includes specific support for organic production such as expanded certification cost-share program. The bill focuses on six policy areas to give farmers the tools they need for agriculture to become net-zero for greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

Tell your Representative and Senators to support the Agriculture Resilience Act (S. 1337 in the Senate, HR 2803 in the House.) You can go here to read more about the bill and take action on the OFA website.


NOSB Testimony April 20 & 22, 2021

April 20, 2021

Patty Lovera, Policy Director

RE: General Comments to the NOSB via Webinar Testimony

My name is Patty Lovera, and I am the policy director for the Organic Farmers Association. OFA is led by domestic certified organic farmers and only certified organic farmers determine our policies.

Today I will talk about several topics covered in our written comments and on Thursday, OFA’s director Kate Mendenhall will also comment on other issues.

Paper Based Crop Planting Aids

The issue of paper pots is on the agenda for the NOSB because this is a tool that is critical to the many small farms that depend on this product.

Therefore, we appreciate the Board’s efforts to address this need and clarify the status of paper on the national list. OFA supports this proposal and definition change.

Ammonia Extract

OFA included a general question on ammonia extract (not specifying the source) on our 2021 policy priorities survey of certified organic farmers. The majority of those who answered said they would not use ammonia extract if it were available, and we got some written comments with concerns about feeding the soil vs. feeding the plant that reflect the discussion on compatibility with organic principles that the board addresses in its discussion document.

But it was not unanimous. So, we urge the board to consider a more formal process for gathering farmer input on their current practices.

And we want to raise that there were some comments in the vein of “never say never…”. We think this makes the context for this debate critically important – we are hearing from many producers about worrying price trends, especially in row crops, as we continue to look for more enforcement to stop fraud. This combined with rising land prices has created economic pressure for increased yields. And we think that is driving the type of comment like “never say never” when thinking about something like ammonia extract. That is not an excuse to approve a material if it does not meet the principles of organic production. But it is something we need to think about as an organic community – we need to find a place to have conversations about these bigger economic trends impacting organic producers, or we will continue to have these very difficult decisions about specific inputs while never addressing why many producers are driven to seek out higher yields.

Discussion Document - Supporting the Work of the NOSB

It is vital that the NOSB be fully representative of the organic community, including certified organic farmers. But it is a very demanding job to ask of volunteers, who are also handling demanding jobs like farming.

We think it is appropriate to consider measures like research assistance - but we believe there should be some guidelines established. We listed several in our written comments, but wanted to highlight two today:

  • Need for a conflict-of-interest process – it is important to establish a process to identify potential conflicts due to other employment or research funding that could pose a conflict.
  • Individual board members should create the workplan for the topics their research assistant works on and be able to specify what type of research is needed.

Beyond the questions posed in the discussion document for this meeting, we urge the NOP to consider mechanisms to help farmers on the board cover costs they incur for participating in the meetings, such as the cost of hired help for their farm while they are performing board duties.

Thank you.

 


April 22, 2021

Kate Mendenhall, Executive Director

RE: General Comments to the NOSB via Webinar Testimony

Thank you, NOSB members for the opportunity to speak before you today.  Welcome new members.  My name is Kate Mendenhall, I am the Executive Director of the Organic Farmers Association.  OFA was created to be a strong national voice and advocate for domestic certified organic farmers.

In addition to leading OFA, I also own and operate a small diversified organic farm in my Iowa hometown.  I grew up in small-town Iowa during the 1980s farm crisis, and by the time I graduated high school, only a couple peers were still living on their family farms and small rural towns across the state were boarded up.  Now in some cases there is merely a billboard showing  a photo of the town that used to be, where now immense corn and soy fields take its place.

I left thinking there must be a better way for family farmers to make a living, to better care for the earth, and to keep our rural communities thriving and  I found it in organic agriculture.  Organic farming grew as an alternative to the industrial conventional model.  It is based on principles of nature that not only care for the earth and climate but also our surrounding communities.  I point this out because as organic has grown at record-breaking speed over the last two decades especially, we must not lose the spark that started it all.

Corporatization, consolidation, battles over price, sexy technologies with high lobbying dollars pose severe risk to the principles of organic farming –both ecological and cultural.  We must keep organic principles and values front and center at every decision for the evolution of the label.

To do this we need real leadership and enforcement from the NOP.  The 2019 NOP memo on container growing and transition left more questions than it answered.  The NOP asked certifiers to prove there was inconsistency in interpretation of greenhouse transition, which NOC, OFA, and ACA presented in the fall.  The NOP must provide clarity, pass long-outdated rulemaking like OOL, OLPP, and SOE, and stop allowing certifiers from certifying production systems lacking national standards.  We must work hard to clarify and enforce standards that maintain the principle of organic farming at heart.  As we drag our feet, family farms suffer, and big industrial farms push their way through until they’re too big to fail.  We cannot allow organic farming to follow the footsteps of industrial agriculture.

Organic farmers continue to highly prioritize soil and do not agree with organic hydroponic .  Already family farms are being outcompeted in the market from hydroponic farms that are literally watering down organic standards.  I was taught that when you make a mistake, you need to go back and fix it.  This is something the organic community must continue to fight for.  Already hydroponic organic  has become the wild west of organic certification.  Greenhouses are certifier shopping, the NOP is pressuring certifiers to certify a production system they do not have standards for, and the NOP refuses to provide clarity when certifiers need a unifying decision upholding OFPA.

The nitty gritty issues of the NOSB and NOP cannot be looked at through a microscope without seeing the holistic picture of this organic program farmers built and are desperately fighting to hold on to.


April Policy Update

April, 2021

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

At the end of March, OFA took our annual trip to DC virtual. Instead of meeting in-person for our policy meeting, annual meeting and lobby day, we shifted to online. In early March, we held an online annual meeting with special guest speaker Senator Jon Tester, who is a certified organic farmer from Montana. He talked about why organic farmers need to get involved in policy discussions, how he got into organic farming and why he thinks hydroponic operations should not be certified organic. DO WE WANT TO SHARE LINK OF RECORDING?

The policy council and governing council have also been doing extended online meetings this year to cover the topics we would have discussed at an in-person meeting in DC. And the last week in March, OFA members used Zoom, Skype, and good old-fashioned conference calls to lobby their members of Congress on organic priorities. While we missed getting ready and debriefing together in DC, shifting to virtual meetings meant no travel time and allowed some people to participate in lobbying for the first time. We had organic farmers from 13 states do over 30 meetings with members of Congress to talk about organic certification cost share, getting USDA to finish long overdue organic regulations and how organic fits into climate policy.

Origin of Livestock

Last week, the USDA sent a notice to the White House about the pending regulation on origin of livestock. This long overdue rulemaking is needed to close a loophole in the organic standards that is being exploited by large dairy operations. The review process at the White House is far from transparent – we don’t know what is in the document sent by USDA, just that it was sent. We will continue tracking this rulemaking and pressuring the USDA to finish a strong, enforceable rule as quickly as possible.

Economic Stimulus and Pandemic Response

We are still waiting for details about how USDA will distribute funding for the latest round of pandemic response. In late December, Congress passed a new law to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic that authorized $13 billion for responding to the impacts of the pandemic on agriculture, as well as funding for SNAP and other nutrition programs. The law instructs the USDA to do several different things with the agricultural funding, including purchasing commodities and providing direct payments to farmers and processors that have been impacted by disruptions caused by the pandemic.

In late March, USDA announced a few details about supplemental payments to producers of cattle and some row crops who received payments through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) 1 and 2 last year. Producers do not have to do anything else to receive these supplemental payments if they were in the system last year. Additionally, USDA announced that it was reopening the sign-up period for CFAP 2 for at least 60 days. If you did not apply to CFAP 2 last year and are interested, you can get more information on USDA’s website.

USDA still has other funding to spend on pandemic response related to purchasing commodities to distribute through food banks, assistance to underserved producers, and possibly other assistance to specialty crop or organic producers. We will let you know when details for any new programs are released.

Paycheck Protection Program: Congress has again extended the Paycheck Protection Program, and you can now apply until May 31 for a first or second loan. To be eligible for a second loan, a business must have less than 300 employees and also be able to show that it suffered a 25 percent loss in revenue for at least one quarter of 2020 (as compared to 2019.) If you are interested, you should contact your bank as soon as possible to make sure there is still funding available.

Climate Policy

The debate about climate change and the role played by agriculture continues to pick up steam. A few weeks ago, the Senate Agriculture Committee had a hearing on the topic (following a House Agriculture Committee hearing a few weeks earlier.) And this week or next, we expect to see bills from Rep. Pingree (D-ME) and Senator Booker (D-NJ) that highlight the role of agriculture as a climate solution. The pace is picking up because of the push by President Biden to pass an infrastructure package – there will likely be even more climate bills introduced very soon in hopes that some pieces of those bills will be included in an infrastructure package passed by Congress later this summer. We will be evaluating the various bills and sharing ways you can support those that advance organic.

House Agriculture Hearing on Black Farmers

In late March, the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing on that state of black farmers in the United States, which included an organic peanut farmer from Georgia as well as other advocates and the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The hearing covered the long history of discrimination that kept many black farmers from accessing USDA programs or credit and drove generations of land loss. The American Rescue Plan passed by Congress earlier this year in response to the pandemic also included funding for loan forgiveness for farmers of color, and at the hearing Secretary Vilsack answered numerous questions about how that program will be structured. You can watch a recording of the hearing on the committee’s website.

Spring Meeting of the National Organic Standards Board

Once again, the National Organic Standards Board meeting is online this spring. You can watch the public comment periods and the full board meeting online. We are hopeful that the board will adopt a recommendation allowing paper pots (after several meetings of discussion). The agenda also includes a discussion on “human capital” to make sure the organic sector has a robust pool of people to serve as organic inspectors, ways to support board members, a discussion of ammonia extract, and many materials that are up for review.

You can get information and links to watch the meetings here.

Public Comment Sessions: Tuesday, April 20 from Noon - 5 p.m. ET and Thursday April 22 from Noon - 5 p.m. ET

NOSB Meeting: Wednesday, April 28 from Noon - 5 p.m., Thursday, April 29 from Noon - 5 p.m. ET, Friday, April 30 from Noon - 5 p.m. ET

What You Can Do

This is the time of year when Congress starts to put together the “appropriations” bills that set the spending levels for each federal agency, including USDA. We still need Congress to intervene to get USDA to restore the reimbursement levels for organic certification cost share through the next appropriations bill. You can help by asking your members of Congress to make sure that USDA restores the reimbursement level for organic certification cost-share.  You can take action here.


March Policy Update

March, 2021

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

Congress has started to get down to business, with most committee rosters lined up, the impeachment trial completed and many new Cabinet officials confirmed. One of those confirmation votes was for Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, who was easily approved by the Senate. This is his second time running USDA, he served as secretary for eight years under President Obama. In his initial weeks on the job, Secretary Vilsack has been making the rounds of media interviews and conferences to talk about his priority issues – climate change, racial equity and responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. Now that the top job is filled, there will be more announcements about other political appointees at the agency. So far, a deputy undersecretary of marketing and regulatory programs (which is the division containing the National Organic Program) has been named and is on the job, as well as a new Deputy Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and Administrator of the Farm Services Agency.

Economic Stimulus and Pandemic Response

Today, the House is expected to pass the latest measure to respond to the pandemic, sending the bill to President to sign. The American Rescue Plan, is a massive $1.9 billion package that will fund a long list of programs including direct $1400 payments to eligible individuals, expanded unemployment payments, aid for state and local government, and support for vaccinations, health care, education and more.

For agriculture, this bill does not include new money for direct payments to farms or processors impacted by the pandemic. But it does include a 15 percent increase for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, $4 billion in commodity purchases for food banks and funding to increase the resilience of the food supply chain, including grants for purchasing personal protective equipment, test kits, and other measures for food chain workers and infrastructure investments for food processors, farmers markets, food banks, and producers to build resiliency in the food supply. The bill also contains $4 billion for debt relief for farmers of color and additional funding for USDA to create a racial equity commission and address longstanding discrimination in the administration of USDA programs.

Over at USDA, there are still questions about how the funding for agriculture from the last pandemic response law will be spent. In late December, Congress passed a new law to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic that authorized $13 billion for responding to the impacts of the pandemic on agriculture, as well as funding for SNAP and other nutrition programs. The law instructs the USDA to do several different things with the agricultural funding, including purchasing commodities and providing direct payments to farmers and processors that have been impacted by disruptions caused by the pandemic. In his last week in office, former Agriculture Secretary Perdue announced that USDA would spend over a billion dollars to provide supplemental payments to certain producers who had already received payments through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program in 2020 for specific categories like hog producers and several new categories of crops, including turf grass and pullets, and contract livestock producers who were made eligible in the new law passed in December. Just a few days after President Biden was inaugurated, the USDA announced that it was pausing the payments so the program could be reviewed. We are still waiting for a decision from USDA about what will happen next with these payment programs, and members of Congress are starting to pressure the agency for a decision. At some point soon, the status of those pending payments should be clarified, and the USDA will release the rules for a new round of direct payments using the funding in the law passed in December.

Paycheck Protection Program: The law passed in December also provided additional funding for small business assistance programs, including the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and Paycheck Protection Program, including second loans under PPP. To be eligible for a second loan, a business has to have less than 300 employees and also be able to show that it suffered a 25 percent loss in revenue for at least one quarter of 2020 (as compared to 2019.) The deadline for applying for a PPP loan is March 31, but if you are interested you should contact your bank as soon as possible to make sure there is still funding available.

Climate Policy

One of the big topics for Congress and USDA this year is climate change. The House Agriculture Committee dedicated its first official hearing of the year to the topic, with a long session that covered how climate change is impacting farmers and possible policy mechanisms to make agriculture part of the effort to fight climate change. The key themes (made by both Democrats and Republicans) were that climate policy for agriculture should be based on voluntary programs and incentives, with lots of emphasis on soil health and conservation programs and discussion on the promise and pitfalls of programs that would pay farms for sequestering carbon. The Senate Agriculture Committee will have a hearing this Thursday at 10:15 eastern on climate change issues, where the chair of the committee, Senator Stabenow, will likely promote her Growing Climate Solutions Act, which would make USDA a technical service provider and certifier for carbon payment programs. You can watch the hearing on the committee website here.

What You Can Do

As we get finally get closer to spring, that means in DC it is time to talk about money. This is the time of year when Congress starts to put together the “appropriations” bills that set the spending levels for each federal agency, including USDA. We still need Congress to intervene to get USDA to restore the reimbursement levels for organic certification cost share through the next appropriations bill. You can help by asking your members of Congress to make sure that USDA restores the reimbursement level for organic certification cost-share.  You can take action here.

UPCOMING EVENTS:  Mark Your Calendars!

OFA “Virtual” Lobby Days

In 2021, instead of traveling to Washington, DC for an OFA lobby day, we will be coordinating a week of virtual lobby visits instead. Mark your calendars for the week of March 22nd, when OFA members will be working together to have online or phone meetings with their members of Congress.  You can register now and we'll keep you in the loop about upcoming trainings and how to participate!  Open only to OFA members.

 


February Policy Update

February, 2021

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

After a chaotic start to the year, Congress is starting to get down to business and the Biden administration is filling jobs across the federal government, including the USDA. There are lots of things happening on issues that impact organic farms.

COVID-19 Vaccine

We’ve heard from some organic farmers that it has been a struggle to figure out when employees of farms or farmers markets will be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine. It’s not just farms that are struggling – all kinds of agriculture and food-related businesses are reporting challenges in the face of shortages of the vaccine.

The federal government has recommended that workers in agriculture, food manufacturing and grocery stores be included in an early vaccination phase, 1b. But the actual decision about who is eligible for each vaccination phase is made by state health departments. States are balancing the availability of vaccine doses and how to prioritize various groups of people that may be at high risk as they design their vaccination programs.

To find out when agriculture and food system workers in your state will be eligible for vaccination, the best place to start is your state health department. And if you want to urge your state to make sure agriculture and food system workers are in an early phase, here is a letter sent to California regulators from the Community Alliance with Family Farmers that could serve as a model.

Economic Stimulus and Pandemic Response

USDA: In late December, Congress passed a new law to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic disruption. The new law authorizes spending for a long list of pandemic-related programs including direct payments to individuals, supplemental unemployment payments, funding for the transportation and airline industries, healthcare, vaccine distribution and more. There was also $13 billion provided for the USDA to respond to impacts of the pandemic on agriculture, as well as funding for SNAP and other nutrition programs. The law instructs the USDA to do several different things with the agricultural funding, including purchasing commodities and providing direct payments to farmers and processors that have been impacted by disruptions caused by the pandemic.

So far, the USDA has announced it would do another round of the Farm to Families Food Box program, which pays contractors to assemble and deliver boxes of foods to food banks and other charities to distribute.

On the direct payments front, things are not as clear. In his last week in office, former Agriculture Secretary Perdue announced that USDA would spend over a billion dollars to provide supplemental payments to certain producers who had already received payments through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program in 2020. The “top up” payments were for specific categories of producers, like hog producers. The funding was also supposed to go to several new categories of crops, including turf grass and pullets, and contract livestock producers who were made eligible in the new law passed in December. Just a few days after President Biden was inaugurated, the USDA announced that it was pausing the payments announced by Secretary Perdue to allow the policy to be reviewed. At some point, the status of those pending payments will be clarified, and the USDA will release the rules for a new round of direct payments using the funding provided in the new law. OFA and the National Organic Coalition sent a letter to the USDA in January urging to make sure any new payment program works for organic operations. We will let you know when the details of the new program are released.

Paycheck Protection Program: The new law also provided additional funding for small business assistance programs, including the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and Paycheck Protection Program, including second loans under PPP. To be eligible for a second loan, a business has to have less than 300 employees and also be able to show that it suffered a 25 percent loss in revenue for at least one quarter of 2020 (as compared to 2019.) The deadline for applying for a PPP loan is March 31, but if you are interested you should contact your bank as soon as possible to make sure there is still funding available.

Congress

After a lot of delays at the beginning of the session, Congress is now getting down to work. Both the House and the Senate are now officially under Democratic control, but have the majority by the slimmest of margins, which is likely to make it difficult to pass bills that don’t have bipartisan support. We are also getting used to some changes in the key committees, especially the House and Senate Agriculture Committees. In the House, the new chairman of the Agriculture Committee is Rep. David Scott from Georgia, and the new ranking member (top Republican) is Rep. G.T. Thompson from Pennsylvania. In the Senate, the chair of the Agriculture Committee is Senator Debbie Stabenow from Michigan and the new ranking member is Senator John Boozman from Arkansas.

We hope that both of the Agriculture committees are more active this year than they were in 2020, and conduct hearings on key issues like USDA’s pandemic response programs, how food and agriculture supply chains fared during the pandemic and how to design climate policy for agriculture that will work for all types of farms, including organic.

Last week, the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing on the nomination of Tom Vilsack to be the Secretary of Agriculture, and later the same day advanced his nomination out of committee. At some point, possibly quite soon, the full Senate will vote to confirm his nomination and he will begin serving as the Secretary. His reception by the senators on the Agriculture Committee was overwhelmingly positive, with many questions about his approach to climate policy, rebuilding supply chains after the challenges of the pandemic, SNAP and perennial issues like supporting the ethanol industry. Senator Leahy (D-VT) did ask specifically about the stalled Origin of Livestock rulemaking process and Vilsack replied that he wanted to  address that issue quickly.

Climate Change

The role of agriculture in addressing climate change has been grabbing a lot of headlines lately. The Biden Administration has made using federal agencies to fight climate change an early focus, which is triggering a flurry of speculation about how the USDA will engage on this issue. At his Senate hearing, Vilsack emphasized that he will get farmer input as the agency designs its programs on climate change and expressed interest in using existing programs, like conservation programs, to help farms adopt climate-friendly practices. He was also very supportive of a more controversial idea, using USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation to establish a “carbon bank” that would facilitate farms participating in market-based programs to pay farms for carbon sequestration. There’s going to be a lot of discussion this spring about the appropriate role for USDA in these efforts, and organic farmers will need to weigh in to make sure any new programs work for all types of agriculture. The OFA Policy Committee has been developing a list of questions we need to inject into the debate. We will let you know when the USDA opens up a process for farmer input on climate change programs. We will need as many organic voices in that process as we can get.

What You Can Do

As the new Administration and new Congress get down to work, we will be pushing them to address our priorities for organic, including getting the USDA moving on long-overdue rules and making sure organic farmer voices are included in debates on climate change and other issues.

One immediate way to help is to ask your members of Congress to make sure that USDA restores the reimbursement level for organic certification cost-share.  You can take action here.

UPCOMING EVENTS:  Mark Your Calendars!

Advocacy 101 Webinar

How can we get Congress to support organic farmers? Learn how to make your voice heard in the legislative process during this webinar about how to lobby your elected officials. Get ready for meetings with your members of Congress. We’ll cover how to schedule a meeting, what to say, and how to create ongoing communication with elected officials.

OFA “Virtual” Lobby Days

In 2021, instead of traveling to Washington, DC for an OFA lobby day, we will be coordinating a week of virtual lobby visits instead. Mark your calendars for the week of March 22nd, when OFA members will be working together to have online or phone meetings with their members of Congress.  You can register now and we'll keep you in the loop about upcoming trainings and how to participate!  Open only to OFA members.

 


January Policy Update

January, 2021

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

When I wrote my first OFA policy update last winter, I remember thinking it was pretty strange to have to discuss how an impeachment trial was disrupting the normal function of Washington, including agriculture policy. And here we are a year later, just days after an attack on the U.S. Capitol, once again trying to determine how the dramatic national developments will impact our day-to-day work for organic farmers.

The transition period after the 2020 election, both for the new Congress and the Biden Administration, had already been challenging because of the ongoing controversy about the election results and the logistical challenges created by the pandemic. And things are still very unsettled in Washington after the events of January 6th. This week, and at least through the inauguration on January 20th, the Presidential transition and investigation into what happened are going to dominate attention.

But here is what we know so far about organic policy as we embark on 2021:

At the end of the year (up against the deadline of shutting down the federal government), Congress passed and President Trump signed a massive spending bill that did a couple of things:

  1. Funded federal agencies (like USDA) for the rest of Fiscal Year 2021 (which started on October 1st)
  2. Authorized spending for a long list of pandemic-related programs including direct payments to individuals, supplemental unemployment payments, funding for the transportation and airline industries, healthcare, vaccine distribution and more. There was also funding for agriculture, see below for more detail.

USDA Organic Funding

The 2021 spending bill includes several increases that OFA supported, including increases for the USDA’s National Organic Program, organic data collection, sustainable and organic agriculture research and beginning farmer and socially disadvantaged farmer training programs. It also contains language that directs the NOP to resolve inconsistent interpretation of the standards for transitioning organic dairy cows and the enforcement of pasture requirements. Unfortunately, it did not include additional funding to fix the shortfall in the Organic Certification Cost Share Program. We will have to keep working on Congress to provide additional funding to correct USDA’s management failures with that program.

USDA Pandemic Response

The pandemic response portion of the law provides $13 billion to USDA to respond to impacts of the pandemic on agriculture, as well as funding for SNAP and other nutrition programs. The law instructs USDA to do several different things with the agricultural funding, including purchasing commodities and providing direct payments to farmers and processors that have been impacted by disruptions caused by the pandemic. So far, the USDA has announced it would do another round of the Farm to Families Food Box program, which pays contractors to assemble and deliver boxes of foods to food banks and other charities to distribute. There were three rounds of these contracts issued in 2020, and USDA quickly announced it was issuing another set of contracts in early January after the new funding was provided.

It is not yet clear when USDA will announce the rules for additional direct payments to producers. The application program for payments under the CARES Act (from last year) closed in December. The new bill does include slightly better language that would allow the USDA to offer different payment rates based on organic or other premiums, so we will be pursuing that issue with USDA as they develop this year’s program. Stay tuned.

Small Business Administration programs

The new law also provided additional funding for small business assistance programs, including the Paycheck Protection Program and Small Business Administration (SBA) loan programs like the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). So far, we have the most information on PPP. The new law impacts people who got a PPP loan last year with some clarifications on tax issues and also allows for a second PPP loan for some businesses.

Tax Issues for First Round PPP Loans – the new law clarifies that a PPP loan from 2020 that was forgiven will not be considered taxable income by the IRS (but you will still have to check the rules for state and local taxes.) It also states that business expenses that were paid for with PPP loan funds can still be counted as a deduction for federal taxes.

Second Round PPP Loans – the SBA released rules for second loans under the PPP program. To be eligible, a business has to have less than 300 employees and also be able to show that it suffered a 25 percent loss in revenue for at least one quarter of 2020 (as compared to 2019.) The SBA is allowing smaller community banks to issue these loans first, starting this week. It is not yet clear when larger banks will be able to start issuing these loans. If you are interested, check with your bank to see when they are going to start taking applications and what paperwork they will require to qualify.

The New Congress

Now that the Georgia runoff election is complete, things will start to fall into place for the new Congress. The Democrats will control both the House and the Senate, although with extremely tight margins, especially in the Senate. We are still waiting for the complete roster of members of key committees like agriculture and appropriations. But we do know who will be leading the committees. In the House, the chairman of the Agriculture Committee is Rep. David Scott from Georgia, and the ranking member (top Republican) is Rep. G.T. Thompson from Pennsylvania. In the Senate, the chair of the Agriculture Committee is Senator Debbie Stabenow from Michigan and the ranking member is Senator John Boozman from Arkansas.

One of the first orders of business for the Senate Agriculture Committee will be scheduling a confirmation hearing for President-elect Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack. We will be working to make sure questions about our organic priorities are on the list for his hearing.

How You Can Help

2021 has been quite a year so far, and it’s only the second week of January. But as the new Administration and new Congress get down to work, we will be pushing them to address our priorities for organic, including getting the USDA moving on long-overdue rules and making sure organic farmer voices are included in debates on climate change and other issues.

One way for you to get involved is to participate in the OFA 2021 Policy Survey. Make sure to weigh in on what OFA’s top priorities should be and proposed new policies to guide our work.

And mark your calendars and register for our Virtual DC Advocacy Days. This year, instead of traveling to Washington, DC for an OFA lobby day, we will be coordinating a week of virtual lobby visits instead. Mark your calendars for the week of March 22nd, when OFA members will be working together to have online or phone meetings with their members of Congress.   Register here.

UPCOMING EVENTS:  Mark Your Calendars!

Advocacy 101 Webinar

How can we get Congress to support organic farmers? Learn how to make your voice heard in the legislative process during this webinar about how to lobby your elected officials. Get ready for meetings with your members of Congress. We’ll cover how to schedule a meeting, what to say, and how to create ongoing communication with elected officials.

OFA “Virtual” Lobby Days

In 2021, instead of traveling to Washington, DC for an OFA lobby day, we will be coordinating a week of virtual lobby visits instead. Mark your calendars for the week of March 22nd, when OFA members will be working together to have online or phone meetings with their members of Congress.  You can register now and we'll keep you in the loop about upcoming trainings and how to participate!  Open only to OFA members.

 

https://organicfarmersassociation.org/uncategorized/ofa-starts-the-new-year-strong/


Advocacy 101 Webinar

How can we get Congress to support organic farmers? Learn how to make your voice heard in the legislative process during this webinar about how to lobby your elected officials. Get ready for meetings with your members of Congress. We’ll cover how to schedule a meeting, what to say, and how to create ongoing communication with elected officials.

Advocacy 101 Webinar - Two available dates to register.

Advocacy 101 Webinar (Monday, Feb 8 @ 2pm ET)

Click here to register

Advocacy 101 Webinar (Tuesday, Feb 9 @ 7pm ET)

Click here to register