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


Election Review: Impact on Organic

What does the recent election mean for protecting organic standards and growing organic? Join Organic Farmers Association Policy Director, Patty Lovera for a review of election results, how agriculture committees might shape up, and what to look for in the months ahead.


Advocacy Days

Join members of Organic Farmers Association as farmers across the country join together in a week of targeted advocacy in Washington, D.C.  We will support you with talking points, link you with other OFA members in your same district, and provide pre- and post-training to make the most of your hill visits.   YOUR VOICE IS IMPORTANT!  Join us for our virtual farmer advocacy day!

Visits will be scheduled Monday, March 22 through Thursday, March 25, 2021.  Open to OFA members only.   Not a member?  Join today!


December Policy Update

By, Patty Lovera, Policy Director

As we move towards the end of the year, we are starting to get a better sense of what we will be dealing with in Washington DC next year.

U.S. House of Representatives

The House will remain in Democratic control. But because Representative Peterson from Minnesota did not get re-elected, there will be a new chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Representative David Scott from Georgia. The ranking member, which is the top Republican on the committee, will be Representative G.T. Thompson from Pennsylvania. We don’t know yet who else will be on the committee, and there may be some new faces next year because some current members did not win re-election.

U.S. Senate

We still don’t know which party will control the Senate next year (that depends on the runoff elections for two Senate seats in Georgia on January 5th.) But we do know the key players on the Senate Agriculture Committee – the top Democrat will be Senator Stabenow from Michigan and the top Republican will be Senator Boozman from Arkansas. Which one becomes the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee depends on which party ends up with the majority in the Senate.

USDA

Who will serve as President Biden’s Secretary of Agriculture has become a hot topic inside the Beltway. There are a lot of names being thrown around, without much hard evidence of who is likely to be chosen by the Biden team. The focus of the most speculation is on a race between Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and current Representative Marcia Fudge (D-OH), who serves on the House Agriculture Committee. But other names keep popping up, including former Agriculture Secretary (and Governor of Iowa) Tom Vilsack, former Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, and a handful of others. There is no set deadline for the Biden team to announce their nominee, and traditionally agriculture comes fairly late in the process. Once the nominee for Secretary is announced (and eventually confirmed by the Senate), there are lots of other USDA jobs that also need to be filled including Deputy Secretary, multiple Assistant Secretaries, multiple Under Secretaries, and many Administrators, including for the Agricultural Marketing Service, which is the home to the National Organic Program.

Just before Thanksgiving, OFA submitted a letter to the Biden transition’s USDA agency review team. This team is tasked with reviewing current staffing, workplans, budgets and other conditions at the USDA and making recommendations to the incoming Secretary of Agriculture about priorities. In the letter, we outlined steps the agency should take as soon as possible to protect organic integrity:

  • Finalize the Strengthening Organic Enforcement rule
  • Finalize the Origin of Livestock rule
  • Reinstate the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule
  • Restore the Organic Certification Cost-Share Program reimbursement level to 75%
  • Improve pandemic response programs to better serve organic producers.

In addition to these immediate needs, we also suggested things the USDA needs to improve in its coordination with the National Organic Standards Board, oversight of organic certifiers, ways to include organic in discussions about climate change, and educating other USDA departments and federal agencies about organic.

Apply Now for CFAP 2

The second round of the USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP 2) closes on December 11th. The program gives direct payments to farms, using three different methods for calculating payment rates based on the type of crops or livestock. Even if you were not eligible for the first round of CFAP (which was the case for many organic farms), it may be worth checking again because the USDA has changed some of the eligibility requirements and the methods for calculating payments, which may work better for some organic farms. Applications must be in by December 11thYou can apply through USDA’s Farm Services Agency.

Take Action to Fix Organic Certification Cost-Share!

We are still pushing Congress to fix the organic certification cost-share program. On August 10th, the USDA’s Farm Service Agency announced that due to an unexpected shortfall in funding, they were lowering the reimbursement rate to 50 percent of the certified organic operation’s eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $500 per scope. This is reduced from a rate of 75 percent of the certified organic operation’s eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $750 per scope in previous years (and the level that was specified for this program in the last Farm Bill.)

Congress needs to pass a new spending bill in the next week (or possibly the week after, if they give themselves a short-term extension.) Take action now to urge your members of Congress to restore the reimbursement levels to 75 percent in the next spending bill. It does help for members of Congress to hear from organic farmers about why the cost share program is important.  

UPCOMING EVENTS:  Mark Your Calendars!

OFA WEBINAR:  Election Review: Impact on Organic

What does the election mean for protecting organic standards and growing organic? Join Organic Farmers Association Policy Director, Patty Lovera for a review of election results, how agriculture committees will shape up, and what to look for in the months ahead.
Tuesday, December 15 at 2pm ET

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.

 

 


Biden Administration Transition Letter

November 23, 2020

The Honorable Joseph R. Biden
President-Elect
Wilmington, DE

Dear President-Elect Biden,

The Organic Farmers Association congratulates you on your recent election and we look forward to working closely with your Administration on issues that are critically important to organic farmers.

OFA is a membership organization that represents America’s certified organic farmers. Our organization was founded by and is controlled by certified organic farmers, and only domestic certified organic farmers vote on OFA’s policies and leadership.

Organic is a growing sector of the U.S. agriculture system, with tremendous potential to address climate change, help family farms flourish, revive rural communities and protect public health. But for organic agriculture to meet its potential, we need the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to take several steps to protect the integrity of the USDA certified organic label.

The USDA sets the regulations and standards that must be met by products that bear the organic label. Certified organic farmers rely on this label to accurately convey information about their products in the marketplace. Because consumers believe in the integrity of the organic label, the organic sector has enjoyed tremendous growth and provided a path to economic viability for many family farms. But the USDA has considerable work to do to maintain the standing of the organic label with consumers and ensure a level playing field for organic farmers, including finishing long-delayed updates to regulations and increasing the agency’s focus on enforcement.

In the short-term, there are several key actions needed to get critical rulemaking processes across the finish line after years of unnecessary delay and to reverse Trump Administration decisions that were detrimental to the organic community.

Strengthening Organic Enforcement Rule: The organic market has grown so rapidly that the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) has lagged behind in building the enforcement capacity necessary to oversee a $50 billion industry with global supply chains. U.S organic grain farmers reported negative impacts on the prices they could get for their products after increased volumes of organic grains abruptly started to arrive in the United States several years ago. Since then, imports from regions with questionable oversight and that seem to lack sufficient organic acreage to produce the amount of organic product being exported have continued, while several high profile investigations have also revealed large-scale schemes in the United States to sell fraudulent organic products. After years of advocacy to draw attention to the impacts of fraud on domestic markets, organic farmers need full and consistent enforcement of the USDA organic standards and increased capacity at the NOP to detect and prevent fraud in organic supply chains.

A critical step for the new Administration is to finalize and implement the “Strengthening Organic Enforcement” proposed rule as quickly as possible. This rule is required by the 2018 Farm Bill and the organic community weighed in during a public comment period earlier this fall. As well as putting the rule into effect as soon as possible, the NOP must continue to coordinate with other USDA agencies as well as U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to increase awareness of organic commodities that are likely to be imported (and the potential for fraud) and to leverage other agencies’ inspection resources at ports of entry.

Origin of Livestock Rule: 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. Organic dairy farmers need a level playing field. Years of delay in closing loopholes in the organic standards for livestock have caused ongoing economic harm. We need the NOP to finalize an enforceable rule on Origin of Livestock as quickly as possible.

The agency has failed to address this problem for years. 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. In the FY 2020 appropriations bill, Congress gave the NOP 180 days to finalize the rule, but the agency missed this deadline.

The NOP must work to finalize this important rulemaking as quickly as possible with a final rule that can be consistently enforced and that requires that the entire one-time transition happen over a twelve-month period under the supervision of an organic certification agency as part of the producer’s Organic System Plan. Cycling dairy animals in and out of organic production must be prohibited, and once a distinct herd is transitioned to organic, all animals must be raised organically from the last third of gestation.

Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule: The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) rule is another long-overdue measure to strengthen the organic standards, which was delayed and ultimately withdrawn by the Trump Administration. The OLPP final rule would allow the NOP to consistently enforce stronger animal welfare standards on organic farms and close loopholes being taken advantage of by some large operations. The rule was discussed and vetted in the organic community for more than a decade and has widespread support. Animal welfare is an issue of critical importance to organic consumers, and these standards must be tightened to retain consumers’ confidence in the organic label. We urge you to reinstate the final OLPP rule as quickly as possible.

Organic Certification Cost-Share Program: All certified organic operations must complete annual inspection and certification. The federal government has historically reimbursed up to 75 percent of organic certification fees paid by organic farms and businesses, with a maximum reimbursement of $750 per certification scope (crops, livestock or handling) per operation. This summer, USDA’s Farm Services Agency (FSA) cut reimbursement rates for 2020 certification costs to 50 percent, up to a maximum of $500 per scope. This action leaves organic operations – who had been planning on being reimbursed for their certification costs at the same level as previous years – burdened with an unplanned expense, in the midst of a period of higher costs and disrupted markets caused by the pandemic. The cost share program is particularly important to small and mid-sized organic farms, and those who are just starting out with organic certification.

The 2018 Farm Bill provided new funding for the organic certification cost share program, and written commitments made by USDA to use pre-2018 Farm Bill carryover balances to fund current program needs were used to calculate the funding provided in the 2018 Farm Bill. But the agency has struggled to track program spending, which led the agency to provide inaccurate reports of the carryover balances to Congress as the funding provided in the 2018 Farm Bill was being considered, and has resulted in a shortfall for the program for the rest of the years of the Farm Bill cycle.

We urge you to act quickly to restore the funding levels for this program mandated by Congress. While a relatively small amount in the scope of the USDA’s budget, restoring the reimbursement level could make a big difference to many small organic operations. We also hope that the FSA will examine the administrative problems that led to this year’s shortfall and swiftly develop a plan to ensure this does not happen again.

Pandemic Response: Since the passage of the CARES Act, the USDA has been making direct payments to some farmers, through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). The payment formulas used in CFAP 1 to calculate the payments and the rigid delineation of funding for specific commodity and livestock categories shortchanged organic farmers, particularly small-and-medium-scale diversified operations that have been economically impacted by the pandemic. There were some improvements made in CFAP 2 that made the program somewhat more feasible for some organic and diversified operations. But there are still many challenges faced by organic farmers because of the pandemic that the USDA’s response fails to address, which we outlined in a letter sent to USDA earlier this summer.

We also encourage the new Administration to investigate what the pandemic revealed about various sectors of the food system. In sharp contrast to the disruption that happened in highly consolidated, conventional supply chains, organic farmers quickly adjusted to  public health restrictions that affected where and how they market their products and challenges faced by their workforce, coming up with creative solutions that allowed them to feed their communities. You can read more about how organic farmers adapted here and here. For some farmers serving local and direct-to-consumer markets, sales have actually gone up as a result of the pandemic as consumers seek out local sources of food. However, in many cases, costs have also skyrocketed for these operations because of the additional investments in equipment, technology, sanitation, staffing, and transportation that must be made in order to meet social distancing and infection prevention protocols. A more detailed examination of how the various sectors of the food system responded to the pandemic should inform future USDA pandemic response efforts.

In addition to these specific regulatory actions that the USDA should take in the immediate future, we have other suggestions that would help organic farming realize its full potential.

National Organic Standards Board: The Organic Foods Production Act that created the NOP also established a unique federal advisory committee, the National Organic Standards Board. This volunteer board plays a critical role in the function of the organic program, not just in evaluating materials allowed for use by organic operations and making recommendations on changes to the organic standards, but also in providing a venue for all of the stakeholders in the organic community to work together. We urge your Administration to treat the NOSB as a key part of the organic process by:

  • Committing to fill farmer seats on the board with people who have direct agricultural experience and deep expertise in organic practices, and actively working to increase the diversity of board members.
  • Allowing the NOSB to have more input in setting their workplan.
  • Committing to move NOSB recommendations quickly through the rulemaking process to become enforceable regulations.

Oversight and Accreditation: One of the critical roles played by the NOP is providing oversight of accredited certifying agencies who inspect and certify organic operations. But many of the controversies that have been long-debated in the organic community boil down to inconsistent interpretation or application of organic regulations by certifiers. We urge the NOP to take seriously its role as an accreditor and to acknowledge that this role is inextricably tied to its enforcement mandate. Ensuring that certifiers consistently interpret and apply the standards, everywhere they operate, is critical to the integrity of the organic label. The NOP is the only entity that can ensure that this happens.

Organic as a Climate Solution: Organic farming can play a critical role in fighting climate change. Organic regulations require certified organic farmers to implement beneficial carbon sequestration practices by eliminating chemical soil disturbance through the prohibition of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and other crop protection chemicals. The standards require organic farmers to adopt tillage and cultivation practices that “maintain or improve” soil condition. We urge the new Administration to prioritize research to document how organic practices can maximize carbon sequestration, as well as documenting the multiple benefits created by organic practices. We also urge the NOP to adhere to the goal of continuous improvement by tightening the organic standards on several issues that would make organic even more meaningful as a climate-friendly practice. These include:

  • Prioritizing enforcement of the pasture standard for large-scale dairies.
  • Reinstating and implementing the OLPP rule for livestock operations to require livestock operations to provide meaningful access to pasture.
  • Prohibiting the certification of hydroponic operations as organic. For organic agriculture. to maximize its potential as climate-friendly agriculture, soil must be recognized as the cornerstone of organic production.

Support for Organic Research: Many of the challenges facing the organic sector can be addressed with increased research. Organic research often addresses challenges or identifies practices that are also relevant to farmers who are not certified organic or who farm conventionally. An increased focus on soil health, alternatives to chemical pest management and cover crops across all sectors of agriculture show that this kind of research can serve an audience that is wider than certified organic. We urge you to increase USDA’s support of organic research. And we hope that your Administration will address the devastating impact of the decision to move the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture out of Washington, DC. The move led to dramatic staffing shortages and low morale, and took these critical staff out of conversations happening at USDA headquarters.

Organic Outreach Within USDA and to Federal Partners: It is clear that, despite the rapid growth of the organic industry and the National Organic Program, many other divisions within the USDA are still not familiar with organic. In order to encourage other USDA divisions to make their programs more feasible for organic producers, we urge you to reinstate the position of organic policy advisor that was created during the Obama Administration.

We also urge you to expand the NOP’s outreach and education to other federal partners such as various policy divisions of the White House, including the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Another critical federal partner is Customs and Border Protection. We hope you will explore how to create an organic advisor position for CBP, which is a critical piece of the federal effort to prevent fraudulent organic products. And we urge the NOP to increase outreach and education of other USDA divisions, such as APHIS, and federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency about the impact that genetically engineered crops and associated herbicides have on the organic sector from genetic and chemical drift.

Personnel: As you work to fill open positions at USDA and other federal agencies, we urge you to choose people who are committed to the full range of agriculture that is happening in the United States, including organic, diversified, direct market and other types of production. The following list is a sample, by no means an exhaustive list, of the types of people who would bring this necessary perspective to your team:

David Zuckerman, Lieutenant Governor of Vermont, organic farmer

Amanda Beal, Agriculture Commissioner of Maine

Kate Greenberg, Agriculture Commissioner of Colorado

Elanor Starmer, former administrator Agricultural Marketing Service

Jesse Buie, organic farmer in Mississippi, member of National Organic Standards Board

Andrew Bahrenburg, staff, Senator Leahy

Kelliann Blazek, former staff, Representative Pingree

Hannah Smith-Brubaker, former Deputy Agriculture Secretary of Pennsylvania, executive director of Pasa

Michael Sligh, Alliance for Organic Integrity

We appreciate the opportunity to provide input as you develop your priorities and look forward to working with your Administration. We hope to be able to set up a time for OFA leadership to meet with your transition team and new USDA staff to further discuss these ideas. If you have any questions or need more information, please contact our Policy Director, Patty Lovera, patty@organicfarmersassociation.org, (202) 526-2726.

Sincerely,

Kate Mendenhall
Director