2018 Farm Bill Analysis

2018 Farm Bill Analysis
Mark Rokala, Policy Director
April 18, 2018

OVERVIEW OF THIS STAGE OF THE FARM BILL PROCESS
The legislative process of reauthorizing USDA’s organic programs is a marathon, not a sprint. This marathon started more than a year and a half ago, and the finish line is a moving target. A final product could be this summer or not until next year.

Organic Farmers Association’s goal is to include our legislative priorities in the bill that will pass the finish line. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Conaway’s (R-TX) proposal includes some of Organic Farmers Association’s priorities; however, the path to his proposal getting 218 votes to pass the House of Representatives is not clear.

There are several obstacles in the path to a 2018 Farm Bill.

  1. History is not on the side of Chairman Conaway as Congress has not passed a farm bill in an election year in modern history. As you know, 2018 is an election year.
  1. The divisive nature of Congress is breaking the usual bipartisan nature of the Agriculture Committee, as the Majority released a Republican only version of the farm bill that did not include Minority (Democratic) language. Historically, both parties of the Agriculture Committee have worked together to agree on the farm bill draft before it is released to Committee members.
  1. Congress’ partisan nature will cause cracks in the loose knit coalition of agricultural, conservation, rural develop, nutrition, and other groups that have historical worked with past chairmen to pass the legislation on the floor.
  1. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program(SNAP), the largest program in the domestic hunger safety net, is the main point of contention for this farm bill within the House. Fifty members of Chairman Conaway’s caucus want more extensive SNAP reforms and those same fifty members tend not to vote for farm bill programs. To gain the needed Republican votes, the Chairman will need to make even more conservative reforms to SNAP; or he will need to reverse the SNAP reforms to gain Democratic support. The bill’s SNAP reforms will also create significant difficulties for the Chairman when the bill is conferenced with the Senate. Both the Chair and the Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee have agreed not to include SNAP changes in their proposal, and both have said and agree that the Senate does not have the votes to pass the House-proposed SNAP changes.

The current farm bill expires the end of September 2018.  Closer to the deadline, Chairman Conaway will have to determine if he can pass his proposal before programs expire or he will need to extend current farm programs. Congress does not want the farm bill to expire as farm policy would return to the policies of the 1930s.

Chairman Conaway’s decision could have a significant impact on programs organic farmers utilize like organic research.  Thirty-nine “orphan” programs lack baseline funding and would not be funded if the current farm bill is extended.

This Fall’s election adds significant intrigue to the farm bill writing process.

If Republicans keep control of Congress, Chairman Conaway would most likely continue as Chairman; however, if Democrats assume control of the House, Chairman Peterson would become Chairman of the Agriculture Committee and possibly start this whole process over next year.

As with most legislation, Congress is designing the marathon trek on the fly and will be looking for a finish line. OFA wants to be part of the process that reaches the finish line with as many as our policy priorities incorporated into the best bill possible for our members.

ANALYSIS OF THE HOUSE MAJORITY FARM BILL VERSION & ORGANIC FARMERS ASSOC. PRIORITIES
Organic Farmers Association identified several farm bill priorities.  These are our top four:

  1. maintaining the integrity of the organic system (import integrity, dairy and pasture rule enforcement);
  2. funding the Organic Certification Cost Share;
  3. funding the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) at $50 million; and
  4. protecting the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).

Below is a brief review of the House Majority draft farm bill’s response to our priorities:

ORGANIC INTEGRITY
Overall much of the components of the Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act were implemented in the draft to improve NOP oversight and authority to enforce organic integrity:

  • Improvements to NOP investigations
    • During an investigation allow for the sharing of confidential business information with state and federal employees;
    • Allow the secretary access to Customs and Border Protection data;
    • In high risk areas, require additional information from producers and handlers organic plan;
    • limit the type of operation exclude from certification;
    • submit an annual report on all domestic and overseas investigations and compliance action taken.
  • Changes to the international trade technology system
    • Modernize trade and transition certificates to ensure full traceability.
    • Provide one-time funding of $5 million for the system.
  • Allow the Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives access to Commodity Credit Corporation funds.

ORGANIC CERTIFICATION COST SHARE
The farm bill draft does not provide any funding for the Organic Certification Cost Share program. The language defining and establishing the program in the farm bill remains, but the program is not funded. Organic Farmers Association and our farm members strongly value this program and we feel it is necessary to fund it. The Senate bill may be where we need to restore program funding.

ORGANIC RESEARCH
Organic Farmers Association supports the Organic Research Act, which requests $50 million for the OREI program, increasing organic research dollars from the current $20 million.

The House farm bill increases organic research dollars to $30 million.  There is still an increase, but less than the organic community has established as necessary.

NATIONAL ORGANIC STANDARDS BOARD
Organic Farmers Association strongly opposes any efforts that seek to dilute the authority and role of the NOSBin the overall standard-setting process, and opposes statutory changes to the delicate balance of stakeholder slot allocations for the Board membership.

The House legislative draft includes the following changes to NOSB:

  • Allowing certifying agents, on an annual basis, in foreign country to certify a farm or handling operation;
  • Provide an expedited procedure for the national list of approved and prohibited substances for organic farming and handling;
  • Allows employees of organic farming operations, organic handling operations and retail operation to serve on the NOSB.

Organic Farmers Association staff will continue to work with Congress as its works on re-authorizing farm legislation.


House Agriculture Committee Announces Draft of 2018 Farm Bill

Chairman Conaway Introduces the Agriculture and Nutrition Act

On April 12, House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (TX-11) introduced the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2).

  • CLICK HERE to read the full legislative text of the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018.
  • CLICK HERE to read the section-by-section summary of the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018.
  • CLICK HERE to read policy highlights in the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018.
  • CLICK HERE for audio of Chairman Conaway’s remarks from today’s press conference.
  • For more information on the bill, visit house.gov/farmbill.

The following is a statement released by the House Agriculture Committee on April 12:

Washington, D.C. – Today, House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (TX-11) introduced the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2) – critical legislation to address the economic challenges facing the nation’s farmers and ranchers. Upon introducing the bill in the House, Chairman Conaway said:

“Rural America is hurting. Over the last five years, net farm income has been cut in half. Natural disasters and global markets distorted by predatory trade practices of foreign countries, including high and rising foreign subsidies, tariffs and non-tariff barriers, have resulted in huge production losses and chronically depressed prices that are today jeopardizing the future of America’s farm and ranch families.

“The farm bill keeps faith with our nation’s farmers and ranchers through the current agriculture recession by providing certainty and helping producers manage the enormous risks that are inherent in agriculture. The farm bill also remains faithful to the American taxpayer and consumer. Under the farm bill, consumers will continue to enjoy the safest, most abundant and most affordable food supply in the world, and taxpayers will reap the more than $112 billion in budget savings projected under the current law.

“Ensuring an affordable food supply is important to every citizen, but it is absolutely critical to the most vulnerable among us who struggle every week to put food on the table. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is reauthorized under the farm bill, is essential to helping many Americans feed themselves and their families.

“The farm bill also keeps faith with these families by not only maintaining SNAP benefits but by offering SNAP beneficiaries a springboard out of poverty to a good paying job, and opportunity for a better way of life for themselves and their families.

“I’m excited to share our vision with the American people – and eager for people to see the details of a proposal that offers people real hope and promise.

“I’m also looking forward to quickly moving this farm bill through the House and working with the Senate to deliver a farm bill to the president’s desk that is on time, as the president has asked us to do.”

House Committee On Agriculture Ranking Member Collin Peterson also released the following statement:

Peterson Statement on Conaway Farm Bill

WASHINGTON – House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson today made the following statement after Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway released partisan legislation to reauthorize the farm bill.

“It makes no sense to put the farmers and rural communities who rely on the farm bill’s safety net programs at risk in pursuit of partisan ideology on SNAP. Between record low farm incomes, and the escalating threat of a trade war and other market disruptions, farmers have enough to worry about. Breaking up the long-standing, bipartisan, urban-rural farm bill alliance is a dangerous and unproductive step that will only sow division and jeopardize both this and future farm bills. 

“This bill attempts to change SNAP from a feeding program to a work program. The bill rejects the testimony of 89 witnesses, and instead includes ideological language that will force people off of SNAP to pay for massive state bureaucracies that won’t work and are a waste of money. This legislation is based on false perceptions and ignores reality.

“The bill also fails to make needed improvements to the farm safety net. American farmers are suffering from the largest drop in farm income since the Great Depression but the farm safety net in this bill is inadequate and won’t help farmers. Our farmers need a safety net that will address their current reality. This farm bill fails to provide the certainty farmers need during uncertain times.”

The House Committee on Agriculture also issued a hearing advisory on the Agriculture and Nutrition Act:

ADVISORY: House Agriculture Committee to consider H.R. 2, Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 WEDNESDAY, APRIL 18

Wednesday, April 18, 2018 – 10:00 a.m.
1300 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C.
Full Committee – Business Meeting
RE: To consider H.R. 2, Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018

Organic Farmers Association is working on preparing an analysis for our members on what this means for our policy priorities.


Organic Farmers Association Announces Governing Council

Organic Farmers Association, a national membership organization for certified organic farmers, sponsored by Rodale Institute, has announced the first elected Governing Council. The elected Governing Council is made up of 12 voting certified organic farmer members and six advisory organizational members. Each member will serve a term of two years. Committee members are regionally diverse and reflect the national diversity of organic farms.

“It’s exciting to have our first fully elected leadership body,” said Kate Mendenhall, Director, Organic Farmers Association. “And it’s not a moment too soon. We have an ambitious schedule for 2018. Three of our priority areas include strengthening the integrity of the organic seal, protecting organic certification cost share, and funding organic research.”

The new Governing Council will assume leadership from the current Steering Committee at an April Annual Meeting and Lobby Day in Washington, D.C.

The Governing Council will assure the health and effectiveness of the organization. From its start in the fall of 2016, Organic Farmers Association has been working to build and support a farmer-led national organic farmer movement with a strong voice advocating for organic farmers. This first Governing Council will help guide this work forward from the ground up.

Organic Farmers Association 2018 Governing Council includes:

CALIFORNIA
Farmer Representatives:
Judith Redmond, Full Belly Farm, Guinda, CA
Steve Beck, Kings River Produce, Inc., Hanford, CA

Organization Representative:
California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF): Phil LaRocca, Chair, NV

MIDWEST REGION
Farmer Representatives:
Dave Bishop, PrairiErth Farm, Atlanta, IL
Joannee DeBruhl, Stone Coop Farm, Brighton, MI

Organization Representative:
Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA): Renee Hunt, Program Director, Columbus, OH

NORTH CENTRAL REGION
Farmer Representatives:
Jim Riddle, Blue Fruit Farm, Winona, MN
Harriet Behar, Sweet Springs Farm, Gays Mills, WI

Organization Representative:
Organic Farmers Agency for Relationship Marketing (OFARM): John Bobbe, Executive Director, Scandinavia, WI

WESTERN REGION
Farmer Representatives:
Nathaniel Powell-Palm, Cold Springs Organics, Bozeman, MT
Jessica Gigot, Harmony Fields, Bow, WA

Organization Representative:
Montana Organic Association (MOA): Becky Weed, Board of Directors, MT

SOUTHERN REGION
Farmer Representatives:
Jennifer Taylor, Lola’s Organic Farm, Gleenwood, GA
Loretta Adderson, Adderson’s Fresh Produce, Hephzibah, GA

Organization Representative:
Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI-USA): Michael Sligh, Program Director, Pittsboro, NC

NORTHEAST REGION
Farmer Representatives:
David Colson, New Leaf Farm, Durham, ME
Maryrose Livingston, Northland Sheep Dairy, NY

Organization Representative:
Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT): Maddie Monty Kempner, Membership & Advocacy Coordinator, Richmond, VT

SPONSOR SEAT
Rodale Institute


Organic Farmers Write Letter to Secretary Perdue

On February 6, 2018, the Organic Farmers Association wrote and sent a letter to the Honorable Sonny Perdue, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, regarding the National Organic Program’s (NOP) statement that “Certification of hydroponic, aquaponic and aeroponic operations is allowed under the USDA organic regulations, and has been since the National Organic Program began.” Click here to read full letter.


Dear Secretary Perdue;

The Organic Farmers Association (OFA) is a membership organization that represents America’s certified organic farmers. While we have supporting and organizational members, only domestic certified organic farmers vote on OFA’s policies and leadership.

At OFA, we are very concerned by the National Organic Program’s (NOP) January 25, 2018, statement that “Certification of hydroponic, aquaponic and aeroponic operations is allowed under the USDA organic regulations, and has been since the National Organic Program began.” We see this action as revisionist history, and an incorrect interpretation of organic law.

Eight members¹ of OFA’s leadership team have served on the USDA National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). We believe it is critical you are aware that the USDA has several times in the past sought guidance from the NOSB on the advisability of allowing hydroponic production to be certified organic, and every time there has been a decisive vote, the Board rejected the idea of allowing organic certification of hydroponics. These discussions and votes are documented in NOSB meeting minutes for your historical reference.

In 2010, the NOSB, by a 14 to 1 vote, recommended that hydroponic production not be allowed to be certified organic, stating “systems of crop production that eliminate soil from the system, such as hydroponics or aeroponics cannot be considered as examples of acceptable organic farming practices…due to their exclusion of the soil-plant ecology intrinsic to organic farming systems and USDA/NOP regulations governing them.”

Most USDA-accredited certifying agencies have avoided certifying hydroponic operations as organic because of the long-standing requirement—rooted in the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA)—that organic production must be in the soil.

While the word “soil” is mentioned in the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) seven times and in the NOP Final Rule fifty times, the words “hydroponic,” “aquaponic,” “aeroponic,” or “soilless” are not mentioned at all. In short, there are no federal standards or regulations for certifying hydroponic production as organic.

OFPA—the enabling legislation that created the National Organic Program—indicates that organic production must be soil-based. The Act states, “An organic plan shall contain provisions designed to foster soil fertility, primarily through the management of the organic content of the soil through proper tillage, crop rotation, and manuring.”

Members of the Organic Farmers Association are concerned that the NOP’s recent statement was accompanied by no legal justification for unconditional allowance for organic certification of hydroponic production.

The notice contained no OFPA or NOP rule citations to justify the novel position being taken by the USDA. Further, the notice contained no guidance to certifying agencies on how to certify operations that do not comply with most NOP requirements.

OFA members are concerned that soilless production systems are inconsistent with OFPA and do not comply with numerous sections of the NOP Final Rule.

Specifically, OFPA Section 6513 “Organic Plan” states:

“(b)(1) Soil Fertility. An organic plan shall contain provisions designed to foster soil fertility, primarily through the management of the organic content of the soil through proper tillage, crop rotation, and manuring. (underline added)

(g) Limitation on Content of Plan. An organic plan shall not include any production or handling practices that are inconsistent with this chapter.”

Soilless hydroponic production systems do not foster soil fertility or build soil organic matter content, as required by OFPA. Organic plans for soilless operations, by definition, include production practices that are inconsistent with OFPA since such systems rely exclusively on inputs for fertility, instead of implementing a soil fertility program that builds soil organic matter, as required by OFPA 6513(b)(1).

The authors of OFPA made it clear that soil, and maintenance of soil fertility, are essential components of an organic system of production. In the Senate Report on the Food, Agriculture, Conservation and Trade Act of 1990, Congress wrote, “a crop production farm plan must detail the procedures that the farmer will follow in order to foster soil fertility, provide for crop rotations, and prohibit certain manuring practices inappropriate to the crop being raised and the land in use.” (p. 292)

The NOP Final Rule, Section 205.200 “General” requirement states:

“Production practices implemented in accordance with this subpart must maintain or improve the natural resources of the operation, including soil and water quality.”

Soilless hydroponic production systems do not comply with NOP 205.200, since they do not maintain or improve the natural resources of the operation including soil quality.

The NOP Final Rule, Section 205.203 “Soil fertility and crop nutrient management” states:

“(a) The producer must select and implement tillage and cultivation practices that maintain or improve the physical, chemical, and biological condition of soil and minimize soil erosion.
(b) The producer must manage crop nutrients and soil fertility through rotations, cover crops, and the application of plant and animal materials.
(c) The producer must manage plant and animal materials to maintain or improve soil organic matter content”

Soilless hydroponic production systems do not comply with NOP 205.203(a-c) because tillage and cultivation practices do not maintain or improve the physical, chemical or biological condition of soil. Soilless hydroponic operations do not manage fertility through the use of crop rotations or cover crops, and they do not maintain or improve soil organic matter content.

The NOP Final Rule, 205.205 “Crop rotation” states:

“The producer must implement a crop rotation including but not limited to sod, cover crops, green manure crops, and catch crops that provide the following functions that are applicable to the operation:

(a) Maintain or improve soil organic matter content;
(b) Provide for pest management in annual and perennial crops;
(c) Manage deficient or excess plant nutrients; and
(d) Provide erosion control.”

Soilless hydroponic production systems do not comply with NOP 205.205, because they do not implement crop rotations to maintain or improve soil organic matter content; provide pest management; manage deficient or excess plant nutrients; or provide erosion control. Soilless hydroponic systems do not comply with the crop rotation requirement, which is a cornerstone of organic crop production.

Soilless production systems do not comply with the NOP Section 205.2 definition of “organic production” because they do not “promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity” as required according to the legal definition of “organic production.”

The OFPA and NOP Rule sections cited above use the words “shall” and “must,” not “should” or “may.” These are mandatory provisions, and they cannot be ignored.

In addition, soilless, hydroponic systems do not comply with the National Organic Standards Board’s Principles of Organic Production and Handling, the first sentence of which reads, “Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity.“

The Organic Farmers Association respectfully requests the United States Department of Agriculture to retract the policy statement issued by the National Organic Program on Jan. 25, 2018, which stated, “Certification of hydroponic, aquaponic and aeroponic operations is allowed under the USDA organic regulations.”

As you evaluate our request to withdraw this unprecedented policy, OFA calls on the USDA to issue a legal opinion examining if soilless, hydroponic production systems, and the products thereof, can be certified and labeled as “USDA Organic.”

We appreciate your prompt attention to this critical issue.

Respectfully,

Jim Riddle, Blue Fruit Farm, MN, OFA Steering Committee Chair
Francis Thicke, Radiance Dairy, IA, OFA Policy Committee Chair
Kate Mendenhall, Director Organic Farmers Association

OFA Steering Committee members:
Michael Adsit, Farmer, Plymouth Orchards, MI
Dave Colson, Farmer, New Leaf Farm, ME
Jack Erisman, Farmer, Goldmine Farm, IL
Nick Maravell, Farmer, Nick’s Organic Farm, MD
Theresa Podoll, Farmer, Prairie Road Organic Seed, ND
Bob Quinn, Farmer, Quinn Farm & Ranch, MT
Judith Redmond, Farmer, Full Belly Farm, CA
Jim Riddle, Farmer, Blue Fruit Farm, MN
Will Stevens, Farmer, Golden Russet Farm, VT
Jennifer Taylor, Farmer, Lola’s Organic Farm, GA
Isaura Andaluz, OSGATA John Bobbe, OFARM
Renee Hunt, OEFFA
Maddie Monty, NOFA-VT
David Runsten, CAFF
Michael Sligh, RAFI-USA
Jeff Moyer, Rodale Institute

OFA Policy Committee members:
Kenneth Kimes, Farmer, CA
Mark McAfee, Farmer, CA
Michael Adsit, Farmer, MI
Hannah Smith-Brubaker, Farmer, PA
Bob Quinn, Farmer, MT
Pryor Garnett, Farmer, OR
Laura Freeman, Farmer, KY
Jennifer Taylor, Farmer, GA
Francis Thicke, Farmer, IA
Harriet Behar, Farmer, WI
Rodney Graham, Farmer, NY
Dave Chapman, Farmer, VT
David Runsten, California Organization Rep.
Kristina (Kiki) Hubbard, Western Organization Rep.
Michael Sligh, Southern Organization Rep.
Matthew Miller, North Central Organization Rep.
Casey Trinkaus, Midwest Organization Rep.
Edward Maltby, Northeast Organization Rep.


1 Current OFA Steering Committee and Policy Committee Members who have served on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) and their Years of Volunteer Service to USDA: Bob Quinn, 1992-1997; Michael Sligh, 1992-1997; Jim Riddle, 2001-2006; Jeff Moyer, 2006-2011; Jennifer Taylor, 2011-2016; Nicholas Maravell, 2011- 2016; Francis Thicke, 2013-2018; and Harriet Behar, 2016-2020.


Organic Farmers Group Says Soil Must Be the Root of Organic

The Organic Farmers Association (OFA) is raising concern with the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) recent statement that “Certification of hydroponic, aquaponic and aeroponic operations is allowed under the USDA organic regulations, and has been since the National Organic Program began,” labeling this action as revisionist history, and an incorrect interpretation of organic law. This statement was released by the USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service on January 25, 2018.

“The USDA has several times in the past sought guidance from the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) on the advisability of allowing hydroponic production to be certified organic,” said Francis Thicke, OFA policy committee chair and outgoing NOSB member. “This issue is far from settled.”

The association pointed out that in 2010 the NOSB, in a 14 to 1 vote, recommended that hydroponic production not be allowed to be certified organic, stating “systems of crop production that eliminate soil from the system, such as hydroponics or aeroponics cannot be considered as example of acceptable organic farming practices…due to their exclusion of the soil-plant ecology intrinsic to organic farming systems and USDA/NOP regulations governing them.”

The USDA National Organic Program did not follow through on that NOSB recommendation. However, most USDA-accredited certifying agencies have avoided certifying hydroponic operations because of the long-standing requirement—rooted in the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA)—that organic production must be in the soil.

“There are no federal standards for certifying hydroponic production as organic,” said Jim Riddle, OFA steering committee chair and former NOSB member.

Organic Farmers Association said OFPA—the enabling legislation that created the National Organic Program—indicates that organic production must be soil-based. Quoting the Act, “An organic plan shall contain provisions designed to foster soil fertility, primarily through the management of the organic content of the soil through proper tillage, crop rotation, and manuring.”

Further, Organic Farmers Association asserts that no legal justification accompanied USDA’s recent position of unconditional allowance for organic certification of hydroponic production.

“The notice contained no OFPA or NOP rule citations to justify the novel position being taken by USDA,” said Riddle. “Further, the notice contained no guidance to certifying agencies on how to certify operations that do not comply with most NOP requirements.”

The notice has alarmed pioneer organic farmers, who defined soil as fundamental to organic food production. The Organic Farmers Association, which represents U.S. organic farmers, is also upset by this policy statement, because it provides further evidence that the USDA is ignoring opportunities to maintain or increase consumer confidence in the organic seal.

This trend includes the USDA’s recent withdrawal of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule, which would strengthen and clarify animal welfare requirements, based on recommendations of the NOSB and extensive input and support from the organic community.

Other recent examples of the USDA’s attempts to undermine organic agriculture include the USDA’s failure to enforce grazing requirements for confinement organic dairy farms, and USDA’s very slow response to stop fraudulent grain imports, which have hurt American organic farmers.

The Organic Farmers Association believes that meaningful, strong, consistent standards must be enforced equally among all sizes and types of organic operations.

“It is a threat to the entire organic community when the USDA is not doing their utmost to enforce the plain language of the Organic Food Production Act and the Final Rule to protect organic integrity,” said Riddle.

To view the recent statement issued by the USDA on hydroponics, visit https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/USDAAMS/bulletins/1cde3b0.


Tell USDA: Save Organic Animal Welfare Standards

A year ago, the United States Department of Agriculture passed the Organic Welfare Rule (Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices- OLPP). Organic Farmers Association certified organic farmer members unanimously supported the rule implementation, but the USDA just decided to kill it.

We need you to tell USDA you want them to IMPLEMENT THE RULE IMMEDIATELY. Comments are due WEDNESDAY, January 17.

These new standards preserve the integrity of organic. Organic consumers already believe these standards are included in organic certification and most organic farmers already follow the OLPP rule. All certified farms should be required to follow these standards & maintain a level playing field.

CLICK TO: Submit a comment to USDA now.

Please submit a short comment. Here’s some tips:

  • Introduce yourself: who you are, where you are from, and share some details about your farm, ranch, or business.
  • State that as an organic producer, handler, or consumer you oppose USDA’s action to withdraw the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule (Docket # AMS-NOP-15-0012; NOP-15-06). Please implement the rule immediately.
  • Tell USDA why organic welfare is important to you & that these standards preserve trust in the organic label. If consumers doubt that high organic means high welfare standards, the organic label and market will suffer.
  • The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule has widespread support from the industry and consumers. It is the result of more than a decade of work on the part of the National Organic Standards Board and organic community.
  • The USDA has received tens of thousands of comments asking for immediate implementation of the rule. During the last comment period, 99 percent of comments asked USDA to implement the rule ASAP.
  • The majority of organic livestock farmers already comply with these rules. Farmers who already adhere to high standards are being undercut because of loopholes that allow a small number of producers to deny meaningful outdoor access to animals.
  • Organic Consumers want OLPP, Organic Farmers want OLPP, please implement it immediately.
  • Your comment can be 2 sentences or it can be pages long. What matters is an individual comment from YOU!

For more information, you can read Organic Farmers Association’s submitted comments to USDA at organicfarmersassociation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/OFAolppcomments01.11.18.pdf.


Organic Farmers Association Submits Comments to NIFA

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) solicited public input on the emerging needs and opportunities in food and agricultural research, education, and extension through the initiative, “NIFA Listens: Investing in Science to Transform Lives.” The Organic Farmers Association (OFA) submitted their comments on behalf of the nationwide organic farmers that the organization supports.

What is your top priority in food and agricultural research, extension or education that NIFA should address?

Organic agriculture is the future of American agriculture.  It is the fastest growing sector of U.S. agriculture—driven directly by U.S. consumer demand.  Organic family farmers are able to remain viable because organic farms are 35% more profitable than average farms, and organic agriculture helps maintain rural vitality and healthy drinking water, air, and soil-elements essential for our country’s future.

U.S. organic production lags far behind U.S. organic demand.  This market gap hurts U.S. farmers and it is crucial that we invest in organic research to support domestic production of organic crops.  U.S. farmers can compete with imported products—surely American farmers can replace the 70% imported organic soybeans and 40% imported organic corn with domestic product.  Organic agriculture has a prominent place in the future of U.S. agriculture and we need a larger investment in public organic agricultural research.

Funding organic research is a win-win for all U.S. farmers, as the basis of organic agriculture is soil health and alternative pest and disease management strategies—research in these areas benefit both organic and conventional farmers.  Unfortunately, over the past five years, while overall funding for agricultural research has grown significantly, funding for organic research has stagnated. For example, USDA’s own data shows that funding for organic in the flagship competitive grant research program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), has averaged about two-tenths of one percent (0.2 percent) annually. In addition, funding for USDA’s organic-specific research programs has been stagnant for years.

The bipartisan Organic Agriculture Research Act (H.R. 2436) has been introduced in the House to authorize $50 million in mandatory funding annually across all the relevant competitive grant research programs.  OFA strongly supports the Organic Agriculture Research Act as a means to address the many production challenges organic, and all, farmers face.  As the organic market grows at impressive speed, research must pick up the pace to meet the increasing research needs of U.S. farmers to be successful with organic production solving challenges of weed management, soil building and successful marketing. Conventional farmers are watching the organic market and ready to transition acres, but they need more research support to aid them in successful three-year organic land transitions while they try to understand how to follow organic standards but do not receive the organic price premiums on their products.

Within the organic research priorities, organic farmers strongly support research dollars for public research in seeds and breeds adapted to local and organic conditions.  The seeds and breeds developed with this public funding should remain in the public realm, not protected by private patents that restrict farmers saving the seed for future use.  Seed saving is an innovative strategy to further improve varieties for micro-local conditions—a practice in line with public funding for breed improvement.  Public varieties (no patents) also allow for breeders and researchers to share and further improve the cultivars or breeds—thus continuing improvement and refinement on varieties created with public dollars. We recommend an increased AFRI priority on public cultivar and breed development, through the establishment of a Public Plant Breeding and Cultivar priority area, with its own review panel and panel manager, within the AFRI Foundational RFA.  The priority area should be focused on public cultivar development and release and must remain in the public realm.

What are the most promising science opportunities for advancement of food and agricultural sciences?

Organic farmers have long known and been dedicated to the principle that healthy soil is the foundation of sustainable agriculture and results in healthy plants, animals, and humans.  In the past few years, conventional agriculture has begun to also acknowledge and explore the benefits of soil health and USDA NRCS has campaigned on the importance of soil health nationwide.  Soil is extremely complex and more science is needed to maintain, restore, and build soil health so that we can reduce soil inputs, reduce herbicides through better soil health and balance, and use the properties of healthy soil structure to clean water leaving farms.  More science on healthy soil will also enhance our understanding of how nutrient density enters food, so that we focus our agricultural production energy in producing the most nutritious food for our communities.


Organic Farmers Association Urges Implementation of Animal Welfare Rules

The Organic Farmers Association calls on the USDA to implement the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule (OLPP) without delay. The OLPP or “animal welfare” rule would allow the National Organic Program to consistently enforce stronger animal welfare standards on organic farms and remove loopholes being taken advantage of by some large operations.

The USDA previously delayed implementation of the rule until November 14, 2017 after holding an additional public comment period in June 2017 questioning whether the rule should even be implemented. Last week, the USDA announced they would wait until May 14, 2018 to implement the rule.

“This is the fourth time this year they have delayed implementation and organic farmers cannot wait,” said Kate Mendenhall, Director of Organic Farmers Association. “Certified organic farmers strongly support this rule—100% of the certified organic farmers who responded to our fall policy poll support immediate implementation of the rule. To delay again is a disservice to organic farmers.”

The OLPP has been an ongoing discussion within the organic community for the past ten years and included two public comment periods before being finalized. The rule was well vetted and is ready for implementation.

“The final ruling is needed and is supported by organic farmers nationwide,” said Jim Riddle, organic farmer and chair of the Organic Farmers Association steering committee. “It is time for the USDA to implement it to preserve the integrity of the organic seal”.


Organic Farmers Association Announces Policy Priorities

The Organic Farmers Association recently announced their 2017-2018 Policy Priorities, including policy positions on hot organic issues such as hydroponics, animal welfare, organic checkoff and the farm bill.

Last week, the Organic Farmers Association Steering Committee voted to approve the organization’s first policy positions, established as “urgent policy positions,” because they occurred outside their annual policy development process. Policy Committee members reviewed and approved submitting the positions to the OFA certified organic farm membership for a vote and comment. With high farmer support for all the proposed policies the Steering Committee voted to approve their use.

The policies are timely as the National Organic Standards Board meeting begins today, Tuesday, October 31 in Jacksonville, Florida and a highly contentious topic regarding whether hydroponic production will be allowed under the organic standards will be discussed. OFA farm members voted to follow the recommendations of the NOSB Crops Subcommittee and not allow hydroponics under the organic label.

Dave Chapman, OFA Policy Committee member says, “having Organic Farmers Association certified organic farmers vote to oppose organic hydroponics speaks volumes. We have seen a growing outcry from farmers over this issue for the past few years and farmers are adamant that healthy soil is the foundation of the organic label. We must keep the soil in organic.”

Other OFA policies address issues such as the organic checkoff, where 77% of OFA certified organic farmer members voted to oppose the proposed Organic Research and Promotion Program (ORPP) that would mandate organic farmers and handlers to pay an assessment on organic net sales each year. The membership also voted to urge the USDA to implement the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule (OLPP) without further delay, scheduled to go into effect November 14.

“We urge the USDA to act on behalf of America’s sustainable family farmers and listen to their needs by implementing the organic animal welfare act and discontinuing the organic checkoff proposal,” says Jim Riddle, OFA Steering Committee Chair and Minnesota organic farmer.

As the House and Senate Agriculture committees work to draft the 2018 farm bill, OFA now has its farm bill priorities clearly outlined and directed by their farm membership.

Michael Adsit, an organic farmer in Michigan and member of both the OFA Steering and Policy Committees commented, “as a member of OFA leadership, I am pleased we now have formal policy directive from organic farmers across the country that detail the USDA programs farmers need to be successful now and in the future. The future of agriculture is organic, and we must have a farm bill that helps fulfill this growing market demand with US supply.”

To view the full Organic Farmers Association Policy Priorities, visit OrganicFarmersAssociation.org/Policy-Position.

Organic Farmers Association will continue to engage their members in policy development and plan to begin their annual policy development process in the next few months. These policy positions will be ratified by the certified organic farm members before becoming permanent pieces of OFA policy platform.


Organic Farmers Association Announces Policy Leadership

Organic Farmers Association, a national membership organization for certified organic farmers, sponsored by Rodale Institute, has announced a new Policy Director and elected the first Policy Committee. This new leadership will facilitate Organic Farmers Association’s policy platform created by certified organic farmer members.

Mark Rokala will serve as Policy Director and lead policy work, under the direction of the newly elected policy committee and coordinating closely with the Organic Farmers Association Director Kate Mendenhall and Steering Committee Chair Jim Riddle. Mark will be leading work on the farm bill, helping identify Organic Farmers Association farmer members’ policy priorities, connecting members with Congressional leaders, and ensuring that our federal policies help support thriving independent organic farmers.

Mark Rokala has more than 28 years of experiences in agriculture policy, with twenty-three of those years working on state and federal agricultural policy. He worked for seven years as a congressional staffer on Capitol Hill and sixteen years as a lobbyist in D.C. focusing on agricultural and food policy.

“The Organic Farmers Association is excited to welcome Mark Rokala as our Policy Director,” said Jim Riddle. “Given the proven power of organic production to promote soil health, produce healthy food, and restore rural economic vitality, organic farmers must make our voices heard in D.C. Mark has a great deal of experience working on federal farm policy, and will help members of Congress and federal agencies understand the importance of investing in and protecting organic systems.”

The first elected Policy Committee is made up of 12 voting certified organic farmer members and six advisory organizational members. Committee members are regionally diverse and reflect the national diversity of organic farms. The Policy Committee will facilitate OFA’s policy platform, created by certified organic farmer members. From its start in the fall of 2016, Organic Farmers Association has been working to build and support a farmer-led national organic farmer movement with a strong voice advocating for organic farmers. This first Policy Committee will help guide this work forward from the ground up.

2017 Policy Committee includes:

California Region Farmer Representatives (Voting)
Kenneth Kimes, Greensward / New Natives, LLC, Aptos, CA
Mark McAfee, Organic Pastures, Fresno, CA

California Region Organization Representative (Advisory: Non-Voting)
David Runsten, Policy Director, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Davis, CA

Western Region Farmer Representatives (Voting)
Bob Quinn, Quinn Farm & Ranch, Big Sandy, MT
Pryor Garnett, Garnetts Red Prairie Farm, Sheridan, OR

Western Region Organization Representative (Advisory: Non-Voting)
Kristina Hubbard, Director of Advocacy, Organic Seed Alliance, Missoula, MT

North Central Region Farmer Representatives (Voting)
Francis Thicke, Radiance Dairy Fairfield, IA
Harriet Behar, Sweet Springs Farm, Gays Mills, WI

North Central Region Organization Representative (Advisory: Non-Voting)
Matthew Miller, Policy Committee Member, Iowa Organic Association, Ames, IA

Midwest Region Farmer Representatives (Voting)
Michael Adsit, Plymouth Orchards, Plymouth, MI
Hannah Smith-Brubaker, Village Acres Farm & FoodShed, Mifflintown, PA

Midwest Region Organization Representative (Advisory: Non-Voting)
Casey Trinkaus, Livestock & Poultry Specialist, The Fertrell Company, Bainbridge, PA

Southern Region Farmer Representatives (Voting)
Laura Freeman, Mt. Folly Farm, Winchester, KY
Jennifer Taylor, Lola’s Organic Farm, Glenwood, GA

Southern Region Organization Representative (Advisory: Non-Voting)
Michael Sligh, Program Director, Rural Advancement Foundation International, Pittsboro, NC

Northeast Region Farmer Representatives (Voting)
Rodney Graham, Oxbow Organic Farm, Hunt, NY
Dave Chapman Long Wind Farm, East Thetford, V

Northeast Region Organization Representative (Advisory: Non-Voting)
Edward Maltby Executive Director, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, Deerfield, MA