August Policy Update

August 2021

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

Climate Change and Agriculture

This month, Congress moved a little closer towards a plan to invest in the nation’s roads, bridges, public transit systems, broadband internet, energy grid and water systems through a bipartisan infrastructure package. The negotiations have been tense, but it appears that the Senate will soon pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill, while the prospects in the House are still somewhat up in the air. One result of the negotiations is that the infrastructure package is more limited than some early proposals, which means that possible funding for things like agriculture and addressing climate change will mostly have to be addressed in a different piece of legislation. The most likely way for that to happen during this Congress is through a “reconciliation” bill that is passed only with Democratic votes. (This process can only be used a limited number of times and is supposed to be limited to funding existing government programs. It was used earlier this year to pass the American Rescue Plan to address economic impacts of the pandemic.) 

Once Congress is done with the bipartisan infrastructure package, Democratic leadership will try to get their members to agree on a package to pass under reconciliation – and there are efforts underway to dramatically increase funding for USDA’s conservation programs as part of a reconciliation bill. The details of how the increased funding will be distributed still need to be worked out, but a major motivation for Democrats working on this issue is to provide more money to support farming practices that help address climate change.

USDA’s 2022 Budget

After some delays, Congress made some progress in the last month on one of their yearly tasks, passing “appropriations” bills that set the spending levels for various branches of the federal government like the USDA. The full House has passed its version of the bill that covers USDA, and last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed its version out of committee and sent it to the full Senate. Both versions of the bill would increase funding for the National Organic Program, with instructions to emphasize enforcement of organic standards and organic research as well as urging the USDA to fix the reimbursement levels for organic certification cost share. The next fiscal year for the federal government starts on October 1st, so this process will speed up (or raise the prospect of a government shutdown) in September. 

Pipeline Foods Bankruptcy

On July 8th, Pipeline Foods filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. According to the company’s website, it contracted with 1,461 growers in 2019 (the most recent number available.) If you are an organic grain producer who sold grain to Pipeline Foods and have not been paid, there are a couple of things you can do right now:

  1. Contact the state department of agriculture for the state where your grain was delivered. Many states have grain dealer licensing programs that administer funds or insurance programs to cover obligations from grain dealer defaults. Each state has its own program, so the details vary on how to apply and how much of the loss will be covered. You can find the websites for programs in many of the states where Pipeline bought grain here. 
  2. If you delivered grain in a different state than where your farm is located, you may also want to contact your state department of agriculture to see if there are programs that cover this loss. Most states license the grain dealer, so they cover transactions at grain facilities in the state (where the grain is delivered, not where it is grown.) But it is also worth checking with your home state in case they have a program that could help. Some state programs may eventually hold information sessions about what options farmers have in this situation, so keep an eye on the websites for your state grain program.
  3. Consider seeking legal help if you made deliveries shortly before the bankruptcy filing, or before making any new deliveries to Pipeline. Several states have suspended the company’s grain dealer license. Those with open contracts for future delivery of grain to Pipeline facilities in Minnesota may now be able to get out of those contracts – see the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s website for the steps you need to follow

OFA will continue to look for other options for organic farmers who are impacted by this bankruptcy, and will share more information as we find it. But contacting a state grain program and getting your own legal advice are short-term steps you should take as soon as possible. 

What You Can Do

Members of the House of Representatives have already left DC for their August recess and members of the Senate should be leaving DC soon. Especially after last summer’s limitations due to the pandemic, you are likely to see your members of Congress out and about at fairs and other events. If you get a chance to talk to them, let them know that organic is climate-smart agriculture and that USDA needs to do more to protect organic integrity. You can also read OFA’s guide to setting up an “in-district” meeting with your members of Congress while they are back home during the August recess.