December 2022 Policy Update

December 2022

By Lily Hawkins, Policy Director

All Midterm Election Results Are Now In

One month after the midterm elections we know the final outcome of all the national races. After John Fetterman’s win in Pennsylvania and Rev. Warnock’s victory in the runoff in Georgia, the Democrats will maintain their Senate majority despite Kyrsten Sinema’s recent decision to register as an independent.  Senator Stabenow will likely maintain her role as Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Meanwhile, Republicans have taken control of the House, but with a smaller majority than they had hoped for.  Representative G.T. Thompson of Pennsylvania has been elected as the new Chair of the House Agriculture Committee. He will have a challenge ahead in crafting a Farm Bill acceptable to both the far-right Freedom Caucus in the house and the Democratic-controlled Senate.

2023 Farm Bill Hearings Continue

Despite the narrow path the next Farm Bill will have to walk, incoming House Agriculture Chairman Thompson has publicly stated that he is committed to passing it on time. He has announced that he will hold a listening session-style hearing at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg during the first weekend in January. This will be a chance for him to formally lay out his priorities for the must-pass legislation as Committee Chair for the first time.

Meanwhile, House and Senate Agriculture Committees continue to hold hearings on the Farm Bill under the current leadership. Last week, Colorado organic farmer and former NOSB member Steve Ela delivered powerful testimony during the Senate Agriculture hearing on Farm Bill research programs, saying that more research is needed on the benefits of a systems-based approach in overcoming problems in agriculture. 

You can read his full testimony here, and watch the hearing here

Extended Deadline for Annual Spending Bills Draws Near

October 1 marked the beginning of the federal government’s new fiscal year. Congress was supposed to have passed annual appropriations bills to set spending for federal agencies such as the USDA.  However, they were unable to reach an agreement on the final package of bills and passed a resolution allowing them to avoid a government shutdown by extending the deadline until December 16th.

With that deadline rapidly approaching, the two parties have yet to reach an agreement on spending levels for the final omnibus bill. Democrats have threatened to pass a year-long funding extension that will freeze federal spending at the current levels through September 30th, 2023.

In the appropriations bills that have been drafted for the USDA for Fiscal Year 2023, organic programs are faring well. The House has already passed a bill that would increase funding for the National Organic Program and includes language to direct the NOP to strengthen its enforcement of organic soil health requirements. The Senate has a draft bill, which also included an increase in funding for the NOP and good report language on enforcement. The Senate bill still needs to be passed, and any differences between the two bills must now be reconciled and passed by the extended December deadline.

Delayed Organic Regulations

With the Origin of Livestock final rule finally being released this spring, we still need USDA action on several other critical issues related to the integrity of the organic label. The public comment period on the proposed Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards rule closed last month and is now back at the Office of Management and Budget, a division of the White House that signs off on federal regulations, for review. We are also waiting for the USDA to finalize the Strengthening Organic Enforcement rule, which includes a long list of changes to the USDA’s process for detecting and preventing fraud in organic supply chains. Several months ago Agriculture Secretary Vilsack pledged that the rules would be released this year, so OFA is watching closely for any movement. 

Do you have experience with Commodity Contracting through the Agricultural Marketing Service?

USDA wants to hear about “Barriers Facing Small Firms and Businesses Providing Halal, Kosher and Organic Products in Commodity Contracting With the Agricultural Marketing Service.” The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) wants to update its Commodity Procurement Program Small Business and New Vendor Strategy and is accepting public comment through December 27th. More information is available here.

It is difficult for organic producers to participate in these federal contracts, which purchase and distribute food to schools, food banks, Tribal organizations, and international food aid programs because they are generally awarded based on price. If you have experience dealing with these programs or have been frustrated that they aren’t more accessible, please consider submitting a comment this month, or reaching out to OFA Policy Director Lily Hawkins at

Second Pool of Grants Awarded Through Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities

Yesterday, Secretary Vilsack announced that USDA will be investing $325 million in 71 projects as part of the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities funding opportunity. This is the second round of funding and follows the September announcement of 70 projects selected to receive up to a total of $2.8 billion. USDA is distributing this funding with the goal of expanding markets for climate-smart commodities to benefit producers and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This second round was intended to focus on projects involving small and/or underserved producers and minority-serving institutions.

There was enormous interest in the program with over $18 billion worth of proposals submitted. Several organizations with an organic focus received awards, including many projects led by OFA organization members and allies. The full list of awards given can be found here.