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.


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.