February 2022 Policy Update

February 2022

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

New USDA Program on Climate Smart Commodities

Yesterday, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack announced that the USDA would spend $1 billion on grants for pilot programs that create market opportunities for U.S. agricultural and forestry products that use climate-smart practices and include ways to measure and verify greenhouse gas benefits. OFA will be closely reading the rules for the new grant program to see how organic farming fits into the program’s definition of climate-smart. You can read more about this new program here.

Organic Regulations Moving Through Approval Process

Two long-awaited regulations that are needed to increase the integrity of the organic standards are finally moving through the rulemaking process. The Office of Management and Budget, a division of the White House that signs off on federal regulations, is reviewing USDA’s Origin of Livestock rule and the Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards rule. OFA and our allies have met with the OMB about both of these rules to make the case that stronger rules are desperately needed to ensure a level playing field for organic farms and ensure the integrity of the organic label. After the OMB finishes their review, the USDA will have to make any changes required by the OMB and can then release the OLPS proposed rule for public comment and the final version of the OOL rule.

Northeast Organic Milk Update

OFA is still working with regional organic farm organizations and the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance to identify options for the 89 organic dairy farms in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and part of New York who were notified by Horizon Organic that the company plans to end their contract to buy their milk. OFA and other farm organizations participated in a task force organized by the USDA that offered a long list of recommendations for steps USDA could take, ranging from finalizing long-delayed rules like Origin of Livestock, to investing in new processing infrastructure for organic milk. When asked by members of Congress during a hearing about the status of these recommendations, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack said he expected to be making some decisions quite soon.

There are still many details to figure out for the impacted farmers and lots of work to be done to improve infrastructure for organic milk processing in the region. A 6-month contract extension announced by Danone will give the farms a little bit more time to investigate new paths forward, but what the region really needs is a sound market with more buyers for organic milk. OFA and our allies will continue to push Danone and USDA to co-invest in solutions for Northeast dairy infrastructure that will secure a future for Northeast dairy and provide local organic milk for the Northeast.

Unclear Path Forward for Build Back Better bill

With the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law in the fall, the future of a second major spending bill is still up in the air. The second package, called Build Back Better, is a “budget reconciliation” bill that uses a special procedure and can be passed only with Democratic votes (which will be necessary because all Republicans have vowed not to vote for it). The House passed its version of Build Back Better just before Thanksgiving, and it includes a big increase in funding for organic research as well as a historic $28 billion increase (over 10 years) for USDA conservation programs including the Conservation Security Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, with a focus on addressing climate change. The House package also included a new program to forgive USDA farm loans for some small farms.

Senate Democrats have not been able to find agreement on their version of the bill, with key players like Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) blocking the process. There is a lot of speculation about the path forward for this package, with some proposals to break the larger package up into smaller pieces. If that is the path forward, we will need to see if a climate package includes the same historic level of funding for USDA conservation programs that was in the original Build Back Better package.

Congress Starts to Prepare for the Next Farm Bill

Even as we try to figure out what will happen with the agriculture and climate spending in the Build Back Better bill, Congress has started to take the first steps in the process of developing the next Farm Bill. The current Farm Bill, passed in 2018, expires in 2023. But the debate over what should be in the bill will begin this year. The House Agriculture Committee has kicked off a series of hearings to examine how USDA programs like conservation and commodity programs are working under the current Farm Bill. And many members of Congress will start to do events like listening sessions or other meetings to gather input about the Farm Bill during their recess periods this spring and summer.

There are several ways you can get involved in OFA’s process for setting our priorities for organic in the next Farm Bill:

  1. Take our Farm Bill priorities survey
  1. Attend a virtual meeting with organic farmers from across the country to talk about what organic needs in the next Farm Bill.