January 2022 Policy Update

January 2022

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

Organic Regulations Moving Through Approval Process

Two long-awaited regulations that are needed to increase the integrity of the organic standards are 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.

Origin of Livestock Rule: The USDA National Organic Program (NOP)’s failure to strengthen the standards for organic dairy has allowed large-scale organic dairies to undermine those organic farms that comply with the intent of the organic label. In 2015, the NOP published a proposed rule to clarify that, after completion of a one-time transition from a conventional dairy farm, all new dairy animals milked on an organic dairy farm would need to be managed organically from the last third of gestation. The 2015 proposed rule garnered strong public support from the entire organic community, but was never finalized. In 2020, Congress gave the NOP 180 days to finalize the rule, but the agency missed this deadline. OFA and other organizations have been advocating for a final OOL rule that can be consistently enforced and that requires that the entire one-time transition happen over a twelve-month period under the supervision of an organic certification agency as part of the producer’s Organic System Plan.

Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards Rule: This rule is a new version of the long-delayed Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) rule. The OLPP rule was delayed and ultimately withdrawn by the Trump Administration. The new rule would allow USDA to consistently enforce stronger animal welfare standards on organic farms and close loopholes being taken advantage of by some large operations. The OLPP rule was discussed and vetted in the organic community for more than a decade and has widespread support. Animal welfare is an issue of critical importance to organic consumers, and these standards must be tightened to retain consumers’ confidence in 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. Just before Thanksgiving, the groups met with Danone to lay out options for how the company could do better by the organic farmers in the Northeast who helped build their brand. In mid-December, the company announced it will meet one of the requests, by extending farm contracts to 18 months. The company will also provide a small (6% of the milk check for 6 months or $2 per hundred pounds of milk) transition payment for the affected farm families.

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. The contract extension 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 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.

Congress Debates Climate and Social Spending 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 as Congress starts the new year. The second package, the 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.

Now Senate Democrats have to find agreement on their version of the bill, with key players like Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) blocking the process over concerns about the total size of the spending package, as well as specific programs like the child tax credit. If the bill finally passes Congress, there will be lots of work to do to communicate with USDA about the details for spending this new money on conservation and research programs, and making sure that organic agriculture is on the list of practices that meet the goals of the Build Back Better bill.

Reminder – Apply for Additional Organic Certification Cost Share!

Organic producers can apply until February 4th for additional assistance for organic certification cost share. The additional funding for organic certification cost share comes from pandemic response money Congress provided to the USDA. In addition to providing additional funding for cost share, USDA has also created new opportunities for farms that are in the process of transitioning to organic certification to get some costs reimbursed.

This additional funding is necessary because reimbursement levels were cut in 2020. Since 2008, the federal government has reimbursed up to 75 percent of organic certification fees paid by organic farms and businesses, with a maximum reimbursement of $750 per certification scope (crops, livestock or handling) per operation. But starting in 2020 and again in 2021, USDA’s Farm Services Agency (FSA) cut reimbursement rates to 50 percent, up to a maximum of $500 per scope.

Some details about the new program:

  • Organic certification cost share limits are 25% or $250 from this round of funding. This could be in addition to reimbursement provided under the normal cost share program (which means you could get up to $500 from the original program and an additional $250 from this new round.)
  • This new funding covers expenses from 2020, 2021 and 2022. You can apply for 2020 and 2021 at the same time.
  • There are two new options for expenses that can get some amount of reimbursement (for either certified or transitioning operations):
  1. Educational expenses (such as conference registrations, reimbursable for 75% up to $200)
  2. Soil testing expenses (reimbursable for 75% up to $100.)

The application period for expenses from 2020 and 2021 closes on February 4th.

For more details on how to apply: