July Policy Update

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

After months of normal procedures being stalled because of the disruption caused by COVID-19, some of the policy machinery started to come back to life this month. There’s a lot going on, with continued work to respond to the increasing pandemic, the fight to improve the organic standards, and a report from a special committee in Congress about climate change.


The USDA and Small Business Administration are still running several programs for agriculture that were created by the CARES Act in late March. You can see more details about the SBA programs, called the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) here. In early July, Congress passed and the President signed a bill to extend the time frame for applying to the PPP program until early August (the original bill expired June 30.)

The USDA continues to run two programs created by the CARES Act – the Farmers to Families Food Box (contracts to ship boxes of food to food banks) and the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program(CFAP) (direct payments to farmers for eligible commodities).

The USDA started a second round of contracts for the Farmers to Families Food Box, with most of the vendors that got a contract in the first round being renewed for the second round, but not all. There are some reports that USDA may initiate a third round of contracts later this month, so if you are interested in this program, keep an eye on their website.

For the direct payment (CFAP) program, you can get more information here, including which crops are eligible for direct payments (based on USDA’s assessment of whether they suffered a significant price drop between January and April.)  Last week, USDA announced additional fruits and vegetables that are now eligible for direct payments to producers. The USDA recorded a series of webinars about this program, which might be useful if you are considering whether to apply.

In addition to these existing programs, Congress is expected to pass another bill this summer to address the ongoing impacts of the pandemic. The House already passed their bill in May, called the HEROES Act, which would continue the approach from the CARES Act of providing funding for USDA to make payments to producers, as well as some additional funding for things like protective equipment. The Senate will develop their own version of a bill. The Senate is on recess until the last week of July, and it looks as if the discussions on their bill will start in earnest when they return to DC. Now that this process seems to finally be underway, we are reminding Senate offices about the needs of organic farmers, in hopes they will include these in their version of the bill.

APPROPRIATIONS: Funding for Organic Programs

After months of delay because of the pandemic, there are some signs that Congress is starting to turn back to their standard agenda, specifically the annual process of passing the “appropriations” bills that provide funding for federal agencies like the USDA. Last week, the House Appropriations committee adopted its version of the spending bill for USDA. It would provide increased funding for the National Organic Program ($18 million, up from $16 million this year) and continue funding levels for organic transition research and other programs OFA and our allies have supported. The next steps in this process are a vote by the full House, and the Senate still has to write a bill and pass it through committee before going to the full Senate. 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.


After many months of delay, there is finally some good news on one of the rules we need to improve the integrity of the organic standards. The National Organic Program last week released the text of long-awaited proposed rule on Strengthening Organic Enforcement! This proposed rule will implement the provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill on preventing fraud in the organic supply chain and ensuring that U.S. organic farms can compete on a level playing field.

You can read the text of the proposed rule and view a webinar by the NOP here. OFA is analyzing the details of the proposed rule and will be back in touch soon with how you can submit a public comment.

Unfortunately, another critical rule on organic integrity, Origin of Livestock (OOL), is still stuck in the process at USDA. In June, USDA missed a deadline set by Congress for finishing the long-delayed rule to close loopholes in the standards for how livestock are transitioned into organic. OFA and 70 other organizations wrote to Congress (and alerted the media) that the deadline passed with no rule from USDA. Keep reading to find out how you can urge Congress to make sure USDA finishes this critical rule.


This month, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released their report, “Solving The Climate Crisis: The Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy and Just America.”  The report covers a lot of topics, including agriculture, and makes recommendations for what the House and Senate Agriculture Committees could do to make agriculture adapt to and help address climate change, including a specific recommendation to increase support for organic farming and tightening organic standards (see page 347 of the report.)


TAKE ACTION:  Level the Playing Field for Organic Dairy Farmers!

In June, the USDA’s National Organic Program missed a deadline set by Congress to finalize a long-overdue rule to improve the standards for how livestock are transitioned into organic (the “origin of livestock” rule.)  We need your help to tell Congress to put pressure on USDA to get this done!

Right now, the best way to reach your members of Congress is via email. Look up your Representative at www.house.gov (use the “Find Your Representative” box at the top right and then go to your member’s website and look for a Contact tab) and your two Senators at www.senate.gov (go to the “Senators” tab and then “Contact” to find the Senators from your state.)

Here’s an example email for you to use.  Add details about your farm (especially if you are a dairy farmer) if you would like:

Dear Senator/Representative:

I am your constituent and I urge you to act now to ensure that the USDA closes loopholes in the organic standards that are hurting organic dairy farmers. The USDA’s National Organic Program missed the deadline set by Congress in the FY 2020 appropriations bill to finalize a rule on how animals are transitioned into organic production.

We desperately need this rule to close loopholes in the organic regulations that are being exploited by large-scale dairy operations that continuously cycle animals in and out of organic production. This rule is long overdue, and it is necessary for consistent enforcement to create a level playing field for all organic dairy producers. USDA’s failure to tighten these standards has allowed some large operations to unfairly flood the market with organic milk, hurting smaller farmers and endangering consumers’ trust in the organic label.

Congress required USDA to complete the OOL final rule by June 17, 2020.  This deadline has now passed, and we need you to make sure that USDA finishes this rule as soon as possible.


<<Your Name, Farm Name (if applicable)>>