June 2022 Policy Update

June 2022

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

New USDA Support for Organic Transition

On June 1st, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack gave a speech on the USDA’s plans to transform the American food system, focusing on increasing resilience in food supply chains. One of the plans he announced was for USDA to establish a program, funded with $300 million, to assist farms that are transitioning to organic. We don’t have any details yet about how the program will operate, but the initial announcement listed farmer-to-farmer mentorship programs, technical assistance, direct support through conservation and crop insurance programs, and efforts to help develop organic markets as focus areas. OFA will continue to engage with USDA about the most useful ways to implement this program and will spread the word when details become available.

Delayed Organic Regulations

Now that the Origin of Livestock final rule has finally been released, we still need USDA action on several other critical issues related to the integrity of the organic label. The Office of Management and Budget, a division of the White House that signs off on federal regulations, continues to review the Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards rule. 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. We are also waiting for the USDA to finalize the Strengthening Organic Enforcement rule, which includes a long list of changes to USDA’s process for detecting and preventing fraud in organic supply chains. When asked at a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing about these delayed regulations, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack pledged that they would be released this year.

Setting Organic Priorities for the Next Farm Bill

The current Farm Bill expires in 2023, and Congress has started to take the first steps in the process of developing the new version. The House Agriculture Committee is working through a series of hearings to examine how USDA programs are working, including a hearing in late March in the subcommittee that covers organic issues. The hearing covered a range of topics, including the release of the final rule on Origin of Livestock and ways to streamline application to USDA conservation programs. In early May, the Senate Agriculture Committee had its first Farm Bill hearing in Michigan, home to the Chair of the committee, Senator Stabenow. The lineup of witnesses included several organic farmers, who talked about the potential they see for growth in organic agriculture and how increased research on organic methods and other USDA programs like organic certification cost-share could help. This summer, OFA will be working with our allies in the organic community to refine our Farm Bill proposals, on fixing organic certification cost-share, supporting organic research, tackling fraud in organic supply chains and other issues.

Get Involved: Advocate for Organic Farms This Summer!

As discussions about the next Farm Bill ramp up, this summer is an important opportunity to share policy priorities for organic farmers with your members of Congress. A good way to do that is to try to meet with your elected officials while they are back home more often during the summer. During periods when Congress is not meeting in Washington, DC, legislators spend time at home in their districts, and you can arrange a meeting with them or their staff there.

For tips on setting up a meeting in your legislator’s district office, check out OFA’s website.

And if you do get a meeting set up, here are some of OFA’s top priorities for the next Farm Bill:

  1. Organic Certification Cost Share – In the next Farm Bill, Congress should:
  • Increase the reimbursement level to 100% (up to $1500 per scope) to make organic certification free for small operations.
  • Streamline the program. The organic community is discussing ways to improve the program and our surveys reveal that farmers are interested in making the program function differently – to reduce the up-front cost of certification instead of reimbursement
  1. Organic and Climate – Organic must be included in whatever climate programs are developed for agriculture, and the USDA must make sure that organic is the gold standard for climate-smart agriculture by prohibiting hydroponic production in organic and enforcing organic regulations to make sure livestock are raised on pasture.
  2. Stronger Standards for Organic Integrity – USDA needs to finish long-delayed improvements to the organic standards, including the Strengthening Organic Enforcement rule to prevent fraud and stronger animal welfare standards.