June 2024

By Lily Hawkins, Policy Director

Farm Bill Movement

Last month, Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow released a Farm Bill proposal titled the “Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act,” which includes policies that will help move more U.S. agriculture to organic methods and make a positive impact for organic producers by providing authorization of funding that will allow the National Organic Program (NOP) to keep pace with the growth in the organic sector. This proposal can advance OFA’s Farm Bill priorities in numerous ways including:

  • Directs the NOP to solicit public input on the prioritization of organic regulations to be promulgated or revised;
  • Directs the USDA Secretary to publish an annual report regarding recommendations received from the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), all regulatory and administrative actions taken, and justifications on why actions were or were not taken on those recommendations;
  • Directs the Government Accountability Office (GOA) to conduct a study on the efforts of the NOP to improve organic standards and provide recommendations on how the NOP can ensure that organic program standards evolve in a timely manner to meet consumer expectations and benefit organic producers;
  • Directs the USDA to improve collection of organic dairy market data;
  • Clarifies the calculation of Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) payments for income forgone by a producer transitioning to an organic resource-conserving system;
  • Continues funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI);
  • Provides enhanced coordination of organic agriculture research within USDA;
  • Provides mandatory funding for organic production and market data initiatives (ODI);
  • Provides stable funding for the Organic Certification Cost-Share Program and increases the maximum payment to a producer or handler from $750 to $1,000;
  • Directs research and development on ways to increase participation of organic producers in Federal crop insurance;
  • Authorizes an Organic Market Development Grant (OMDG) program; 
  • Increases the EQIP payment cap for organic producers to $450,000, making the organic cap equal to the conventional payment cap

Shortly after the Senate Majority proposal was introduced, the House Agriculture Committee Chair released his Farm Bill proposal, titled the “Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024.” On May 23, 2024, the House Ag Committee passed the bill. With a Republican majority in the House, Republican wins included increases to farm safety net programs. The Democratic minority cited several red lines that were crossed, including Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022 funds moved to the Farm Bill baseline, but with climate guardrails removed; nutrition programs will be limited; and new restrictions placed on the Secretary of Agriculture’s discretion to use Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) funds to address urgent threats to the food system. Democratic efforts to address these issues through amendments during the markup were unsuccessful. 

OFA sees wins and losses in the House Bill. OFA is thrilled that provisions for improved data collection for organic dairy were included, along with increased payment limits under the EQIP Organic Initiative, increased funding for the Organic Data Initiative (ODI), and incentives to develop regionally adapted plant cultivars and animal breeds. However, the bill does not go far enough to provide resources for the growing organic sector, with largely level funding for organic programs. Specifically the bill:

  • Maintains mandatory funding for the OREI at $50 million per year
  • Continues support for organic production through the NOP, Organic Production and Market Data Initiative (ODI), and Organic Certification Cost-Share Program
    • Adds a requirement to collect and publish cost-of-production data for organic milk through the ODI inspired by H.R. 6937;
    • Provides $10 million in mandatory funding for the ODI based on a request for increased funding in H.R. 2720.30; 
    • Directs the Secretary to provide technical assistance, outreach, and education to support organic production through existing programs at various agencies throughout the Department; 
    • Provides $5 million in mandatory funding for the continued NOP database maintenance and technology upgrades; 
    • Continues mandatory funding for the Organic Certification Cost-Share Program at $8 million per year; 
    • Reauthorizes the authorization of appropriations for the NOP with essentially level funding

It’s encouraging to see progress at last on the long awaited Farm Bill, but there is still a long way to go to pass a final bill by the September 30 deadline. The House Agriculture Farm Bill must still pass on the floor—sure to be a difficult passage due to the inclusion of Democrat’s red line components. We are still awaiting the Senate Republican response to the Majority Senate Farm Bill Framework, as well as the full Senate text. The Senate Agriculture Committee will then have to pass a consolidated Senate version. Once both chambers have passed their own version of the bill, leaders from the House and Senate will work to combine the two bills into one bill, which can then be voted on by the full chambers.

It is possible that both chambers will complete this process before the deadline at the end of September. However, the closer we creep to the 2024 election process the greater the likelihood that the Farm Bill may be extended again until 2025.

A new Farm Bill is essential to maintain key agriculture programs and to provide certainty for farmers as they make important business decisions. OFA will continue to advocate for the inclusion of the important policies from the Senate and House proposals and key marker bills in the final Farm Bill. To get involved, call or email your legislators and ask them to support the marker bills that matter most to you! Find their contact information here.

Proposed Changes to Mushroom and Pet Food Standards

On May 10, 2024, the public comment period closed for the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) proposed rule on Mushroom and Pet Food Standards in the Federal Register to amend the USDA organic regulations. The rule proposes specific standards for organic mushroom production and organic pet food handling, aiming to create more consistent standards for these markets. 

For organic mushrooms, this proposed rule would: 

  • Clarify that mushrooms should be certified under the crops scope.
  • Clarify which existing crop production standards apply to organic mushroom production. 
  • Create a mushroom-specific standard for organic compost production. 
  • Require operations producing organic mushrooms to:
    • Use organic materials for the uncomposted portions of production substrate when commercially available. 
    • Use organic spawn media when commercially available. 
    • Use organic mushroom spawn when commercially available.

For organic pet food, the rule would: 

  • Clarify how existing organic labeling requirements should be applied to organic pet food. 
  • Allow organic meat and slaughter by-products in organic pet food. 
  • Describe what ingredients can be used in organic pet food.
  • Add synthetic taurine (an amino acid) to the National List and allow its use in organic pet food to meet some pets’ nutritional needs. 

The minimal changes proposed to the pet food portion of the proposed rule are not of concern to OFA, rulemaking in this area could expand organic markets for domestic farmers. However, OFA strongly recommended in our comments that AMS review comments from this proposed rule and then quickly release a second proposal centering the National Organic Standards Board’s 2001 recommendation on mushrooms and positioning mushroom standards under a new scope for Fungi. Fungi are neither animals nor plants, and certifying them under either Crops or Livestock scopes does not allow for consistent organic regulations; mushrooms and other fungi like yeast and mold should be given their own scope. Read OFA’s full comments online.

Nominations Deadline Approaches for National Organic Standards Board Vacancies

The National Organic Standards Board works to develop and update standards for substances to be used in organic production and to advise the Secretary on the implementation of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. This year, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is requesting nominations to fill the following vacancies:

  • One individual who owns or operates an organic farming operation or employee of such individual; 
  • Two individuals who own or operate an organic handling operation or employees of such individuals; 
  • One individual who owns or operates a retail establishment with significant trade in organic products or employees of such individuals; and 
  • One individual with expertise in areas of environmental protection and resource conservation. 

Board appointees will serve a five-year term beginning January 2025 and ending January 2030. Additionally, AMS is requesting applications for a pool of candidates that the Secretary of Agriculture can draw upon as replacement appointees if unexpected vacancies occur. 

Interested applicants can view more information about the NOSB, time commitments, workload, and how to apply, at the NOSB Nominations page. The deadline for applications is June 28, 2024.