November Policy Update

November 2021

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

Organic Certification Cost Share

After months of waiting, last week the USDA announced its plan to provide additional assistance for organic certification cost share. 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.

The newly announced 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. 

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 (limited to 50% or $500.)
  • This new funding covers expenses from 2020, 2021 and 2022. You can apply for 2020 and 2021 at the same time (starting on November 8th.) 
  • 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 opens on November 8th and closes on January 7th. The website below has details on how to apply through the Farm Services Agency and what additional paperwork has to be filed if you already got a cost share payment. 

For more details:

NOSB Meeting

In October, the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) held its fall meeting, once again virtually because of the pandemic. The board heard two days of a public comment period and then conducted several days of their meeting, covering a range of topics. There were several key decisions made that will impact organic farms. One was a vote to prohibit ammonia extract, a high nitrogen fertilizer that was being petitioned for use but that the board rejected on concerns that it was not compatible with organic production. The board also voted not to allow the antibiotic kasugamycin to be used for plant disease control, and after years of discussion, voted to allow the use of biodegradable biobased mulch if it meets a specific set of criteria for compostability and what materials are included in the portion of the product that is not bio-based. The board also started an important discussion on potential ways to improve traceability in the organic supply chain as a way to help deter and detect fraud.

You can read OFA’s comments to the NOSB here.

USDA Considers Climate-Smart Agriculture 

The USDA recently accepted public comments on how the department should define “climate-smart agriculture,” how it should encourage adoption of climate-smart agriculture and how it should promote markets for climate-smart commodities. 

OFA weighed in to urge the USDA to base the definition of climate-smart agriculture on the already established infrastructure of the organic standards, but we also pointed out several ways that the organic standards must be strengthened to truly serve as the gold standard on climate including prohibiting hydroponic operations and requiring pasture-based livestock production. 

You can read OFA’s comments here. 

Congress Makes Progress on Infrastructure

In October, all of the action in Congress continued to focus on how to invest in the nation’s roads, bridges, public transit systems, broadband internet, energy grid and water systems through a bipartisan infrastructure package, as well as a second bill with funding for social programs, agriculture and addressing climate change. This second package is a “budget reconciliation” bill that uses a special procedure and can be passed only with Democratic votes. 

Late last week, the House narrowly passed one of these bills, the bipartisan infrastructure bill. The Senate had already passed this bill earlier in the summer, so now the bill goes to President Biden for his signature. Meanwhile, the debate over the second bill, the Build Back Better Bill that covers climate and social programs, continues. The current version of the bill 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 package also included a new program to forgive USDA farm loans for some small farms. The process of moving this bill is on hold while the final budget score for the bill is recalculated at the demand of several moderate Democrats. Once that process is finished, the House could then vote on the bill, sending it along to the Senate. 

Organic Dairy in the Northeast

This summer, Horizon Organic, which is owned by Danone, notified 89 organic dairy farmers in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and the northern part of New York that they would not be renewing their contract to buy their milk after next September. OFA is working with regional organic farm organizations and the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance to identify other marketing options for the impacted farms and to pressure USDA to strengthen the organic standards and make sure that large operations are not undercutting producers who meet high standards.