Organic Farmers on the Hill!

March Policy Update by Policy Director, Patty Lovera.

There are reliable signs of spring each year in Washington, DC – massive numbers of tourists and school trips appear around town, and eventually so do the cherry blossoms they are here to see. And in the world of farm policy, another reliable sign of spring is lots and lots of talk about the “appropriations” process.

Appropriations is a fancy word for money, specifically, the funding that Congress gives to federal agencies and programs each year. There is a very specific process Congress uses to figure out the spending levels each year. But even when the process works smoothly (which hasn’t happened very often in the last decade or so), it takes a good chunk of the year to complete.

Here’s a diagram that shows the steps in the process.

Right now, we are in step 2, where committees work out the spending levels they will eventually bring to the floor of the House and Senate for a vote. During March and probably into April, subcommittees will have hearings and meetings to work out what spending levels will be in the bill for each federal department.

We’re already through Step 1, when the President sends Congress a proposed budget, with his suggestions of what various departments and programs need to do their work. This step gets more attention these days than it used to, in part because the Trump Administration has been proposing very dramatic cuts across most departments. (For the past three years, Congress has essentially ignored most of the proposals for really deep cuts.)

This year is no exception. The President’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2021 (which begins on October 1, 2020) would cut the National Organic Program by over 20 percent, to just above $12 million. According to the President’s proposal, this lower spending level would mean the NOP does not develop additional training courses, decreases the number of proactive surveillance activities, does not hire additional auditors to conduct risk-based reviews of certifier satellite offices, and does not hire agricultural economists to track and forecast import trends. Which is the exact opposite of what we need to make sure that the National Organic Program is able to do enough enforcement to protect the integrity of the organic label.

That’s why the OFA Advocacy Day on the Hill is so well-timed this year. Today, Tuesday March 10, organic farmers and advocates from a dozen states will be telling their members of Congress what we need from the National Organic Program and other USDA programs, and that they need enough money (and oversight from Congress) to do it. We have other asks too, including funding for more organic data collection, research, and other important programs, as well as action on climate change and immigration.

We’ll send an update after our day on the Hill about what we heard and how you can continue OFA’s advocacy during the rest of the year, by getting in touch with your members of Congress to tell them what organic policy means for your farm.

And one last update – on March 3, the Center for Food Safety filed a lawsuit filed a lawsuit challenging the USDA’s decision to allow hydroponic operations to be certified organic. The lawsuit claims that hydroponic operations violate organic standards for failing to build healthy soils and asks the Court to stop USDA from allowing hydroponically-produced crops to be sold under the USDA Organic label. The plaintiff coalition includes Swanton Berry Farm, Full Belly Farm, Durst Organic Growers, Terra Firma Farm, Jacobs Farm del Cabo, and Long Wind Farm, in addition to organic stakeholder organizations including organic certifier OneCert and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. We will keep you posted as the lawsuit moves through the process.