September 2022 Policy Update

September 2022

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

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 certification. On August 22nd, USDA released more details on the Organic Transition Initiative, which will provide $300 million to three areas:

  1. $100 million for “wrap around technical assistance” for farms going through the transition process. The USDA plans to “build partnership networks in six regions across the U.S. with trusted local organizations serving direct farmer training, education, and outreach activities…The organizations will connect transitioning farmers with mentors, building paid mentoring networks to share practical insights and advice.”
  2. $100 million for direct assistance to farmers through conservation and crop insurance programs. The Natural Resources Conservation Service will develop a new organic management conservation practice standard and offer financial and technical assistance to producers who implement the practice, and increase organic expertise at each of its regional technology support centers. USDA will also create a new Transitional and Organic Grower Assistance Program at the Risk Management Agency, which will support transitioning and certain certified organic producers’ participation in crop insurance, including coverage of a portion of their insurance premium.
  3. $100 million to improve organic supply chains. USDA will focus on key organic markets where the need for domestic supply is high, or where additional processing and distribution capacity is needed for more robust organic supply chains. More details on this initiative will be released later this year.

Changes to Crop Insurance Programs Used by Specialty Crop and Diversified Farms

At the end of August, the USDA announced changes to the Whole-Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) and Micro Farm insurance programs. The WFRP program provides protection for all eligible commodities on a farm under one insurance policy. Changes to WFRP include:

  • Doubling the maximum insurable revenue to $17 million
  • Allowing a producer to report and self-certify yield at the beginning of the year for commodities without other insurance options in a way similar to those with individual crop policies.
  • Eliminating expense reporting to reduce paperwork burden. In place of expense reporting, WFRP will reduce the expected revenue of commodities a producer is unable to plant to 60%, similar to prevented planting for other programs.

The MicroFarm program is offered through WFRP and provides coverage for all eligible commodities on a farm under one insurance policy on a smaller scale. The program used to be for farms with up to 100,000 in approved revenue, and now the limit has been raised to $350,000.

These updates to WFRP and Micro Farm take effect in crop year 2023.

Annual Spending Bills Support Organic Programs

This month, Congress needs to address the upcoming deadline for passing annual spending bills for federal agencies like the USDA. October 1 is the beginning of the federal government’s new fiscal year, and Congress needs to pass new “appropriations” bills or an extension by that date, or the federal government will partially shut down. At this point, it is likely that Congress will have to pass an extension, probably until early December, and then try to pass new bills for the rest of the fiscal year.

In the appropriations bills that have been drafted for the USDA for Fiscal Year 2023, organic programs are faring well. The House has already passed a bill that would increase funding for the National Organic Program and included language to direct the NOP to strengthen their enforcement of organic soil health requirements. The Senate has a draft bill, which also included an increase in funding for the NOP and good report language on enforcement. The bill still has to be passed by the full Senate, and then any differences between the House and Senate versions will have to be reconciled.

Participate in the National Organic Standards Board’s Fall Meeting

The NOSB meets twice a year to work on recommendations to the USDA about organic standards and the National List of materials that are allowed or prohibited in organic production. After several years of virtual meetings, the NOSB is planning for an in-person meeting in October in Sacramento, California.

  • Public Comment Webinar Day 1: Tuesday, October 18 from Noon – 5:00 pm Eastern
  • Public Comment Webinar Day 2: Thursday, October 20 from Noon – 5:00 pm Eastern
  • NOSB Public Meeting Day 1: Tuesday, October 25 from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm Pacific
  • NOSB Public Meeting Day 2: Wednesday, October 26 from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm Pacific
  • NOSB Public Meeting Day 3: Thursday, October 27 from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm Pacific

You can watch the meeting online, and the public comment portions of the meeting will still be virtual.  Meeting information and the registration form to sign up for public comment are here (registration form is at bottom of page.)