In late 2016, more than 500 organic operations, from organic fruit and vegetable growers, grains and oilseed farmers, livestock and poultry producers, dairy farmers, organic processors, and food makers across 45 states, participated in a comprehensive farm bill survey conducted by the Organic Trade Association (OTA).
This feedback set the groundwork for the Organic Trade Association’s farm bill priorities. As deliberations begin on developing the 2018 farm bill, the Organic Trade Association is advocating for policies that promote and protect organic and recognize its important place in the U.S. agriculture economy.
Here is a summary of the major priority “asks.”
Organic is a voluntary regulatory program that depends upon a clear market distinction backed by a trusted, verified and enforced claim. The next farm bill must include support and adequate funding for USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) to keep pace with industry growth, set uniform standards, and carry out compliance and enforcement actions in the U.S. and abroad.
The National Organic Program (NOP) and trade oversight
While all domestic and imported organic products must meet USDA’s strict standards, a greater emphasis on authority and capacity to conduct investigations will keep organic markets strong. The next farm bill should:
✓ Authorize funding for NOP to keep pace with organic industry growth, specifically a ten percent increase each year over the life of the farm bill above the $15 million per year authorization in the 2014 Farm Bill.
✓ Include one-time mandatory funding of $5 million for technology systems upgrades to modernize and improve international tracing systems and data collection. This will eliminate paper documents and move to electronic import certificates to ensure full traceability without hindering trade.
✓ Ensure effective oversight, robust investigations and enforcement across the entire supply chain by limiting the types of operations excluded from certification, requiring electronic import documentation, and establishing mechanisms for collaborative investigations and enforcement.
✓ Require USDA to complete an annual compliance report to Congress on domestic and overseas investigations and actions taken.
U.S. organic exports are up 60 percent, creating jobs domestically and driving demand overseas. Expansion of the Market Access Program (MAP) will create new opportunities for U.S. farmers, especially when targeted to emerging growth sectors. The next farm bill should include:
✓ H.R. 2321, the Cultivating Revitalization by Expanding American Agricultural Trade and Exports Act introduced by Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) that increases funding for MAP and the Foreign Market Development Program.
Successful organic farmers
Organic-focused research, risk management tools, data collection and direct dialog between industry and USDA are critical to organic farmers’ success.
Robust and stable funding for federal research on organic production methods and organic ingredients, pest control and weed management are critical to the survival of organic farms. The next farm bill should include:
✓ Increased support for the flagship Organic Agricultural Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) program to $50 million per year to ensure that organic farmers can continue to meet the unique challenges they face, by including H.R. 2436.
Organic farmers need USDA to continue making improvements in the farm safety net to achieve appropriate risk management tools for organic farms. Congress should direct the Risk Management Agency (RMA) to prioritize development of additional organic price elections for crop insurance coverage and review policies capping Control Price Addendums at two times the conventional price election for any specific crop. The next farm bill should:
✓ Continue Whole-Farm Revenue Protection established in the 2014 Farm Bill and recognize the change in farm revenue after a farm has transitioned to organic.
✓ Eliminate the 30 percent cap on increased production value under the expansion provision.
✓ Direct the Farm Service Agency to develop organic price elections for storage loans offered. Producers will then have the ability to access working capital based on the actual value of their crops to cash flow their operations.
Organic Data Initiative
Funding through the Organic Production Market and Data Initiatives (ODI) makes USDA’s data collection possible. The organic industry cannot continue to thrive and maintain stable markets without good data collection. The next farm bill should:
✓ Maintain the same level of program funding from the 2014 Farm Bill by providing mandatory funding of $5 million over the life of the 2018 Farm Bill and an additional authorization of appropriations of $5 million per year.
Stakeholder Advisory Capacity
Direct engagement by USDA with organic producers and handlers is critical to the success of organic as an important part of the diverse U.S. agricultural economy. The next farm bill should:
✓ Establish a new federal (USDA) advisory committee for certified organic farmers, ranchers and handlers to advise the Secretary on organic farm policies and issues outside of organic standards (which fall under NOSB’s advisory capacity).
Expanding the production base
Organic hotspots kick-start rural economies. Expanding organic production brings proven economic benefits to rural communities across the United States. The next farm bill should facilitate transitioning to organic with improved access to land and capital, investment in distribution systems and infrastructure, and targeted technical assistance.
The next farm bill should focus on access to capital, infrastructure, technical expertise, and market connections between buyers and sellers.
✓ Encourage organic’s eligibility for rural development programs such as rural business development grants, locally and regionally produced agricultural food products, and value-added agricultural product market development grants.
Opportunities exist for expanding organic production by focusing on access to credit, capital, and loans, especially during the critical transition period. The next farm bill should:
✓ Include organic’s eligibility for valuation of local and regional crops and add new organic operations to the definition of qualified beginning farmers and ranchers for rural business development grants.
Organic practices strongly align with approved practices within conservation incentive programs generally. The next farm bill should:
✓ Maintain and support Environmental Quality Incentives Programs (EQIP) and the Organic Initiative (OI) within EQIP.
✓ Direct USDA to recognize required organic practices within the full suite of conservation programs including the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and expand CSP organic bundles to transitioning organic farmers.
Certification Cost Share
The National Organic Certification Cost Share program is important to transitioning farmers and to attracting new and young farmers to organic. The next farm bill should:
✓ Maintain funding for national cost share and allow maximum flexibility in administering the program, including the applicability for reimbursing the costs of transitional certification.
This is a topline summary of the Organic Trade Association’s Farm Bill priorities. For more information, visit the Advocacy section of the Organic Trade Association’s website. Or, contact Megan DeBates (firstname.lastname@example.org), Director of Legislative Affairs and Coalitions, or Kelley Poole (email@example.com), Vice President of Government Affairs.