Organic producers choose the issues that they want Congress to address in the 2018 farm bill.
This article originally ran in the spring 2018 issue of New Farm Magazine, the magazine of Organic Farmers Association. All OFA members receive a complimentary issue of New Farm annually. Click here to sign up!
The U.S. farm bill is a sprawling piece of legislation that directly impacts not only the agriculture industry but also the insurance and banking industries, wildlife conservation, school lunches, and much more. The bill currently being drafted will replace the 2014 version, which was more than 350 pages long and included over $950 billion in spending allocations. While just a small portion of the massive bill addresses organic agriculture specifically, the legislation is a source of significant funding for an array of initiatives that are important to certified producers.
Thirty-nine organic-related programs are supported by the bill, says Mark Rokala, policy director for Organic Farmers Association. “We are working to ensure that our priorities are funded,” he explains. “At the top are supply-chain integrity, research, and organic certification cost-share programs.”
In early 2018, nine issues relating to those priorities were selected by farmer-members for OFA to focus on. Here are a few specifics.
ENFORCEMENT POWER OFA is advocating for increasing resources to the National Organic Program to stop fraudulently labeled imported products from reaching U.S. markets and to investigate domestic producers that violate the organic standards. “Protecting the integrity of the organic seal is the highest priority of our members,” Rokala says. “The NOP needs to step up its equitable and consistent enforcement of its standards across all types and sizes of farms in the United States and to work with the Customs and Border Protection agency on import fraud.”
MORE RESEARCH OFA members support passage of the Organic Agriculture Research Act (HR 2436) and expanded funding in the farm bill for research of direct value to certified farmers. OFA is also calling for a $50 million annual allocation to public plant and animal breeding programs, with a focus on developing regionally adapted organic cultivars and animal breeds. “The USDA provides $1 billion in research funding,” Rokala says. “Compared to that, $50 million for organic-related research is modest.”
FARM FUNDING Cost-share programs have helped many small to midsize farmers afford organic certification by covering up to 75 percent of the required fees (up to $750 per certification). These programs are especially beneficial to newly certified and beginning organic farmers, as the first few years of organic certification can present significant financial risk. OFA members want cost-share programs to be renewed in the farm bill and sufficiently funded to meet the growing projected demand for them. OFA is also asking for funding to support a Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program that would prioritize projects providing technical assistance to new organic producers.
INSURANCE COVERAGE The 2014 farm bill included Whole-Farm Revenue Protection, which provides a safety net for all commodities on the farm under one insurance policy. This plan is tailored for farms with up to $8.5 million in insured revenue, including those with organic commodities (crops, livestock, or both). OFA members voted to support its continuation and to ask for the new bill to recognize the change in farm revenue after a producer has transitioned to organic. The organization is also asking Congress to direct the USDA’s Risk Management Agency to prioritize development of additional organic price elections for crop insurance coverage and to review policies that cap a contract price addendum at two times the conventional price election for any specific crop.
To keep up with the farm bill’s progress, go to agriculture.house.gov/farmbill. For more details on OFA’s policy priorities, go to OrganicFarmersAssociation.org/policy-position. Stay tuned to OFA email newsletters for how you can get involved and support these policies.