End-of-Year Wrap-up from OFRF's Policy Team


Organic Momentum in 2018
Farmer Voices on the Farm Bill
by Mark Lipson and Michael Stein

OFRF’s policy program is focused on bringing the voices of organic farmers into the legislative process. We’ve had 20+ years of success making organic research and organic farmers matter in Congress. Many gains have been made with this farmer-forward approach, but much is at stake in the upcoming 2018 Farm Bill. 

Darryl Wong, Farm Site and Lands Manager, UCSC CASFS and Environmental Studies Department; Tom Broz, organic farmer, Live Earth Farm and Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau President; Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Mark Lipson, organic farmer, Molino Creek and Senior Policy and Program Specialist, OFRF; Jeff Larkey, organic farmer, Route 1 Farms; Brise Tencer, Executive Director, OFRF

The Farm Bill. What's Organic About it?

The U.S. Farm Bill is a massive assemblage of legislation that is revisited and revised by Congress every 5-6 years. It has far reaching impacts on farming, food, our environment, rural communities and public health. Programs legislated via the Farm Bill cover everything from nutrition support for low-income families, to crop insurance, to support programs for rural communities, and much more.
The current Farm Bill, also known as The Agricultural Act of 2014, was signed into law on February 7th, 2014 and is set to expire on September 30, 2018.  Initial work has already started on the 2018 legislation.
Organic farming has been part of the Farm Bill cycle since 1990, when the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) was incorporated into that year’s Food, Agriculture, Conservation and Trade Act. OFPA created the national organic standards and the USDA National Organic Program. In 1997 Congress enacted the first authority for USDA to pursue organic research, but provided no definite funding until the 2002 Farm Bill ($3M /yr).  In 2008 , the allocation increased to $20M /per year and remains at that level.
In addition to funding organic research, other aspects of organic farm and food policy made gradual progress in the last three Farm Bills. Certification cost-share, conservation program funding, organic crop insurance, foreign trade and economic data collection have all been partially addressed. All of these efforts generally seek to break down policy and market barriers for increased organic transition, successful production, and market growth.

The 2018 Farm Bill will be a do-or-die moment for several organic programs. It could be a retreat from the high-water point we are at now, or it could be a breakthrough to the strongest support yet.

OFRF’s top priority is renewed funding for organic research but we are keeping an eye on all the other organic initiatives moving around the Capitol. Some will make it into the final Farm Bill package and some will fall by the wayside. The various organic parts can’t help but be connected, and we want to be able to help bring home all the provisions that matter for organic farmers and our customers. Multiple “marker bills” have been introduced for organic-specific issues. OFRF’s Policy Team offers the following snapshot of what’s in play as 2017 tumbles into 2018.






Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) with OFRF Board Member and organic Farmer, Dean McIlwaine

Organic Research & Extension

USDA-funded organic research since 2008 has cumulatively passed the $250M mark.  OFRF led the way for this programming starting 20 years ago and it has been incredibly successful. This funding has enabled the existence of a national capacity for organic research at universities and on farms across the U.S. However, it will disappear after 2018 unless it is explicitly renewed. Based on our analysis of USDA organic research grants, as well as our 2015 nationwide survey of organic farmers, our goal is to ensure this program continues and grows to meet farmers’ needs.
Working with members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat, we have championed the Organic Agriculture Research Act (H.R. 2436), a bipartisan bill to ensure organic research and extension programs around the country have the funding necessary to support all farmers with sound science, outreach, and education programs. Specifically, this bill reauthorizes the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) and increases the annual funding from $20M to $50M. Given the dramatic growth of the organic industry, this overdue increase in funding will be instrumental in providing the research and extension support that American farmers need.
The objectives outlined in this bill have received strong bipartisan support in the House of Representatives, and we fully expect to see increased support for the OREI program in the House version of the Farm Bill. In the Senate, we have also found strong support for organic research and are working diligently to cultivate a Senate sponsor on the majority side.
Enforcement of the National Organic Standards
All organic producers need to be operating on a level playing field in the marketplace. The Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act of 2017 (HR 3871) provides for a modernization of organic import documentation, new technology advancements, and stricter enforcement of organic products entering the U.S.
Supported by the Organic Trade Association, this bipartisan legislation should find robust support in both the House and the Senate in the next Farm Bill. Organic products are part of an increasingly global market. Modernization and enforcement are key to ensuring that every stakeholder in the organic sector is following the rules and requirements for organic production and handling.
Certification Cost-Share
The National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP helps offset certification costs for organic producers, making certification more affordable for organic producers and “handlers” (i.e., packagers, processors, and wholesalers) across the country. Funding from the cost-share program covers up to 75 percent of an individual applicant’s certification costs, up to a maximum of $750 annually. These limits make the program much more effective for small and medium-sized producers and handlers.
As in other years, Cost-Share is likely to be again on the chopping block, as members of Congress seek sources of funding for new priorities. However, organic and local food champions Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) have included funding for the NOCCSP in their “Local FARMS Act” (HR3941 in House and S 1947 in the Senate).  








Brise Tencer, OFRF Executive Director; Tom Harkin, former Senator for Iowa, Michael Stein, OFRF Policy Associate

Conservation Support in Transition 

Another proposal that has received strong support from House and Senate Democrats but doesn’t yet have bipartisan support, is the Homegrown Organic Act (HR 3637(S 2215). U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and Congresswoman Annie Kuster (D-NH) introduced this “marker bill”  to encourage organic transition for the conservation benefits and more U.S. organic production.

Specifically, The Homegrown Organic Act of 2017 would modify the Conservation Stewardship Program by directing the Secretary of Agriculture to create “suites” of conservation practices specific to producers wishing to transition to organic. This bill also seeks to modify the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) by eliminating the separate payment limit in place for the EQIP Organic Initiative. Currently, payments under the EQIP Organic Initiative are limited to $20,000 per fiscal year and $80,000 during any six-year period. This differs from the general EQIP where contracts may not exceed $450,000 for all EQIP contracts entered into during the life of the Farm Bill.
Finally, the Homegrown Organic Act also seeks to modify the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to expand opportunities for producers under the CRP Transition Incentives Program (TIP). TIP currently provides retired or retiring landowners or operators with two additional annual rental payments on land enrolled in expiring CRP contracts, on the condition they sell or rent this land to a socially disadvantaged or armed services veteran farmer or rancher. This legislation would establish a TIP program for anyone interested in transitioning to organic farming or ranching, making more land available to producers wanting to farm organically.
Existing conservation programs have strong support in both the House and the Senate, and it will be challenging to get these proposed changes included in the next Farm Bill.
Promoting U.S. Organic Exports
U.S. organic exports create jobs and farm profitability in the U.S.  USDA’s Market Access Program in 2016, invested nearly $1M in the organic sector, which led to over $48 million in projected overseas sales opportunities for U.S. organic operations.
In order to continue this kind of success, H.R. 2321 and S. 1839, the Cultivating Revitalization by Expanding American Agricultural Trade and Exports (CREAATE) Act has been introduced by Rep. Newhouse (R-WA) and Rep. Pingree (D-ME) and Sen. King (R-ME), Sen. Donnelly (D-IN), Sen. Ernst (R-IA), and Sen. Collins (R-ME). The bill includes increased funding for MAP and the Foreign Market Development Program (FMDP).

Organic Agriculture and Rural Development
Representatives Sean Duffy (R-WI) and Peter Welch (D-VT) recently introduced the Organic Farmers Access Act (HR 4671). The legislation ensures that organic businesses are included in USDA's rural business development grants, locally and regionally produced agricultural food products, and value-added agricultural product market development grants. Organic agriculture is a key rural development tool in revitalizing farming communities, and this bill will help organic producers access these key programs. 
Share Your Voice 
OFR's job is to ensure the Farm Bill supports what organic farmers and consumers need for a sustainable future. We are looking for farmers and researchers to share their stories and create a baseline understanding of organic farming practices and the benefits to our health, the environment, and local economies.
Please contact us if you would like to participate by sharing your story. Questions and comments, please email Michael Stein.

Published 12/21/2017.