As Budget Talks Begin, OFRF Advocates for Farmers

Mark Keating's picture

          The approach of April 15 typically means spending some quality time reviewing one’s finances, and it is also the season when the federal government begins budget deliberations for the coming fiscal year.  For USDA, the process begins with senior officials appearing before Congressional Agriculture and Appropriations Committees to elaborate upon and support the funding requests included in the President’s proposed budget. For the grassroots organic community, these appearances kick off several months of birddogging Congress and USDA to assure that our key programs are well funded and managed. OFRF will be alerting our network to support organic programs should any be in question as the process unfolds.

            As Secretary Tom Vilsack pointed out last week before the House Committee on Agriculture, the process is especially complicated this year since the new Farm Bill contains approximately 450 new provisions requiring USDA implementation.  Taking a Congressional directive and translating it into tangible USDA policies and programs takes a heavy lift and OFRF will be actively engaged to insure that the many organic, research, conservation and certification cost-share victories from the Farm Bill are properly handled In an encouraging sign that they will follow through on newly funded organic programs, USDA has already started accepting applications for the $20 million in newly authorized funding for the Organic Research and Education Initiative competitive grants program.

            Testimony from Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Administrator Anne Alonzo before a House Appropriations subcommittee on April 2 highlighted the hard work that lies ahead on organic crop insurance.  The 2014 Farm Bill included an ambitious mandate that the Risk Management Agency provide comprehensive insurance options for certified farmers, but doing so will require AMS to collect and report current market data for each covered commodity.  In a dialogue with long time organic advocate and subcommittee member Representative Sam Farr of California, Administrator Alonzo stated that AMS has stepped up work in this area while acknowledging that much more needs to be done.  OFRF and its national network of partners worked hard to secure $5 million for the Organic Production and Market Data Initiative in the Farm Bill for just these purposes and will continue to press for these funds to meet the needs of organic farmers.

            What to expect in the weeks and months ahead?  Under a normal budget process, the full House and Senate Appropriation Committees would develop and present detailed funding proposals which, if passed by their peers, could be reconciled and forwarded to the President.  We haven’t seen a lot of “normal” on Capitol Hill in recent years, but we have seen promising signs of compromise over the past six months.  You can certainly expect OFRF to keep you updated on the pertinent developments, and don’t be surprised when we ask you to reach out to Senators and Representative and let them know that you are an organic advocate, too.

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