Farm Bill Conference Committee Meets as Deadline Approaches

The Farm Bill Conference Committee, composed of nine Senators and 47 Representatives, met publicly for the first time on September 6th. The House and Senate each passed different versions of the Farm Bill this year, tasking the Conference Committee with crafting a final version that will have to go back to both the House and Senate for approval, before being sent to the President for signature before it expires on September 30, 2018. This is no small task.

The hearing was mostly comprised of opening statements, as many members of Congress from both sides of the aisle highlighted the need to get a Farm Bill done. However, there are stark differences between the current House and Senate versions, with the House version passing along party lines, and the Senate version being much more bipartisan. Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) of the Senate Agriculture Committee said, “In addition to having the support of over 500 groups, it [the Senate Farm Bill] passed on a historic vote of 86-11—the most votes a Farm Bill has ever received in the Senate since the very first bill in the 1933 during the depths of the Great Depression.”

As champions for organic farmers, OFRF is pleased that many members of Congress highlighted important organic issues at the Conference hearing, including the need for increased investment in organic research. With several programs set to expire if not reauthorized, Senator Stabenow discussed providing permanent investments for a number of important priorities including historic support for organic research that helps farmers tap into this fast-growing sector of agriculture.

In his opening statement, Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) also highlighted the importance of baseline funding for organic research and funding for organic cost share. While the Senate version included both baseline funding for organic research and funding for cost share, the House version did not. We are hopeful that Rep. Costa will be able to champion these key organic priorities as the conferees hash out the Farm Bill. He won’t be alone, as Rep. Michelle Lujan-Grisham (D-NM), the Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research, also expressed her support for organic research in the Farm Bill.

The Chairman of the Research Subcommittee, Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL), also showed his support for organics, specifically calling out protections against fraudulent organic imports that are in both bills, and the important investments in research that were included in the Senate Bill. One of the research provisions in the Senate bill includes baseline funding for organic research.

Senator Leahy summed things up well. “Another value and priority that our Farm Bill must support is America’s organic industry, which now totals $50 billion a year and is growing.” During the hearing, Senator Leahy said, “We must continue investments in organic research, certification, and enforcement that allow consumers to trust the USDA organic seal and ensure that American farmers who have invested so much can continue to be successful.”

OFRF will continue its work to ensure all members of the Farm Bill Conference Committee understand the importance of the organic provisions in the Farm Bill.