Passage of New Farm Bill Unlikely to Meet Deadline

Congress has less than a week to pass a new Farm Bill before the current law expires on September 30th. With the Ag Committee negotiators far apart on major issues, the chances of a Farm Bill getting done on time are slim.

The last time this happened, in 2012, Congress passed short term extensions to keep Farm Bill programs running. This time, an extension of current law isn't being considered yet. Both Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts and ranking member Debbie Stabenow have suggested an extension may not be necessary until the end of 2018 because much of the existing policies would not revert to decades-old law until the start of 2019.

With a new Congress scheduled to meet on January 3rd if a Farm Bill isn’t passed by then, both the House and Senate would need to reintroduce the legislation and take another vote. This would, in essence, start the Farm Bill process all over again.

Major conservation initiatives, for instance, would be in a tough spot as would dozens of other programs. Here are the organic programs that would be affected.

Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI)
OREI is a USDA competitive grants program dedicated to organic agriculture research. This program is in jeopardy. Until another Farm Bill is passed the USDA will be unable to administer any grant programs through OREI, unless a short-term extension is passed that explicitly includes additional funding for this program.

While both the House and the Senate bills increase funding for OREI, only the Senate bill increases funding up to establish permanent baseline funding for the program. This means funding for OREI would increase annually to $50 million and ensure permanent investments in the future of organic agriculture.

OREI has a proven track record of addressing the unique research challenges that organic farmers and processors face. Investing in organic research is central to the goal of increasing domestic production of organic crops to better meet expanding demand.

Organic Certification Cost Share
Organic certification verifies that a farm or handling facility complies with USDA organic regulations and allows the certified operation to use the USDA organic seal. In order to be certified organic, farmers must go through a rigorous annual organic certification process, which can be expensive. Organic certification cost share assistance can help small and mid-sized organic farm businesses afford annual certification costs, which range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

The National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP) provides organic farmers with of up to $750 reimbursement to cover a portion of their annual certification fees. The House bill eliminates all Farm Bill funding for National Organic Certification Cost Share Program, while the Senate bill renews existing funding of $11.5 million annually for the program.

Until a new farm bill is passed, there will be no additional funds available for NOCCSP, and it is unclear if USDA will continue to administer the program.

Organic Production and Market Data Initiative (ODI)
ODI is a USDA initiative between the Economic Research Service, National Agriculture Statics Service, and the Agricultural Marketing Service. The initiative collects market and production data that supports risk management as well as providing vital information on market and production trends. Both the House and Senate bill provide $5 million in mandatory funding for this program. If a farm bill is not passed, this program may be able to limp along at a much lower funding levels through agricultural appropriations. However, without a Farm Bill funding renewal, much of the organic data collection and reporting that supports the growth and development of the organic sector will be lost.

Organic import Fraud
Both the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill include increased organic import enforcement authority, along with $5 million in one-time mandatory funding to improve import tracking systems. These changes are necessary to increase the oversight responsibilities and resources for the National Organic Program (NOP). Without a Farm Bill, the USDA will not have the expanded resources and increased authority to protect the integrity of the organic sector.

OFRF urges congress to pass a full Farm Bill as quickly as possible, taking into full account the leadership Senate has shown on organic research and cost share funding. If a Farm Bill is not passed before January 2019, organic programs must be included in an extension or many critical programs that farmers and communities rely on will grind to halt.