I am pleased to report we are one step closer to having a Farm Bill after years of Congressional delay. Earlier this week, the Farm Bill Conference Committee released the Agricultural Act of 2014 Conference Report, which included compromise language all conferees could agree upon. Monday, the members sent this compromise Farm Bill to the House and Senate for final passage. The House passed the farm bill, the Agricultural Act of 2014, with a vote of 251 to 166 early Wednesday morning! The Senate is expected to vote on the bill this week. If the Senate passes it the President has indicated he will sign it. This bill recognizes the growing importance of the organic sector to U.S. agriculture and authorizes monies and mandates policy changes that will allow the sector to continue to thrive and grow.
The Farm Bill Conference Committee passed a strong bill paving the way for passage of a comprehensive 2014 Farm Bill. In particular, it includes a number of priorities that OTA has been working hard to advance over the past two years. It renews funding for a number of important programs that were left stranded by last year’s Farm Bill extension. This bill renews critical investments in important programs for beginning farmers, local food systems, organic agriculture and healthy food access. The National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program (NOCCSP), which has been without funding for more than a year, will receive $11.5 million in mandatory annual funding. The program reimburses farmers for up to 75 percent of their certification fees. Here are some other highlights from the bill:
* $20 million per year for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI)
* $5 million for the Organic Data Initiative (ODI)
* $15 million per year for the National Organic Program (NOP)
* $5 million for necessary technology upgrades at NOP
* Grants strong enforcement tools to NOP, along with appropriate due process protections for organic certificate-holders
* Requires that organic price elections for the purpose of crop insurance be completed by 2015
* Expands the exemption for organic operations from conventional check-off programs
* Authorizes the United States Department of Agriculture to consider an application for a check-off program from the organic sector should the sector choose to pursue such an application
Thanks is due to the OTA and many other groups for their enduring commitment to the process and to all of YOU who contacted your Congressional leaders over the past few years. It has been a slow development fraught with political escapades, but this passage proves that your voice can make a difference. Congress was hired to pass legislation for the good of both rural and urban communities. We all have a responsibility to make sure they do it and get it right. Let’s use this progress to grow the organic sector so that we are an even greater share of agriculture and food in the years to come.