Every 5 years or so Congress passes a far-reaching piece of legislation that influences what food is grown, how it’s grown, and who gets access to healthy food. This, in turn, affects the health of our topsoil, the quality of our water, and the prosperity of those who grow our food.
In addition, the Farm Bill addresses hunger, nutrition, and access to healthy local food. It is also the primary funding for most Organic programs in the US.
Congress is working on Farm Bill language now; if you eat and care about Organic, it’s time to get involved.
Where did the Farm Bill come from?
It all began with the Great Depression as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal when the Agriculture Adjustment Act (AAA), was passed by Congress in 1933. This first bill came about to alleviate over-supplies and low prices. It allowed farmers to receive payments for NOT growing food on their land.
Boom-and-bust price fluctuations have come and gone ever since, especially in big commodities like corn, soy and cotton.
In the 1960’s and 70’s, the food stamp program was added to address poverty and hunger issues affecting mostly urban dwellers. Nutritional program funding has fluctuated over time as the economy experiences ups and downs.
Since most of the population had moved away from agriculture and into cities, adding nutrition to the Farm Bill helped unify Congressional members who had different constituents in rural or urban settings.
The inclusion of rural and urban interests has allowed the bill to enjoy widespread support across demographic lines.
What does it fund?
The 2014 bill authorized $956 billion in spending over 10 years. This grandiose spending affected our environment, the health of our country, and the future of food and agriculture in the US.
It consisted of 12 sections or “Titles” which group funding priorities together.
They include programs for:
- Commodities like corn and soy
- Conservation practices
- Trade – think exports and foreign food aid
- Nutrition – SNAP or food stamps
- Creditfor farm loans
- Rural Development programs
- Research and Extension (farm and food research and training for the next generation of farmers) Forestry conservation
- Energy programs that encourage growing crops for biofuel
- Specialty Crops and Horticulture in addition to fruit and vegetable production, which is where Organic sits
- Crop Insurance
- “Miscellaneous” which brings together programs for beginning, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers and ranchers as well as agricultural labor safety.
In the 2014 Farm Bill, Nutrition programs represented four-fifths of the total budget!
If you want to learn more, The National Sustainable Ag Coalition has an excellent recap of the Farm Bill HERE.
What’s in it for Organic?
Organic agriculture came relatively late to the party, first included in the 1990 Farm Bill when The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) was enacted under Title 21.
The 1990 bill established the first national standards for the production and handling of Organic foods. It gave the National Organic Program (NOP) authority to set additional standards and oversee the certifications process.
It also established the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to give advice to the Secretary of Agriculture on all Organic matters.
The 2018 Farm Bill will be critical to the growth and protection of organic. If passed with Organic priorities, it will:
- Fund the NOP staff, technology and their ability to provideeffective oversight with robust investigations and enforcement.
- Promote Organic exports to create more opportunities and markets for organic farmers.
- Provide funding for Organic research for production methods and ingredients.
- Improve the safety net for Organic farmers through risk management tools.
- Increase the amount of data collected on Organic prices, production trends and export opportunities.
- Include Organic farming practices in the full suite of existing USDA conservation programs.
- Maintain the certification cost share program where farms can receive up to $750 each year (75% of the certification fee) to help defray the annual costs of Organic certification.
Learn more about the Organic Trade Association 2018 Farm Bill priorities HERE.
Not everything written into the bill automatically gets funded.
There are two ways programs in the bill get funded, through mandatory or discretionary spending. Mandatory spending programs get their allotted funds every year. Discretionary spending programs are authorized but not actually funded. Instead, they are subject to an annual appropriations process that decides how much (if any) the programs will receive.
There are important Organic programs subject to this discretionary process.
They include the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) which provides funding for research and education to help solve the challenges that face organic producers. The National Organic Certification Cost Share Program helps ease the cost of organic certification. The Organic Production and Market Data Initiative delivers crucial data to organic farmers, ranchers and manufacturers.
Next steps for this year are up to YOU and your Congressional leaders.
The current farm bill expires at the end of September 2018. The House and Senate Agriculture Committees will debate and “mark up” the proposed legislation in the months ahead.
If one of your members of Congress is on the committee, contact them now.
Eventually, all Congressional leaders will have to vote on the next Farm Bill, so make sure all your Congressional leaders support Organic priorities.
Everyone who eats and farms should pay great attention to this spending bill. Let’s make sure that Organic has its fair share.