Every 4 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 our soils, the quality of our water and the people who grow our food.
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.
The Senate Agriculture Committee recently advanced its bipartisan version of the Farm Bill with a markup that was notably free of party politics.
The Senate’s Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 is largely a continuation of the last Farm Bill except for the big gains made for organic agriculture.
Although everyone may not be happy with some components of this bill, organic producers and consumers should be thrilled that priorities for organic are included in the bill drawn up by the Senate Agriculture Committee.
What’s in it for Organic?
- Important tools and funding for the improved oversight of international trade to ensure the integrity of organic throughout the global supply chain.
- Funding Increases for each year up to $24 million in 2023 for the National Organic Program.
- The largest increase in funding for the flagship Organic Research and Extensive Initiative (OREI) program in farm bill history achieving baseline mandatory funding for the program. The Senate farm bill increases OREI funding from its current $20 million per year to $50 million per year by 2022. OREI ensures that organic farmers can continue to meet the unique challenges they face.
- Full funding for the organic certification cost-share program at $11.5 million per year. This helps incentivize small and beginning farmers to transition to organic by relieving some of the associated costs with the annual organic certification fees.
- Full funding for the Organic Data Initiative, USDA’s organic data collection program that provides accurate market and production information for the organic industry.
- Conservation Stewardship Program funds were allocated to states to support organic production and transition to organic production.
- Language that makes Organic agriculture a good farming practice for purposes of crop insurance.
- Language for regionally-adapted seeds and breeds was added amending the National Genetic Resources Advisory Committee to require an assessment of needs related to public cultivar development.
Organic Advocates on Capitol
These wins in the Senate bill come on the heels of the Organic Trade Association’s largest Washington fly-in. On May 23, over 140 organic stakeholders from around the country – organic farmers, organic businesses and organic entrepreneurs – visited 160 Congressional offices to advocate for organic in this next Farm Bill.
Many other champions including National Sustainable Ag Coalition and Organic Farming Research Foundation lobbied tirelessly to get organic priorities included.
Next Steps Towards a 2018 Farm Bill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated during the markup that he’s planning to make time on the floor in coming weeks. We will likely see it before the Fourth of July break.
Meanwhile, the House version failed to pass, and the chamber will consider a revote once the representatives agree on immigration language. It is uncertain at this time whether House leadership will have votes to pass the bill on the second attempt.
If the House bill fails and the Senate bill passes, the House could choose to take up the Senate bill.
If both the House and Senate pass their bills, they can then establish a conference committee and begin negotiations on a final bill.
Should the process begin to encroach on the November mid-term elections, the entire process could break down and the 2014 Farm Bill would be extended.
If an extension occurs, many organic programs would be left stranded without funding.
As this Farm Bill process unfolds, let’s hope that the Senate bill’s organic priorities serve as the model for crafting a final 2018 Farm Bill.
If you have members of Congress who serve on the Agricultural Committees and were organic champions this year, be sure to reach out and give them your thanks.
We deserve a Farm Bill that is committed to ensuring a successful future for organic agriculture.
If you want to understand more about what the Farm Bill does and why you should care, this video, produced by the Food & Environment Reporting Network, does a great job explaining this complex law. You can access it here.