It’s Congress’ job to pass a Farm Bill (FB) about every four years. It’s the second largest piece of spending that Congress is tasked with; the 2014 FB is projected to spend $489 billion.
The Farm Bill determines what food is grown, how it’s grown, and who gets access to healthy food and nutrition in the US.
This, in turn, affects the health of our topsoil, the quality of our water, and the prosperity of those who grow our food.
Congress failed to come to an agreement on a new Farm Bill, and the current one expired on September 30th.
While most of the big-ticket items in the Bill will continue uninterrupted, organic programs are in jeopardy of being left behind without funding. They don’t have mandatory baseline spending that guarantees the programs will continue.
How did we get here?
For the past several months both the Senate and House agricultural committees have been hashing out their own private versions of a Farm Bill.
Each version has had vastly different ideas about things like SNAP (Food Stamps) and Commodity Spending (think corn, soy and cotton).
Organic programs fared pretty well in both the Senate and the House versions. While the Senate version is better, you can see those details in my blog “Will This Year’s Farm Bill Serve Organic.”
The usual process for passing a FB brings together a conference committee that works out the differences in each version. Ultimately this committee comes forward with a final Bill reflecting compromise and bi-partisan agreement.
Not so this year—the differences were too great and too contentious. Negotiations fell apart, and Congress failed to come to an agreement.
What’s at Risk?
Nearly all of the federal programs that organic producers and handlers depend on are funded in the Farm Bill. None of the organic programs have baseline funding so they must be reauthorized with each new Bill.
Congress’ failure to pass a new Bill puts the following programs at risk:
The Certification Cost-Share Program reimburses farmers for a portion of their certification fees up to $750. This is an important incentive to help transitioning and small farmers succeed.
Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) provides competitive grants for important research that addresses the challenges organic farmers and processors face.
Organic Production and Market Data Initiative (ODI) collects important data on markets, production trends and exports.
The National Organic Program (NOP) is the agency within USDA that writes new regulations, oversees the certification process and performs enforcement for the organic community.
Market Access Program (MAP) helps to expand organic exports into countries where organic demand is growing. In 2016, nearly $1 million in MAP funds were invested in the organic sector, which led to over $48 million in projected overseas sales opportunities for U.S. organic operations.
Environmental Quality Incentives Programs (EQIP) and the Organic Initiative(OI) within EQIP. These conservation programs assist farmers with implementing organic practices, provide technical assistance during the transition period, and offset the financial costs of transitioning.
The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and the Farmers Market Promotion Program are widely utilized by organic producers. Both could see much of their work put on hold for the foreseeable future.
Many organic programs have already been funded for the balance of 2018, so the impact is not immediately dire.
While Congress is away busy with the midterm elections, nothing will happen until they return in December. When they return, they could pass a new Bill, but it is very rare to pass a Farm Bill during a lame duck session—
it has only been done twice before.
In addition to the big issues like SNAP and commodity compensations, there still isn’t much agreement on most of the other titles in the House and Senate versions of the Bill.
If they don’t come to an agreement and the current Bill is extended, most organic programs will lapse in 2019.
To complicate matters more, we will have a new Congress in December who could decide to start the process all over again. This would extend the period of limbo for most organic programs.
Here’s what you can do:
Although there are many components of the Senate and House versions that some find distasteful, organic has fared pretty well in both. Passing a Farm Bill this year means no interruption for organic programs.
Reach out to your Congressional leaders and let them know that organic programs fall under baseline spending.
An extension will not help organic—we need a Farm Bill to keep organic programs moving.
Organic is the fastest growing segment of agriculture providing a bright future for rural America.
Organic programs are at risk if Congress fails to do their job.
Organic needs a Farm Bill now.