Organic Agriculture


 

Organic agriculture is one of the fastest growing sectors of American agriculture. After experiencing double-digit growth for a decade and positive growth through the most recent recession, the organic sector continues to experience double-digit growth in recent years.  For farmers across the country, strong demand for organic food translates into new and growing market opportunities.

Behind the organic label are organic farmers – small and large – who follow strict standards to become certified, and who have needs unique to their growing practices and markets. Considering the enormous potential organic practices have to increase farm revenue in our rural communities, preserve and enhance the environment, and provide healthy food to communities, NSAC works to ensure that federal policies and programs prioritize farmers and ranchers committed to organic production systems by addressing the unique natural resource management issues that organic producers face; supporting producers transitioning to and staying organic through certification assistance; leveling the playing field for organic producers by developing appropriate insurance products; and investing in organic research, education, and extension activities.

NSAC has worked with Congress, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and farmers and ranchers throughout the country to create, improve, and promote programs targeted toward organic and transitioning producers. This includes key federal programs focused on supporting and expanding organic production; dedicated funds for organic research; programs directly available to producers; and programs available to community-based organizations and institutions working on the ground to strengthen and expand organic production nationwide.

For the latest news on organic agriculture, visit our blog!

Looking for specific information on federal programs that support organic agriculture? Check out NSAC’s Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Policy.

Learn More About NSAC’s work on organic agriculture!

  • Conservation: Sustaining and enhancing natural resources through organic farming systems.
  • Insurance: Working to level the playing field for organic producers through appropriate and accessible risk management tools.
  • Marketing:  Helping defray organic certification expenses for organic farm businesses through cost share.
  • Research: Supporting strong investments in organic research, education, and extension to help organic producers meet production and marketing challenges.

Conservation

Organic agricultural systems offer a wide range of conservation benefits, including improved soil and water quality, resilience to climate disruption, lower use of non-renewable energy, increased biodiversity, and wildlife habitat quality. NSAC has long worked to ensure that federal conservation programs offer options specifically targeting organic and transitioning farmers to encourage and enable farmers and ranchers to pursue organic production systems.

In support of these positions, NSAC has worked with Congress and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to create and improve the Environmental Quality Incentives Program’s Organic Initiative (EQIP OI) and the Conservation Stewardship Program’s options for organic producers. Our ongoing work to improve the effectiveness and accessibility of these programs for organic farmers includes developing new conservation practice standards that consider the unique attributes and needs of organic farming systems; leveling the playing field for organic producers by advocating to eliminate the separate payment cap under EQIP OI; enhancing program outreach to organic farmers; analyzing program use data; and making administrative and legislative recommendations to improve overall program delivery.

NSAC continues to work with NRCS to increase their capacity to provide information and technical assistance to producers of all kinds about organic system management, organic practices and their associated costs, and the overlapping planning requirements between NRCS and the National Organic Program.

Recent NSAC Actions on Conservation and Organic Agriculture

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Insurance

One barrier to the increased adoption of organic certification is the limited availability of crop insurance options for organic producers. Traditional single crop policies don’t cover the premium price that many organic crops obtain over their conventional counterparts unless the crop has an organic price election. NSAC successfully worked to have a provisions included in the 2014 Farm Bill that instructs the Risk Management Agency to complete organic price elections for the 120 plus individual crop policies. As of the 2016 crop insurance year there were over 50 organic price elections. Organic farmers can also obtain crop insurance at the organic price through a Contract Price Addendum, but that avenue is still limited in that the overall price covered is capped at a factor of the conventional price and it is only available for 60+ crops.

Another option NSAC has worked on that may help organic farmers insure their crops at the organic price and while also allowing farmers to insure any crop that doesn’t have an individual policy available, is the new crop-neutral Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) policy. Since most individual policies are only available in a few areas, crop insurance isn’t even an options for many diversified and organic farms. For example, the policy for green beans is only available in 3 states (VA, NY, NC), and the strawberry policy is only available in four states (CA, NC, NY, and VA).

With the support of NSAC, the 2014 Farm Bill mandated the creation of WFRP. This crop-neutral insurance policy allows a farmer to insure their entire farm’s revenue under one policy incorporating the price they receive for all the crops and livestock they grow and raise. It is available in every state and every county. The pilot was released for the 2015 crop year and has resulted in over 1,000 polices being sold, 20 percent more that the 2014 sales of is predecessor policies, AGR and AGR-Lite. NSAC is continuing to work with its members and RMA on improving the policy.  This work has included the expansion of the policy to every state and the elimination of the cap on the percentage of revenue from animals.

NSAC has also advocated on the Non-insured Disaster Assistance Program (NAP), which was greatly expanded as part of the 2014 Farm Bill. This Farm Service Agency (FSA) program allows farmers to insure a wide variety of crops that don’t have an existing federal crop insurance program policy available at a basic level. The 2014 Farm Bill, with NSAC’s support, expands NAP to include buy-up coverage to cover up to 65 percent of production. It also expands the program to cover 100 percent of a crops value. These are significant improvements. Previously, NAP would only cover 50 percent of the crop and then only pay 55 percent of the crops value. NAP coverage will now also cover the organic, direct market, fresh, and processing crop values when adequate pricing data is available.

Recent NSAC Actions on Organic Crop Insurance

Resources & Analysis

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Marketing

The process of becoming organically certified can be expensive, but it is an essential step for farmers wanting to meet the growing demand for certified organic food in the U.S. 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. Organic certification cost share assistance helps small and mid-sized organic farm businesses afford annual certification costs, which range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

As a core part of the domestic organic supply chain, these certified organic farm businesses supply companies in need of organic products, keeping dollars in the U.S. that would have otherwise gone to organic farm businesses abroad. USDA offers farmers two programs to help defray a portion of the annual costs associated with organic certification: the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP) and the Agricultural Management Assistance Organic Certification Cost Share Program (AMA). Both programs are administered by the National Organic Program (NOP), part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS).

NOCCSP and AMA are noncompetitive financial assistance programs that provide reimbursements of up to 75 percent of annual certification costs, up to a maximum payment of $750 per year per farm. NOCCSP is available nationally, while AMA is available only in certain states in the northeast and west: CT, DE, ME, MD, MA, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT, WV plus HI, NV, UT, and WY. The cost-share assistance is generally made available to producers (AMA) and producers and handlers (NOCCSP) through State Departments of Agriculture. In order to apply for reimbursement under these cost share programs, organic operators need to contact their State Departments of Agriculture.

NSAC helped to not only develop organic certification cost share programs but to secure strong funding levels. NSAC developed the original proposal for NOCCSP and championed its passage as part of the 2002 Farm Bill, which provided $5 million in mandatory funding to launch the NOCCSP. Due to the success of the program and the continued growth of the organic sector, Congress reauthorized the program in the 2008 Farm Bill and increased total funding to $22 million through 2012, or approximately $4.4 million annually. The 2008 Farm Bill also increased the maximum annual payment from $500 to $750 per operation and increased funding for certification cost share through AMA from $1.0 million to $1.5 million per year. NSAC advocated for restoring and increasing funding for NOCCSP in the 2014 Farm Bill, which more than doubled funding to $11.5 million annually. Funding for AMA remained unchanged from 2008 Farm Bill levels.

Recent NSAC Actions on Organic Certification Cost Share

Policy News and Updates

Resources & Analysis

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Research

NSAC advocates for for increased funding on organic and sustainable farming and monitors organic and sustainable agricultural research programs to ensure the a fulfilling their missions to serve farmers. We carry this out through our support and advocacy for the Organic Research and Education Initiative (OREI), Organic Transitions Program (ORG), and the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. These programs provide funding for organic and sustainable agriculture research that helps organic farmers become more profitable and sustainable, and many of their advancements have had impacts on conventional practices. To find out more about these programs visit NSAC’s OREI, ORG, and SARE Grassroots Guide to Federal Food and Farm Program.

NSAC is also interested in ensuring that there is robust data available on the state of organic production. The National Organic Program (NOP), National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), and the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) have all had a hand in the collection and dissemination of data on the state of organic agriculture in the United States. We monitor their efforts and work with stakeholders around the country, including organic producers, certifiers, and advocates to ensure that the data being collected is the data that farmers and the rest of the organic industry need. We also seek to ensure that the data is collected in the most efficient and least burdensome way possible.

Recent Actions NSAC has taken on Organic Research

Resources & Analysis

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