Organics have grown into a multi-billion dollar industry over the last two decades and are one of the fastest growing sectors of agriculture. For farmers across the country, strong demand for organic food translates into new and growing market opportunities. Organic agriculture benefits consumers, the environment, and the farmers’ bottom line.
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, federal policies aimed at assisting farmers’ and ranchers’ transition to organic production should be a priority.
Overall, organic programs and policies (which are spread out across multiple titles), fared well in the 2018 Farm Bill. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) particularly welcomed the inclusion of permanent mandatory funding in the bill for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), as proposed in the Organic Agriculture Research Act. NSAC thanks the many organic champions in Congress who fought to level the playing field for organic farmers, including lead bill sponsors Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Dan Newhouse (R-WA) and Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) and Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bob Casey (D-PA).
Below, we include a summary of the key takeaways on how the final conferenced bill approaches programs and policies that support organic agriculture:
Establishes permanent mandatory funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI). OREI supports research projects to address the most critical challenges faced by organic farmers. The 2018 Farm Bill funding will ramp up funding for OREI to $50 million in permanent baseline funding by 2023. For 2019 and 2020, grant funding will remain at current levels of $20 million but will increase to $25 million in 2021 and $30 million in 2022. This permanent baseline funding ensures that OREI will no longer have to negotiate funding from scratch every five years when a new farm bill is revisited, and provides much needed reassurance to the organic sector that continued research funding will be available to address the ever evolving pest, disease and other challenges facing organic farmers.
Provides $5 million in mandatory funding for the Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives, which facilitates the collection and distribution of organic market information, including data on production, handling, distribution, retail, and consumer purchasing patterns.
Directs the allocation of funds to states to support organic production and transition under the Conservation Stewardship Program. Funds will be allocated based on the number of certified and transitioning producers in the state, as well as the number of certified and transitioning acres.
Farmers who participate in the Transition Incentives Program (an option for farmers with expiring Conservation Reserve Program contracts) are now able to get a two year head start on transitioning that land coming out of CRP into certified organic production. Additionally, contract-holders with expiring CRP contracts can now use the last three years of their CRP contract to begin the organic certification process.
Reauthorizes and continues to provide mandatory funding for the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP), which supports the growth of domestic organic production so that U.S. producers can take advantage of growing market opportunities. In 2019 and 2020, the bill provides NOCCSP with $2 million a year; funding ramps up to $4 million in 2021 and up to $8 million in 2022 and 2023. Unfortunately, these annual funding levels are a cut from current funding of $11.5 million per year.
In total, $24 million is allocated to NOCCSP over the next five years in the new farm bill. Including USDA’s carryover estimates of $16.5 million (i.e. unused funding from the last farm bill), total cost share funding would increase to $40.5 million total over the next five years. This means that any gaps in service could be filled by the carryover funds; however it’s possible that funding may fall short in the later years – leaving organic farmers without assistance to become certified.
Reverts matching grant requirements for USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) programs like OREI to those predating the 2014 Farm Bill. The 2014 Farm Bill instituted a 100 percent matching requirement for these programs, which exempted Land Grant Universities, USDA agencies, and certain other academic institutions – putting non-profit organizations at a disadvantage in competing for federal research, education, and extension funding. The 2018 Farm Bill reinstates NIFA’s ability to provide a waiver for OREI grant applicants who are unable to meet the 1:1 match.
Increases the payment cap for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Organic Initiative (OI) to $140,000 over five years; less than the $160,000 that was included in the Senate-passed version. The bill also does not provide allocation of funds within EQIP for certified organic participants and those transitioning to organic production. EQIP OI provides financial assistance to organic producers to assist in implementing and installing conservation practices tailored to organic producers. Through this program, organic and transitioning producers can apply for EQIP funds and compete in a smaller pool of applicants than general EQIP. While NSAC is pleased with the increase in funds, we are disappointed that the higher Senate-passed payment limit was not included.