April 23, 2012
The Senate’s draft farm bill released on Friday builds on the what we know was included in the Super Committee farm bill proposal from last fall with a few but not all important funding and policy improvements.
The best news on the organic front is that the draft farm bill provides mandatory funding for organic certification cost-share. Despite the program’s success and unique function, it has faced repeated attacks over the past few years, and the program was essentially gutted in the Super Committee farm bill proposal. The Senate draft farm bill funds national organic certification cost-share at $11.5 million in mandatory funding annually.
The draft bill provides level funding at $5 million in mandatory funding (and $5 million in appropriated funds) for the Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives (ODI), and includes a new reporting requirement for USDA to detail how data collection agencies are coordinating with data user agencies on issues like the development of organic price elections.
The draft bill includes important modifications to the Organic Agriculture and Research Extension Initiative (OREI) to address emerging research issues such as food safety, rural economic development, and producer research needs to comply with National Organic Program regulations.
Finally — not an NSAC priority but of interest to our organic readers — the draft bill includes $5 million in mandatory funding for technology upgrades and improvements for the National Organic Program.
While the bill makes important policy modifications to OREI, it provides funding for the program but at $4 million less per year than current levels – so, down from $20 million to $16 million.
On ODI, the bill does not include an important modification that would specify that the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) should conduct a regular follow-on survey to each Census of Agriculture, building on the success of the 2008 NASS Organic Production Survey. The funding provided for ODI, however, enables this, and hopefully the Census language can be added as the bill moves forward.
On organic crop insurance, the bill neither eliminates the unfair 5% premium organic surcharge nor directs the Risk Management Agency to develop organic price elections for all organic crops. This is surprising, given that these provisions were included in the Senate version of the 2008 Farm Bill and given that the new farm bill is being touted as one that has crop and revenue insurance as one of the highest priorities.
The bill does not include any of the important no-cost policy changes that would improve the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Organic Initiative: streamlining planning and record-keeping for producers, strengthening assistance to transitional producers, and bringing the provision’s payment limit under the general EQIP payment limit rather than forcing organic farmers and only organic farmers to abide by a lower cap.