May 22, 2017
According to two recent reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to Congress, the Department is making some significant progress in their effort to increase the availability of data on organic production as well as the availability of insurance options for organic producers. Quality production data and the expansion of insurance options are inexorably linked because a significant amount of reliable price and quantity data is needed to develop crop insurance products for producers.
The increasing amount of organic data being collected by USDA, due in large part to funding provided by the 2014 Farm Bill for the Organic Data Initiative, has allowed USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) to expand organic price elections from only eight crops in 2014, to 79 different organic crops as of 2018.
In addition to increasing data collection on organic crops, USDA has also expanded the Contract Price Addendum, which is an option that works with an existing crop insurance plan that allows farmers to use their contract price instead of the RMA price election or projected price, and introduced the Whole-Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) policy as an improved option for organic and diversified producers.
Despite these advancements, however, significant barriers to the further expansion of crop insurance options and data collection on organic production still remain. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has reviewed RMA’s March and April 2017 reports to Congress, which address their progress on expanding organic crop insurance and data production respectively, and identify the agency’s key achievements and obstacles to date. For reviews of the 2015 and 2016 RMA reports on organic crop insurance and data collection, please see our previous blogs.
Organic Data Collection
The primary way in which USDA collects data on organic production is through their annual Certified Organic Survey. This yearly farmer survey collects a treasure trove of data on the state of organic agriculture; however, a legal barrier currently stands in the way of RMA’s ability to access and utilize this crucial information. Due to the National Agricultural Statistics Services’ (NASS) interpretation of a particular legal statute – the Confidential Producers Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act of 2002 (CIPSEA) – NASS will not share producer level data with RMA despite their shared status as a federal entity with strict producer protection rules.
This lack of intra-agency coordination creates serious problems for the country’s organic producers. NSAC believes this issue needs to be addressed immediately by Congress, and will work with USDA and our allies in the House and Senate to do so.
In addition to the Certified Organic Survey, USDA also collects data through the Organic Data Initiative, which was provided with $5 million by the 2014 Farm Bill. NASS, the Economic Research Service (ERS), and the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) all use funding from the Initiative to collect and report marketing and production data on organic agricultural products. For example, RMA has used Initiative support to develop organic price elections for the federal crop insurance program, while AMS has used funds to expand reporting on organic prices on a variety of specialty crop, livestock, dairy, and grain products through their Market News reports. Market News data is collected by AMS from producer organizations, companies, and individual farmers, as well as through 21 cooperative agreements with State Departments of Agriculture.
AMS is also working on a new database called the Marketing Analysis, and Reporting Services (MARS) system, which will create a single reporting system database for all of Market News reports. The goal is to make it easier for Market News to collect information, and easier for those using the information (including farmers) to access and organize it.
Crop Insurance Access for Organics
The biggest news from this year’s RMA report on organic crop insurance access is the announcement that they have evaluated all 98 crops currently in RMA’s online Actuarial Information Browser to determine whether sufficient data is available to establish organic price elections for each of them. RMA plans to have organic price elections for 79 of those crops by 2018.
It is important to keep in mind that, even with organic price elections being available for 79 crops, there are still significant limitations on the availability of crop insurance for organic farmers across the country. The report notes that RMA’s assessment may not have evaluated all crops covered by federal crop insurance plans, including Actual Revenue History (ARH) plans, nursery, livestock policies, 508(h) submissions, and crops requiring a contract. This means that there are still individual crop policies available that do not offer an organic election to cover the full organic premium. Moreover, most individual crop polices are only available in a limited number of states and counties. Farmers producing organically should consult a crop insurance agent about about what options are available.
Over the last several years, RMA has attempted to work with AMS, NASS, and private contractors and organizations in order to obtain the prices and quantity data it needs to develop organic price elections. While their efforts have been laudable, the results have been somewhat mixed.
These collaborations have led to more collected data; however, the unique limitations of each of RMA’s partners has created challenges to RMA’s ability to effectively analyze and use the information.
For example, AMS collects data at the shipping point, while RMA needs farm gate or initial sale point data. The shipping point price can be close to the farm gate price, but it may still include value-added costs that would make the data difficult for RMA to use. The RMA chart below outlines which crops reported at the shipping point by AMS now have organic price elections.
AMS does report farm gate prices data for livestock, poultry, and Grain Market News. Coverage for Grain Market News crops is displayed below.
As mentioned above, CIPSEA prevents RMA from using unsuppressed data recorded by NASS. The suppressed data RMA is able to access does provide some value in RMA’s development of organic price elections, but the limitations are clearly stifling their potential for greater progress.
Clearing the Way for Further Coordination for Organic
The 2018 Farm Bill will allow a unique opportunity for Congress to clear the roadblocks preventing USDA from making the best use of its producer data. NSAC urges legislators to take advantage of this opportunity and open the channels for coordination at USDA by modifying the legal statute preventing NASS from fully sharing its valuable survey data with its fellow agricultural agencies.