This is the third post in a multi-part blog series analyzing the draft farm bill released on June 7, 2018 by the Senate Agriculture Committee. Subsequent posts focus on: local/regional food systems and rural development, crop insurance and commodity subsidies, and beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers. The bill will be considered and “marked-up” (aka amended) by the full Agriculture Committee on June 13 and on the Senate floor later this month. We expect further improvements to the food system provisions in the bill during mark-up and will report on those through updated and future posts.
Programs and policies that affect organic agriculture are found across multiple titles of the farm bill. In the draft farm bill recently introduced by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), organic research, data, and transition assistance programs fare very well overall. Primary areas of concern are that the bill fails to address significant issues concerning organic agriculture within working lands conservation and crop insurance programs.
Below, we include a summary of the key takeaways on how the Chairman’s mark addresses organic policies and programs in the Senate’s draft farm bill.
- Includes a historic increase for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), which supports research projects to address the most critical challenges faced by organic farmers. The 2014 Farm Bill provided $20 million per year for the program, while the draft released by the Senate Committee provides $40 million in each of fiscal years (FY) 2019 and FY 2020, $45 million in FY 2021, and $50 million each year thereafter. The Senate bill establishes permanent baseline funding for the OREI, which meets the recommendation of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have championed the funding increase for OREI as part of their Organic Agriculture Research Act of 2018, introduced earlier this year.
- Restores funding for the Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives (ODI), for which the 2014 Farm Bill also provided a total of $5 million in mandatory funding. ODI is a multi-agency initiative that facilitates the collection and distribution of organic market information, including data on production, handling, distribution, retail, and consumer purchasing patterns. This restoration meets NSAC’s recommended funding level, which the House farm bill also met. The fact that identical language is included in both bills dramatically increases the chances that the final farm bill will include this level of ODI funding.
- Renews funding for the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP) at the 2014 Farm Bill level of $11.5 million per year. In contrast, the House Agriculture Committee’s failed version of the farm bill would have eliminated all funding for the program. NOCCSP supports the growth of domestic production so that U.S. producers can take advantage of growing market opportunities.
- Includes NSAC’s recommendation that continuing education on organic and sustainable production practices be required for loss adjusters and crop insurance agents. However, the bill fails to direct the U.S. Department of Agriculture to complete price elections for all covered crops (including organic crops) within five years. This requirement would have ensured that organic operations receive the same risk management opportunities as conventional operations within a reasonable time frame. The failed House bill included no language related to increasing crop insurance access for organic farmers.
- Authorizes an “Organic Initiative” within the Conservation Stewardship Program, which includes an allocation of funds for certified organic participants and those transitioning to organic production. The bill fails, however, to make any changes to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program’s (EQIP) Organic Initiative (OI), which would have improved access to conservation support for organic producers. For example, the bill does not eliminate the significantly lower payment cap within EQIP OI, nor does it allocate dedicated funds to the states to ensure utilization. This was similarly true with the House version of the farm bill.