Long time coming, 2014 Farm Bill worth the wait for organic
It took more than two full years of active work by legislators to draft and finalize a Farm Bill, and an even longer period of knocking on doors by the organic sector to explain the needs for continuing and nurturing the health of U.S. organic agriculture. But it has all paid off!
A growing and vital segment of the U.S. farm economy, organic agriculture historically has been under-represented in Farm Bill programs compared to conventional agriculture. With farm gate revenues of $3.5 billion, organic products rank among the top four food and feed categories by dollar value, behind only corn, soybeans and wheat. The main challenge has been to educate members of Congress about organic agriculture and its role in U.S. agricultural health.
The good news: the final Agricultural Act of 2014 (also known as the 2014 Farm Bill), includes all of the policy “Asks” the OTA and its members made on behalf of the organic sector. There is much to celebrate:
Language concerning exemptions from federal Research and Promotion Orders:
- Expands the exemption for organic operations from conventional check-off programs, aligning it with not just the 100% organic label, but also the 95% organic label
National Organic Program (NOP):
- Authorizes funding for NOP of up to $15 million per year, an increase from the $11 million of funding for Fiscal Year 2012 mandated in the 2008 Farm Bill.
- Authorizes a one-time $5 million funding stream for NOP to implement important technology upgrades that will keep the U.S. organic regulators on par with those around the world.
- Grants NOP strong enforcement tools to enable it to more adequately enforce the organic regulations and root out fraud without taking away any of the protections that a valid organic certificate carries.
Certification Cost-share Program:
Cost-share assistance enables certified organic farmers and handlers to offset the costs of certification by providing an annual reimbursement. The 2008 Farm Bill capped the reimbursement at $750 per year per operation, for a maximum of 75% of total certification costs.
- Funds the National Organic Certification Cost -Share Program at $11.5 million per year, an increase over the $4.4 million per year mandated in the 2008 Farm Bill.
- Maintains the Agricultural Management Assistance program, funded at $1.5 million per year, available to producers in 16 states.
Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI):
Administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, OREI is USDA’s flagship competitive grants program dedicated to organic research and extension activities. OREI funds research projects on organic agricultural systems, ranging from improving weed management and developing organic seed to enhancing environmental sustainability and carbon sequestration on organic farms.
- Funds OREI at $20 million per year, maintaining the level for Fiscal Years 2010 through 2012 mandated in the 2008 Farm Bill.
Organic Data Initiative (ODI):
ODI data collection is crucial to the continued success of the organic sector. In particular, ODI funds are used to complete organic price elections for crop insurance, which will ensure that organic farmers are reimbursed at fair values for their crops, rather than at conventional rates
- Funds ODI at $5 million in mandatory funding, maintaining the level mandated in the 2008 Farm Bill.
Organic Crop Insurance:
- Requires that organic price elections that reflect actual retail or wholesale prices received by organic producers be completed by 2015.
Additional language concerning federal Research and Promotion Orders:
- Authorizes USDA to consider an application by the organic sector for a check-off, if the organic business community chooses to pursue such an option.
In addition, Farm Bill fully funds the USDA Market Access Program (MAP):
- MAP funds help U.S. organic operations engage with markets and consumers around the world. In 2013, OTA was awarded over $600,000 in MAP grants, which led to over $4 million in new export sales for U.S. organic operations – a remarkable return on investment.
This all came together in a whirlwind of activity within a week and a half by the Conference Committee, House, Senate and President Obama—a refreshing twist to a tortuous journey that resulted in historic wins and promise for organic.
“We are heartened by the gains in the Farm Bill, adding to the advances organic gained in the 2008 bill. While this has been a long process and our families and farms deserve a more active and swift reform, this farm bill does recognize several of our key priorities we've been working so hard toward in the past two years. We believe organic is an important part of our future food system, and we will continue to encourage Congress and USDA to support this critical system.”
-- George Siemon, CEO of Organic Valley