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2023 Farm Bill Policy Priorities for Organic

The Farm bill sets U.S. federal agriculture policy and is reauthorized by Congress through the House and Senate Agriculture Committees roughly every five years. It includes titles covering nutrition, commodities, conservation, trade, rural development, research, forestry, energy, horticulture and organic agriculture, livestock, crop insurance, and more. In addition to updating programs and policies, Congress also determines the funding levels for various programs at USDA.

OTA Policy Development Process

Future of Organic Workshops: In the lead up to the 2023 farm bill, OTA has engaged with members and stakeholders to gain insight and feedback on key policy priorities for the organic sector. OTA partnered with Arizona State University to host a series of four workshops on the future of organic.

The topics covered were:

  • Structure of the public-private partnership
  • Continuous improvement
  • Certification, inspection, enforcement, and accreditation
  • The future of marketing claims and their relationship to organic

Nearly 300 people participated in the workshops, representing the breadth and diversity of the organic sector and stakeholder landscape. Participants included certifiers and inspectors, farmers, large consumer brands, retailers, non-profits, and advocacy organizations focused on food and farming issues. The results of these workshops will be presented in a published report this fall.

OTA’s Farmers Advisory Council: OTA’s Farmers Advisory Council (FAC) has a unique mandate to elevate the voice of small and mid-sized farmers in OTA’s policy priorities with a special focus on OTA’s farm bill priorities. FAC is one of the largest coalitions of organic farmers and organic farming organizations in the United States. It represents nearly 8,000 organic livestock, poultry, grain, and specialty crop producers in all regions of the U.S.

FAC Farm Bill Working Sessions: Over the past year FAC has had a series of working sessions to help inform OTA’s farm bill priorities. Topics have included organic transition, crop insurance and risk management, conservation, certification cost-share, market development, processing infrastructure, and supply chain challenges. The outcomes of the working sessions will inform the base of OTA’s farm bill platform, ensuring that OTA’s policy priorities are driven by organic farmers.

Preview of Policy Priorities

Continuous Improvement and Accountability in Organic Standards

A recent study commissioned by OTA found that 89 percent of consumers say that the USDA should review and update the organic standards regularly and 87 percent of consumers expect organic standards to be updated to reflect evolving understandings about soil, climate, toxicology, animal welfare, etc. It’s been 20 years since the organic regulations went into effect, and despite growing consumer demand and industry consensus on nearly two dozen updates the standards have remained static, with only two updates implemented in the last two decades. A broken federal regulatory apparatus is stifling innovation and preventing the organic industry from delivering on its promise to the consumer. OTA is pushing Congress to:

  • Restructure the public-private partnership
    • Authorize funding for the National Organic Program (NOP) to keep pace with organic industry growth and direct specific resources toward standards development.
    • Update the structure of the NOP to allow for prioritizing standards and market development along with maintaining strong compliance and enforcement.

Although progress has been made in recent farm bills to provide NOP with more resources, authority, and tools to increase enforcement and prevent fraud in the marketplace, loopholes remain.

  • Invest in enforcement and oversight.

Continuous improvement is the bedrock of organic but it is not expressly required by the law or regulations. USDA must collaborate with accredited certifiers to advance the outcomes on farms, ranches, and facilities certified to the organic standards.

Set a statutory requirement for USDA to review and update organic practice standards beyond just the National List to ensure continuous improvement.

Market Development

  • Provide funding, support, and incentives for transition to organic based on market needs.
  • Provide funding for market and processing infrastructure to address supply chain constraints and increase domestic production of organic crops.

Climate and Conservation

  • Establish and provide funding for a technical assistance program for organic and transitioning farmers.
  • Provide more conservation assistance for organic farmers to improve environmental outcomes, such as fostering soil health, increasing biodiversity, and natural resource conservation.

Core Farm Bill Program Improvements

  • Increase funding for the Organic Research and Education Initiative and Certification Cost-Share Program.
  • Include programmatic changes to streamline and improve access for organic farmers for cost-share, crop insurance, conservation, risk management, and other farm bill programs.

International Trade

  • Increase funding for the Market Access Program, Foreign Market Development Program, and Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops.

Stay tuned! To keep up to date with the latest on OTA’s 2023 farm bill priorities, visit ota.com/farmbill.

Megan DeBates is Vice President of Government Affairs for Organic Trade Association.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2022 Organic Report, you can view the full magazine here.