Working closely with both Republicans and Democrats, OFRF has been advocating strongly for the inclusion of important organic provisions in the Farm Bill. We are very pleased the House Agriculture Committee has included increased support for organic research, data collection, and organic enforcement in the initial draft (House mark).
The language will be discussed, debated, and potentially amended by the House Agriculture Committee next week. Once the Committee votes to pass the bill to the floor of the House, the Farm Bill will be subject to additional amendments and discussions before being voted on by the full House of Representatives.
However, the legislation’s path forward is still up in the air as top Democrats in the House have voiced their unanimous opposition to the bill because of proposed measures to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP).
OFRF championed the Organic Agriculture Research Act (H.R. 2436), a bipartisan bill that would reauthorize the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), increase the annual funding from $20 million to $50 million, and make the funding permanent. This important program offers competitive grants that fund sound science, outreach, and education programs to address the needs of organic farmers and ranchers.
The House Agriculture Committee has reauthorized OREI and increased the funding to $30 million annually. Unfortunately, the House mark does not include funding of OREI at the proposed $50 million per year, nor does it get the program to baseline permanent funding.
While this is not the full permanent funding we were pushing for, OFRF is thankful that the OREI program has been reauthorized and applauds the House Agriculture Committee for increasing the funding. We understand the fiscal challenges facing the Committee, especially with the large number of programs that need reauthorization and funding. Given the dramatic growth of the organic industry, this overdue increase in funding will be instrumental in providing the research and extension support that American farmers need.
The House Agriculture Committee also added soil health as a research priority for OREI, an important research topic and one that has been included regularly in OREI projects. In fact, according to OFRF’s Taking Stock Report, over half of the OREI grants have focused on or included research on soil health, soil biology, and nutrient management.
Organic Production and Market Data Initiative
A small but significant program, the Organic Production and Market Data Initiative (ODI) received $5 million to fund basic USDA data collection in the organic sector. The USDA Economic Research Service, the National Agricultural Statistics Service, and the Agricultural Marketing Service all collaborate on this data collection initiative. Activities funded through this program include Organic Production Surveys, comprehensive surveys and analysis of organic agriculture in the U.S., as well as economic and price reporting for organic commodities. We are thankful for this funding, which allows for data collection that is on par with the services provided to conventional producers.
Organic Enforcement and Trade Oversight
All organic producers should be operating on a level playing field in the marketplace. The Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act of 2017 (HR 3871) is a bipartisan marker bill that provides for modernization of organic import documentation, new technology advancements, and stricter enforcement of organic products entering the U.S. This bipartisan issue has found robust support in both the House and Senate and has been included in the House version of the Farm Bill.
Organic products are part of an increasingly global market. Modernization and enforcement are key to ensuring every stakeholder in the organic sector is following the rules and requirements for organic production and handling. The House mark includes changes to the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) that limits the types of operations that are excluded from certification, and increases the coordination and sharing of information between all parties in an investigation, in compliance with organic standards. The language includes an additional $5 million to increase and modernize organic import documentation, as well as provisions that require increased coordination between the National Organic Program and other federal agencies that have oversight on agricultural imports.
Additionally, the House draft of the Farm Bill increases the authorized funding for the National Organic Program (NOP) so the USDA can keep up with global growth and expansion of certified organic production.
National Certification Cost Share
The National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP) helps offset certification costs for organic producers, making certification more affordable for organic producers and handlers across the country. This cost-share program covers up to 75 percent of an individual applicant’s certification costs, with an annual maximum of $750 per certification.
While this program was not technically eliminated in the House mark, we are disappointed that this program received no funding. Given the tight fiscal constraints of the Farm Bill, we will continue advocating that funding be made available to ensure the program continues to support small and medium-sized producers and handlers, especially beginning farmers and ranchers.
National Organic Standards Board
The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is an advisory group responsible for considering issues and making recommendations to USDA on topics including the production, handling, and processing of organic products. NOSB, and the legislation that governs the authority and parameters of organic production, was part of the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) codified in the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990.
The House mark makes a number of changes to OFPA that impact the NOSB. Board members have always included owners or operators of organic farming, handling, and retailer operations. However, the House mark expands the language of the NOSB to include employees of an organic farming, handling, or retail operation.
Additionally, the NOSB has always been required to review available information from the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institute of Environmental Health Studies, and other sources as appropriate, when considering substances on the National List of what is allowed or prohibited in organic production. The House mark increases the required input the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protective Agency (EPA) have in the decision by requiring the NOSB to convene a task force to consult with the FDA Commissioner or EPA Administrator when determining if a substance under the agency’s prevue should be included on the National List.
While OFRF has opposed statutory changes to OFPA and the makeup of the NOSB, we believe the proposed changes do not substantially change the representation of farmers on the NOSB, or reduce the authority of the NOSB in determining what is allowed in organic systems.
Just the Beginning
The various organic parts of the Farm Bill can’t help but be connected, not only to each other but to the other pieces of legislation. While OFRF is supportive of the increased funding for organic research and the increased support for organic enforcement, there is much more at stake in the reauthorization of the Farm Bill. We strongly encourage the members of the Agriculture Committees to work toward a bipartisan solution that supports America’s farmers, consumers, and communities.
It will be a long road from the initial text of the bill, to the first markup by the House Agriculture Committee next week, to passage of the Farm Bill in the House—and that is just the start. The U.S. Senate is currently working on their text for the Farm Bill, which will likely be different then the House version. These differences will be parsed out in conference committees, and if approved, will go to the President to be signed into law.
OFRF will keep advocating to ensure the voices and needs of organic farmers are heard, and programs that support the success of organic agriculture are included in the Farm Bill.