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New Funding | Advocacy Works | Farm Bill Fun

“All advocacy is, at its core, an exercise in empathy.”  ~Samantha Power

Featured Topic: Farm Bill Overview by Mark Lipson

About every five years, Congress renews the Farm Bill. This omnibus, multi-year law covers many agriculture and food programs, including commodity support, nutrition assistance, conservation programs, and agricultural research. The organic sector has benefited from this bill, and our Associate Mark Lipson provides an overview of what’s happening with this key legislation.

On Sept 31, 2023 the current Farm Bill will expire. A semblance of Congressional order is proceeding to craft a new one. Committee hearings are underway and non-committee marker bills are emerging. The committee leaderships are all very vocal about expecting consensus, meaning little intention to depart from the status quo.

While there is early motion on the particulars, the overall path of the next farm bill will be determined by larger factors and non-ag actors. The debt ceiling, SNAP wars, FY24 Appropriations and climate emergency conditions are only some of the looming determinants for legislative outcomes. Right now the odds of an extension into 2024 or 2025 seem better than 50-50.

A major lynchpin this time around is the extraordinary funding directed to ag from the recent Inflation Reduction Act. Nearly $3 Billion has been allocated to e.g., “climate-friendly” conservation ag programs but spent over next 4+ years. These funds could remain additive to the Farm Bill’s total funding, but also are at risk of neutralizing regular Farm Bill allocations, for little net gain.

Aside from the likelihood of a Farm Bill extension in some form, the next most certain thing is an inevitable showdown on SNAP nutrition funding/eligibility. This has been the most reliable feature of last four Farm Bills and there’s no sign that things will be easier this time.

If and when the large funding outlines are more defined, the committees and staffs will start another phase of the Farm Bill puzzle process, but the pieces will continue to change shape as the larger political weather roils the whole landscape.

Farm Bill 2023 agendas and objectives for the organic sector are represented by various organizations, more than ever before. (Not to mention companies and commodity groups lobbying on organic provisions.) There is a lot of overlap in the assorted organic-friendly policy platforms, but so far there is no apparent process for a grand alliance of organic stakeholders to come together. Here are the primary organizational statements to date:

  • Organic Trade Association – OTA’s biggest priority is updating the National Organic Standards Board-National Organic Program (NOSB-NOP) rule-making process itself under the banner of Continuous Improvement, aiming to force a more reliable regulatory path and fidelity to the NOSB recommendations. Numerous other specifics range across the spectrum of USDA agencies.
  • National Organic Coalition & Organic Farmers Association – Both of these organizations have a similar curated set of recommendations with some differing emphasis. Reform of the NOP is also a common thread.
  • Organic Farming Research Foundation – OFRF’s long game continues to focus on more and better organic research and extension in various ways. The organic research agenda builds on historic success in the 2018 legislation.
  • National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition – NSAC is arguably the most influential Farm Bill player aligned with organic interests, and has very strong organic representation in the coalition. Expect NSAC to play a key role on how the climate-carbon-organic-regenerative subplots play out.
  • Health, Environment, Agriculture, Labor (HEAL) Food Alliance – This is a coalition that the organic rank-and-file should pay closer attention to and support. “Organic and Agroecological Systems” are woven into the entire platform, and HEAL is not shy about it. HEAL puts organic in the context of social justice, racial equity and food sovereignty.

I have worked on seven Farm Bills, including from inside USDA. Each one has had unexpected plot twists and unpredictable outcomes.

Mark LipsonMARK LIPSON is a founding leader of U.S. organic agriculture since 1985. Through his various foundational roles (CCOF, OFRF, USDA) he has directed core public policy strategies and implementation for the organic sector. His expertise integrates legislative, regulatory and media aspects of state and federal policy issues. His personal experience as a 40-year partner in Molino Creek Farm (organic fresh produce) provides ground-truth on the power and practicalities of organic farming. As a policy operator at the highest level of USDA (Organic Policy Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture), his portfolio included research funding, local food systems, genetic engineering policy debates, organic data collection, food safety legislative implementation, organic crop insurance programs, as well as the organic label regulatory apparatus management.

Organic Regulatory Updates

UNITED STATES

SOE News: Organic INTEGRITY Database Adds Functions
As part of implementing the Strengthening Organic Enforcement final rule, the USDA Organic INTEGRITY Database (INTEGRITY) now includes an international Trade Partner Module (GLOBAL). This new module increases access and transparency to quality data in organic supply chains worldwide, increasing USDA’s ability to protect the integrity of organic products sold in the United States. The Trade Partner Module allows international certifiers to report on farms and businesses certified under organic equivalency arrangements. In addition, USDA plans to add an Import Certificate Module to the database in the fall of 2023. When the system is fully deployed—target day May 2024—USDA-accredited certifiers and certifiers working with standards under equivalence arrangements will be able to generate electronic import certificates through the GLOBAL module.

Comment by June 26 on Information Collection for Livestock Rule
USDA seeks public comment on the information collection requirements in the Origin of Livestock final rule. Comment by June on the burdens, costs, and other effects of the information collection required by the new variance in the rules for small certified dairy operations at Regulations.gov, docket number AMS-NOP-22-0055.

No Improvements Required, Finds Peer Review of National Organic Program
The latest peer review of the National Organic Program’s accreditation processes and conformance to National Organic Program regulations did not identify any opportunities for improvements. In the comments, reviewers did note that some links in the NOP Quality Manual were not working, recommended that NOP finalize its document retention and disposition plan, and cross-train a staff member in Appeals Management. See NOP’s response.

Inside the Beltway

Organic Trade Association’s Organic Week Recap
Wolf & Associates is proud to have sponsored the Organic Trade Association’s Organic Week. CEO Bill Wolf and COO John Foster both attended the events in Washington DC. Bill had fruitful meetings at the offices of Virginia Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, and Representatives Morgan Griffith (Virginia) and Chellie Pingree (Maine) to advocate for organic provisions in the Farm Bill. Highlights of the education sessions included remarks from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, discussions about reducing or eliminating plastic from the organic supply chain, and ways to make the organic sector more equitable and inclusive.
 
Organic Market Development Grants Now Available
During the Organic Trade Association’s Organic Week, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced additional funding opportunities under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Organic Transition Initiative. Through the new Organic Market Development Grant (OMDG) Program, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) will issue up to $75 million in competitive grants. Eligible applicants include businesses that produce or handle organic foods, non-profit organizations, tribal governments, and state and local governments for projects that expand and improve markets for domestically produced organic products. Grant applications are due August 8.
 
Learn About Financial and Technical Help For Organic Operations
USDA will host a webinar on programs for organic farmers and processors on June 6 at 2 p.m. EDT. Certified organic operations and those in transition will learn about certification cost-share, access to capital, technical and financial assistance for conservation efforts, grants for organic processors and more. A recording will also be available after the event.

Comment on EPA Strategy for Preventing Plastic Pollution
The Environmental Protection Agency is looking for comments on its Draft National Strategy to Prevent Plastic Pollution. The plan’s objectives are to:

  • Reduce pollution during plastic production.
  • Improve post-use materials management.
  • Prevent trash and micro/nanoplastics from entering waterways and remove escaped trash from the environment.

Comment at Regulations.gov docket numberEPA-HQ-OLEM- 2023-0228 by June 16.

New Bill Would Expand Certification Cost Share
The Opportunities in Organic Act, introduced in the House by Alma Adams (NC-12) and Jimmy Panetta (CA-19) and originally cosponsored by Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Zoe Lofgren (CA-18), Jim McGovern (MA-02), Donald Payne Jr. (NJ-10), Chellie Pingree (ME-01), and Andrea Salinas (OR-06), would expand the existing National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program to cover up to $1500 in certification costs. In addition, the bill provides resources for organic capacity and partnerships, including support for education, outreach and market expansion, at public institutions and non-governmental organizations. Senator Peter Welch (D-VT) has introduced companion legislation in the senate along with 11 other senators.

International News

Australia’s Organic Acreage Expands
The Australian Organic Market Report 2023 from Australian Organic Limited reports that certified organic farmland across the country hit 53 million hectares, up from 35.7 million in 2021. Approximately 70% of the world’s certified organic farmland is in Australia, and 3035 businesses are certified organic. Hampered by a lack of a national standard and regulatory framework, Australia only has a 1.36% of global organic retail sales.
 
Netherlands to Reduce Nitrogen Emissions By Buying Out Livestock Farms
The European Commission approved Dutch plans to offer buyouts to livestock producers in an attempt to reduce nitrogen pollution from intensive farming practices. Totaling $1.61 billion, the buyouts will go to farmers who voluntarily close farms near nature reserves. More.
 
Italian Farmers Seeing Benefits of Combining Farming and Solar Power Generation
In a move that optimizes income and offers options for growing heritage crops, some Italian farmers are combining greenhouses outfitted with solar panels to grow citrons and other citrus fruits. The move helps satisfy the demand for renewable and maintains valuable farmland, reducing tension for competing land uses. More.

The Survey Says…

U.S. Organic Sales Up 4% in 2022
The Organic Trade Association’s 2023 Organic Industry Survey showed sales of organic products in the United States hit $67.6 billion in 2022, with food sales comprising $61.7 billion of that. Within the organic food category, produce leads the way, and now represents 15% of produce sales in the U.S. Beverages are the second-best selling category, with coffee sales in the lead and up 7%. The third highest-selling organic category was dairy and eggs at $7.9 billion, up over 7% from the previous year. Organic dairy and eggs now constitute close to 8% of the total dairy and egg market.
 
Pesticides and Herbicides Used on Farms Reduce Bird Populations
With bird populations in Europe and the United Kingdom falling 25% since 1980, scientists examined the data and found that the chief cause of the decline is the use of pesticides and herbicides in farming, as reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The chemicals harm birds directly and indirectly by killing food supplies. Birds that feed on invertebrates had the greatest population decline. Urbanization was the second leading cause of bird population loss. More.
 
New Economic Research Service Brief Looks at “Natural” Food Label
A recent brief from the USDA Economic Research Services estimates the size of the market for foods with the “natural” label, and outlines the mismatch between consumer perceptions of “natural” on food labels and consumer preferences. This mismatch leads to shoppers choosing natural products, when organic products better match their preferences. Some common misconceptions about food with the natural label include that they are healthier, that animals are raised without antibiotics or hormones and were free range, and higher environmental stewardship production practices are used. The authors found the use of the natural label varies by category, but found 16.3% of retail expenditures were for natural-labeled foods compared to 5.6% of USDA Organic labeled food.

GMO News

Updated Guidance Clears the Way for Gene-edited Seeds in Canada
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency changed its guidance for pre-market clearance for seeds. Despite protest from the organic sector, the changes will require pre-market clearance for any plant that releases seeds into the environment only when the plant contains foreign DNA; the plant has a new commercially viable herbicide tolerance trait; or, the plant is of a new crop species or is intended for new uses in Canada. This paves the way for gene-edited seeds to enter the marketplace without pre-approval. As a result of organic sector concerns, the government created a Government-Industry Steering Committee on Plant Breeding Innovations Transparency and will oversee a private sector Canadian Variety Transparency Database.
 
Philippines Court Blocks Golden Rice and Bt Eggplant
An April 19 ruling by the Philippines Supreme Court temporarily blocked the commercial propagation of genetically modified Golden Rice and Bt eggplants. The temporary environmental protection order voids all biosafety permits for these products until the Department of Agriculture provides proof of safety and compliance with legal requirements, performs independent risk and impact assessments, obtains consent of farmers and indigenous peoples, and implements liability mechanisms in case of damage.

Organic Community

Staff Changes at OTA Bring New Perspectives
The Organic Trade Association’s regulatory and technical affairs team is changing—Gwendolyn Wyard, Vice President of Regulatory and Technical Affairs is departing after 10 years to start a business. Joelle Mosso, former Chief Scientific Officer for Produce for Eurofins Scientific, will come on as the Senior Director of Technical and Regulatory, and Scott Rice, formerly at the Washington State Department of Agriculture, will be the new Director of Regulatory. Congratulations to all as you start your new roles!

Inspectors Complete Apprenticeships at California Certified Organic Farmers
Seven apprentice organic certification inspectors completed a mentorship program at California Certified Organic Farmers, funded in part by the NOP’s Human Capital Capacity Building Initiative. We’re glad to see this program underway! For more, see the NOP-996 Growing the Organic Workforce course in the NOP’s Organic Integrity Learning Center.

Wolf & Associates Giving Back
Congratulations to our COO John Foster for serving as the Board Treasurer for the Organic Seed Alliance, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing ethical seed solutions to meet food and farming needs. Truly a worthy endeavor! Check out their organic seed directory the next time you need seeds.

Job Opportunities Abound