Organic Broadcaster

Farm Bill provides increased support for organic

By Lauren Langworthy, MOSES 

 

The 2018 Farm Bill finally passed near the end of the year. In the coming months, more information about changes to funding and programs will become available as rulemaking and administrative processes take place. For now, here’s an update about some of the impacts of the 2018 Farm Bill.

Organic
• Supporters of the organic sector are excited that the Farm Bill establishes permanent funding for organic research. By 2023, the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) can expect $50 million in annual funding. This money can be used to support necessary research and innovation for organic producers and handlers. Because the Farm Bill creates a mandatory baseline of funding, OREI will no longer have to negotiate funding from the ground up every time the Farm Bill is revised.

• Organic is also supported through the Transition Incentives Program. In this program, farmers with expiring Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts can use the last three years of their CRP contract to begin the organic certification process. In the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), funds are allocated to states to support organic production and transition. The funds allocated to each state will be determined by that state’s number of certified organic and transitioning to organic producers, as well as acres in certified or transitioning production.

• The new Farm Bill also takes on increased enforcement support for the National Organic Program and states that the National Organic Program will be covered by state agricultural mediation programs. More resources (an additional $5 million) and authority were granted to the enforcement arm of the organic program to deter fraud in the marketplace and address import concerns.

• Organic cost-share was maintained in the final version of the Farm Bill, much to the relief of many organic farmers who utilize this program to help cover the expenses of certification. The program will receive $40 million in funding for certification-related cost reimbursements.

• Additionally, the Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives program received mandatory funding that will be used to collect and distribute organic market information. This initiative collects important data to help develop accurate market and production information across the organic sector.

• The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) also experienced some changes. The language defining who can hold designated seats was changed so that employees of farm companies can serve in the NOSB seat designated for farmers. There is some concern that this shift will create opportunity for agribusinesses or large corporate farms to take those seats and exert influence over decisions of the NOSB. Another change confirms that any amendment to the National List (also known as the list of approved synthetics and prohibited naturals) would be considered a decisive vote and require a 2/3 majority vote when a quorum of the board is present. However, the final version of the Farm Bill did not include a proposed change that would have allowed the USDA to bypass the NOSB’s authority to make changes to the National List.

Conservation
• Despite moves earlier in the process to combine them, Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) remain two individual programs in the final Farm Bill. Payment limits in the EQIP program’s Organic Initiative will increase from $80,000 to $140,000. The Farm Bill directs funds to be allocated to states in support of transitioning and certified organic production through the creation of an Organic Initiative within the CSP program. MOSES is currently working with NRCS staff to educate them about the unique needs of organic producers and to work together on a review of conservation program job sheets that could support organic producers.

• There was also an update to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) that establishes a new “Clean Lakes, Estuaries, and Rivers” (CLEAR) initiative that supports conservation buffers to benefit water quality. The Regional Conservation Partnership Program received increased funding and includes provisions for prioritized drinking water protection projects as well. These modifications and other conservation policy improvements will encourage cover cropping, crop rotations, and advanced grazing systems to help farmers improve water quality.

• CRP Grassland Initiative was increased to 2 million acres by 2023, allowing ranchers to improve conservation cover on working grazing lands. Graziers might also be interested to learn that a new Conservation Grassland Initiative was added to CSP. It changes how commodity base acres for long-term grass and pasture are counted into commodity payments and seeks to compensate those farms that have been denied payments in the past. Qualifying grass-based farms will get a one-time option to enroll in CSP at $18 per acre for five years.

• While the overall conservation title within the Farm Bill retained full funding, there are significant long-term funding cuts to the working lands conservation programs like CSP. This strategy will reduce the baseline funding for the program when the Farm Bill is next considered.

Beginning & Historically Underserved Farmers
• The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) and the program that supports other historically underserved farmer groups (also known as the 2501 program) combine forces in the new Farm Bill. The new program is called Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO).

• Within the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers will have the option to receive 50% of their cost-share payment up front.

• The Conservation Reserve Program–Transition Incentives Program (CRP-TIP) received increased funding over the next five years. $5 million of that is dedicated to outreach connecting retiring farmers or those with CRP contracts with beginning farmers, military veterans, and historically underserved farmers so that new farmers can gain access to land coming out of CRP that could be more quickly certified for organic production.

Other Points of Interest
• The new Farm Bill combines the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) and Value-Added Producers Grant (VAPG) into a single program called the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP).

• The final Farm Bill’s language around Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, did not receive the proposed strict work requirements. Instead, some of the House bill language concerning anti-fraud measures did make it into the final bill, including the National Accuracy Clearinghouse which is concerned with preventing individuals from receiving SNAP benefits in multiple states.

• There is contention about a move in the new Farm Bill to expand farm subsidies. The final language mirrors some of the House bill, expanding some federal agricultural subsidies to nieces, nephews, and the first cousins of farmers—even if those relatives do not work on the farm. Some have expressed concern that this aid, designed to offset losses by farmers, will end up going to people who spend little or no time at the farm. There are also concerns that this creates a larger loophole that benefits the wealthiest farms and does little to support operations at the small family farm level.

In the coming weeks and months, details about our new Farm Bill will become clear as rulemaking and administrative reform take place. As these program changes become reality, there will be ripple effects through the lives of farmers from the programs available at your local NRCS office to possible changes in the make-up of the NOSB. MOSES will try to keep you abreast of these changes. We encourage you to keep your ear to the ground as you navigate them for your own operation.

Lauren Langworthy is the program director at MOSES and on the board of the Wisconsin Farmers Union.

 

From the January | February 2019 Issue

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