By Melody Meyer
Last week the Senate Agriculture Committee advanced its bipartisan farm bill by a vote of 20 to 1 after a markup that was notably free of party politics. This bill titled the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 is largely a continuation of the last Farm Bill except for the big gains made for organic agriculture.
Organic producers and consumers should be thrilled that priorities for organic agriculture are included in the bill drawn up by the Senate Agriculture Committee.
What’s in it for Organic?
- Important tools and funding for the improved oversight of international trade to ensure the integrity of organic throughout the global supply chain
- The National Organic Program received funding increases each year up to $24 million in 2023.
- The largest increase in funding for the flagship Organic Research and Extensive Initiative (OREI) program in farm bill history achieving baseline mandatory funding for the program. The Senate farm bill increases OREI funding from its current $20 million per year to $50 million per year by 2022 OREI ensures that organic farmers can continue to meet the unique challenges they face.
- Full funding for the organic certification cost-share program at $11.5 million per year. This helps incentivize small and beginning farmers to transition to organic by relieving some of the associated costs with the annual organic certification fees.
- Full funding for the Organic Data Initiative, USDA’s organic data collection program that provides accurate market and production information for the organic industry.
- Conservation Stewardship Program funds were allocated to states to support organic production and transition to organic production.
- Language that makes Organic agriculture a good farming practice for purposes of crop insurance.
- Regionally adapted seeds and breeds language was added amending the National Genetic Resources Advisory Committee to require an assessment of needs related to public cultivar development.
These wins in the Senate bill come on the heels of the Organic Trade Associations largest Washington fly-in. On May 23, over 140 organic stakeholders from around the country -- organic farmers, organic businesses and organic entrepreneurs – visited 160 Congressional offices to advocate for organic in this next farm bill.
Next Steps towards a 2018 Farm Bill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, indicated during the markup that he's planning to make time on the floor in coming weeks. “We’ll turn to the farm bill before the Fourth of July,” McConnell said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
Meanwhile the House version failed to pass, and they will consider a revote as soon as they can come to an agreement on immigration language. It is uncertain at this time whether House leadership will have votes to pass the bill on their second attempt.
If the House bill fails to pass their bill and the Senate passes theirs, the House could choose to take up the Senate bill.
If both the House and Senate both pass their bills, they can then establish a conference committee and begin negotiations on a final bill.
Should the process begin to encroach on the November mid-term elections, the entire process could break down and the 2014 Farm Bill would be extended. If an extension occurs, many organic programs would be left stranded without funding.
As this Farm Bill process unfolds, let’s hope that the Senate bills’ organic priorities serve as the model for crafting a final 2018 Farm Bill.
If you have members of Congress who serve on the Agricultural Committees who were organic champions this year, be sure to reach out and give them thanks.
We deserve a Farm Bill that is committed to ensuring a successful future for organic agriculture.