Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

MOFGA Notes Mixed Results with the 2018 Farm Bill

Wins on funding for organic certification, research, new farmers and import enforcement shadowed by changes to the National Organic Standards Board

U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C.

U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C.

December 12, 2018 (Unity, ME) – The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) generally is pleased with the passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (the Farm Bill), but is disheartened by significant threats to the integrity of the National Organic Standards Board.

The Farm Bill is a gigantic piece of legislation that covers diverse agricultural programs from commodities to conservation to research to nutrition. As the federal government's primary agriculture and food policy legislation (representing several hundred billion dollars over five years), the Farm Bill has great potential to cultivate a more local, more organic, more secure agriculture across the country. The 2018 bill has big wins for organic farmers and consumers, including provisions that will help safeguard organic integrity and generate jobs, economic growth, and environmental benefits in communities across the United States.

MOFGA's Farm Bill priorities have the following results:

  • Organic Certification Cost-Share Program – The bill establishes mandatory funding and authority for the program, which provides partial reimbursement for rising organic certification costs and is especially important for small and mid-size operations. MOFGA certified organic producers benefit greatly from this program, with more than 90% of producers participating annually.
  • Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and the Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program – The bill combines the programs, provides permanent, baseline funding ($50 million annually), and makes significant policy improvements. Since 2011, this program has secured almost $2 million in federal funding for MOFGA's beginning farmer programs, which are shifting the demographics of Maine's farm population.
  • Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) – The bill includes an historic increase in funding to permanent, baseline status by 2023, which will help ensure the continuation of this program beyond the life of the current Farm Bill. Cutting-edge research conducted through the OREI program helps farmers become more productive, efficient, and profitable and leads to the development of new agricultural practices that can be used by conventional and organic farmers alike. Maine's university system has secured funds through this program.
  • Integrity of Organic Imports – The bill expands resources and authorities for organic import enforcement, which will bolster the USDA and organic community's efforts to deter fraud in the organic sector.
  • Organic Market Research – The bill provides $5 million in funding for organic data collection efforts. This data is vital to policymakers, researchers, and industry participants alike to maintain stable markets, create risk management tools, track production trends, and curb fraud in the organic sector.
  • Local Agriculture Marketing Program – The bill combines and strengthens the Farmers' Market and Local Food Promotion Program, and the Value-Added Producer Grant Program, and provides permanent, baseline funding.
  • Local Control of Pesticide Use – The bill omits language from a prior draft, which would have prohibited local governments from restricting pesticide use. This defends decades of thoughtful public policy development in Maine, where at least 29 municipalities have created ordinances to promote organic landcare practices and protect human health and the environment from unnecessary application of synthetic pesticides.
  • Federal Environmental Protections – The bill omits language from a prior draft, which would have rolled back pesticide regulations in the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.
  • Conservation Stewardship Program – The bill rejects language in a prior draft to eliminate the program. It preserves current funding and makes important policy improvements to encourage cover cropping, resource-conserving crop rotation, and advanced grazing systems.

MOFGA works closely with organizations in Maine and across the country to advance the national policy interests of organic farmers, processors and consumers. MOFGA's partnerships with the Washington, DC-based organizations the National Organic Coalition (NOC) and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) help ensure that the specific needs of Maine's organic sector are addressed in the federal policy. MOFGA is excited to continue its collaboration with NOC, NSAC and USDA to implement these new funds and policies to advance organic agriculture.
 
Despite significant funding to support the organic farming sector, the Farm Bill contains deeply troubling provisions that impose statutory changes on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the USDA advisory board responsible for keeping toxic substances out of organic production and processing. MOFGA is deeply disheartened by two final bill provisions that erode the integrity of the National Organic Standards Board.

  • One of the provisions allows for employees of farm companies to sit in farmer seats on the Board. This provision could dilute the voice of the independent organic farmers and favor the interests of large organic production companies. MOFGA will continue to advocate for the nomination of independent organic farmers to NOSB farmer seats and will actively engage in the Board's transparent and public process to ensure that family farms are represented in NOSB decisions.
  • A second provision contains unnecessary and confusing language about NOSB voting procedures that govern decisions about which synthetic materials are allowed in organic production and processing. MOFGA opposes this language or any efforts to weaken the voting procedures of the Board or make it easier to retain harmful materials in organic production and processing.

"The boost in funding for organic research and the provisions enhancing organic import enforcement are cause for celebration in the organic community," said Sarah Alexander, MOFGA's executive director. "MOFGA is deeply disturbed, however, by two provisions that undercut the work of the National Organic Standards Board. "We will continue to fight to reverse policies that undermine the transparency, high integrity, and full participation in the organic standards setting process."

A bipartisan spirit emerged toward the end of a year-long, polarized debate on the Farm Bill. In addition to providing critical funding for organic and sustainable agriculture initiatives, the final bill ensures food access and dignity for families in need by protecting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Leadership and a spirit of compromise by Senators Roberts (R-KS) and Stabenow (D-MI), and Representatives Conaway (R-TX) and Peterson (D-MN) were essential to moving this bill across the finish line. MOFGA is grateful for the many champions of organic agriculture in Congress, and especially appreciates the leadership efforts by Maine's Senators Susan Collins and Angus King, and Representative Chellie Pingree, each of whom sponsored key marker bills to support the country's dynamic organic agriculture sector. Senator Collins, Senator King and Representative Pingree also advocated strongly against threats to existing federal environmental protections, pesticide regulations, and preemption of local and state laws.

"This farm bill represents a significant step forward for organic agriculture in multiple arenas and is a good first step," said Alexander. "The bill also includes increased support to assist beginning, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers, provisions that improve land access for future generations, and expansion of local and regional markets critical to organic producers. Much more can be done, however, to advance policies that benefit family farms, communities, health, the environment, and the changing climate."

 

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Farm Bill Action Alert - August 31, 2018

Congressional Conference Committee Prepares to Negotiate a Farm Bill

September 30th Deadline Looms

Congress is working on the 2018 Farm Bill and making policy decisions that will affect our entire food and farm system, and, of course, our ecological systems, for years to come.

Both the House and the Senate have passed their own versions of the 2018 Farm Bill. Now a conference committee is working to negotiate one combined bill.

The choice is stark: a farm bill that supports family farmers, organic and sustainable agriculture, and a more equitable future, or one that harms farmers, and strips away investments from conservation, local food systems, and food assistance.

Please contact Maine’s congressional delegation and express your support for a Farm Bill that protects organic farms, our shared natural resources, and Americans facing hunger and food insecurity.

Ask our members to relay your message to members of the Farm Bill Conference Committee, which will start meeting after Labor Day.

The Farm Bill is a gigantic piece of legislation that covers diverse agricultural programs from commodities to conservation to research to nutrition. As the federal government’s primary agriculture and food policy legislation (representing several hundred billion dollars over five years), the Farm Bill has great potential to cultivate a more local, more organic, more secure agriculture across the country. However, industrial agriculture interests and partisan politics could make things could go very wrong in the next few weeks.

What’s at stake:

  • cost sharing for organic certification
  • support for beginning, socially disadvantaged and veteran farmers
  • research and development funding for organic agriculture
  • integrity of the Organic Foods Production Act
  • local control on pesticide ordinances
  • many environmental protections provided by landmark laws like the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act
  • much more

Essential funding could be reduced significantly or even eliminated for programs that have nurtured organic farming – programs like certification cost-share, beginning farmer training, research and development, market promotion, and farmland conservation. And while some members of Congress work to dismantle these essential programs, they also propose furtive riders that would undermine decades of environmental protection and preempt the democratic principle of home rule.

One horrible rider is a provision that would prohibit local governments from restricting pesticide use on private property within their jurisdictions. This is an assault on many years of thoughtful public policy development in Maine, where at least 29 municipalities have created ordinances to promote organic landcare practices and protect human health and the environment from unnecessary application of synthetic pesticides. What the pesticides industry-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) failed to pass in Maine’s Legislature over the past two years, Congress could use as a bargaining chip in the Farm Bill. We must defeat this appalling attack on human health, the environment and home rule.

Please take a few minutes to let Maine’s congressional delegation know how important it is to have a Farm Bill that supports a more local, more organic agriculture. We need a Farm Bill that:

  • Invests in a sustainable future by funding programs that connect farmers and eaters, support beginning farmers and farmers of color, underwrite organic and sustainable agriculture research, and provide healthy food incentives for families. Specifically, the Farm Bill must:
    • provide modest organic certification cost-share assistance through two federal programs, the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP) and the Agricultural Management Assistance Act (AMA).
    • provide permanent funding of $50 million per year for the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach Program to support beginning, socially disadvantaged and veteran farmer and rancher programs to ensure both the next generation and farmers of color have access to the resources they need to build successful and viable farms.
    • support the bipartisan Organic Agriculture Research Act (H.R. 2436, S.2404), which increases funding to $50 million annually (by 2023 in the Senate version) for the USDA’s flagship organic research program, the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI)
    • devote $50 million annually to the public plant and animal breeding programs focused on developing regionally adapted cultivars and animal breeds.
    • include additional resources and authorities for USDA to implement enhanced procedures to track organic imports and ensure that imported products fully comply with U.S. organic standards.
    • protect the stakeholder structure and standard-setting balance of the USDA National Organic Program and National Organic Standards Board (NOSB)
    • include the Local Agriculture Marketing Program, which combines and strengthens the Farmers’ Market and Local Food Promotion Program, Value-Added Producer Grant Program, Regional Food Economy Partnership Program, and Food Safety Cost-share Assistance
  • Protects our shared natural resources – by protecting the nation’s largest resource conservation program on working farm and ranch lands: the Conservation Stewardship Program
  • Targets support to family farmers instead of Wall Street – by maintaining payment limits and strengthening eligibility rules for farm subsidies
  • Ensures food access and dignity for families in need – by protecting the SNAP program from cuts
  • Rejects provisions that would weaken or preempt federal, state or municipal pesticide regulations, or undermine landmark environmental protection laws like the Clean Water Act or the Endangered Species Act.

Phone calls are the best approach. The staffers who work with our members of Congress are happy to hear from you so don’t delay. Phone numbers for Maine's Congressional Delegation are provided above. If you, your family, friends or colleagues live in another state, please share this alert with them and encourage them to call the Congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121, get connected to their members of Congress, and deliver as much of the message above as they'd like!