MOFGA works on public policy at local, state and national levels, and we’re fortunate to have the help of a diverse community of stakeholders with vast expertise in all of our policy platform areas. For the past few months, we’ve been working with partners across the country to elevate the importance of the organic farming sector and advance federal support for organic farmers through the federal government’s primary agriculture and food policy legislation — the Farm Bill.
Congress reviews and updates this enormous piece of legislation every five years (the current Farm Bill expires in 2023). The legislation establishes funding levels for many programs under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Dating back to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration’s New Deal of the 1930s, the Farm Bill originally sought to: secure a food supply sufficient for our country; establish food prices that were fair for both farmers and consumers; and protect the soil and natural resources on which farmers depended. Despite dramatic shifts in agricultural technologies, management practices and food systems over nine decades, these essential themes remain in the Farm Bill.
The current Farm Bill consists of 12 titles that focus on various national interests in food and agriculture, representing $428 billion in federal spending. Congress allocates the vast majority (a bit more than three-quarters) of the funds to Title 4: Nutrition, which includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as “Food Stamps”) and other programs to ensure that low-income families have sufficient food. The remaining titles secure funding for crop insurance (9%), commodities (7%), conservation (7%) and many other programs that provide critical funding for local and organic agriculture. MOFGA farmers have benefited directly from Farm Bill-funded programs like the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) program supporting beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) supporting Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grants, and the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP).
Titles in the Current Farm Bill (2019-2023)
|Title 1: Commodities — price and income support and disaster assistance for the farmers producing major commodities such as corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, dairy and sugar.|
|Title 2: Conservation — support for implementing natural resource conservation efforts on farmland.|
|Title 3: Trade — subsidies for food exports, and international food aid programs.|
|Title 4: Nutrition — Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and other food security support for low-income households.|
|Title 5: Credit — loan programs to boost farmer access to financial credit for farm businesses.|
|Title 6: Rural Development — support for rural businesses (including farms), community development, rural housing, and infrastructure.|
|Title 7: Research, Extension and Related Matters — funding for research, innovation, education and training to support farmers and food system development.|
|Title 8: Forestry — provides support to help farmers and rural communities embrace forest conservation programs.|
|Title 9: Energy — supports growing crops for biofuel, installing renewable energy systems and conducting research on energy needs in the farm sector.|
|Title 10: Horticulture — supports organic farming and certification programs, as well as farmers’ markets, local food programs, and some research and infrastructure for fruits, vegetables and other horticultural crops.|
|Title 11: Crop Insurance — subsidizes farmers to protect them from losses in yield, crop revenue or whole farm revenue.|
|Title 12: Miscellaneous — provides funding and technical assistance for beginning, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers and ranchers, agricultural labor safety, workforce development, and livestock health.|
As this article went to press in the winter 2022-2023 issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, we were developing our advocacy efforts around the 2023 Farm Bill, and identifying the many critical funding needs to ensure the success and healthy growth of the phenomenal organic farming sector here in Maine and across the country. MOFGA is collaborating with members of the National Organic Coalition, the Organic Farmers Association, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and many other organizations to ensure that the interests of organic farmers figure prominently in the next iteration of the Farm Bill.
The Farm Bill presents a great opportunity for all of us to talk with members of our congressional delegation and emphasize the economic, environmental and human health benefits of organic agriculture. Organic provisions should figure prominently across the Farm Bill titles, including commodities, crop insurance, conservation, energy, nutrition and horticulture. High-level priorities for our work on the 2023 Farm Bill include:
- Increasing support for organic cost share, technical assistance and mentorship. MOFGA and our partners across the country are proposing the creation of an $80 million program to streamline and increase organic certification cost share reimbursements and provide technical support and mentorship to existing and transitioning organic farmers.
- Addressing regulatory bottlenecks at USDA. We support adopting a provision to compel USDA to implement recommendations of the National Organic Standards Board in a timely manner and to facilitate ongoing regulatory updates to strengthen the USDA organic program and defend the integrity of the certified organic label.
- Increasing technical and financial support for Black, Indigenous, and other farmers of color seeking to engage in organic farming.
- Increasing funding for organic research, to keep pace with the growing organic sector. This must include increased support for public plant and animal breeding programs focused on developing regionally adapted cultivars and animal breeds.
- Increasing funding and creating incentives for participation in federal conservation programs such as the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) and Resource Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). Special attention and support should be given to organic producers in recognition of the many ecosystem services that their farms generate. Soil health and biodiversity on organic farms should be rewarded regularly.
- Elevating organic management practices as climate smart and making certified organic producers automatically eligible for climate smart program funding through USDA.
- Eliminating barriers to crop insurance for organic farmers and linking premium subsidies to stewardship practices that protect our land, water and health.
- Providing financial and administrative support for the members of the National Organic Standards Board to help with the workload and promote participation of farmers and stakeholders with limited time and financial resources.
- Expanding USDA capacity to provide technical, financial and moral support for farmers whose land, water, produce, livestock and bodies are contaminated by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
- Eliminating the systemic racism inherent in the USDA’s hemp licensing law. Currently growers of hemp (a crop no longer on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of controlled substances) must be licensed or authorized under a state hemp program, a tribal hemp program or the USDA hemp program, and undergo criminal history reviews conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. An individual convicted of a felony related to a controlled substance in the last 10 years is prohibited from growing hemp. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree is working to overturn the federal policy that obstructs justice for individuals who wish to grow this descheduled perennial herb that produces food, fiber and pharmaceuticals for many commercial markets, and may have a role to play in mitigating the effects of contaminated farm soils, including those poisoned by PFAS.
As we refine our 2023 Farm Bill Platform, we will post updates and action alerts on the policy section of MOFGA’s website. Stay tuned!
– Heather Spalding, MOFGA Deputy Director