2014 Farm Bill Analysis: Organic Agriculture

Copyright Victoria Bouloubasis 2010

This is the third post in a blog series where RAFI staff will examine how the 2014 Farm Bill impacts key structural issues related to sustainability in agriculture. After two years of delay, the 2014 Farm Bill is now law. Also known as the Agricultural Act of 2014, the law is wide-ranging. This post aims to cover how the bill impacts the organic agriculture sector. Click here to read the entire series.

2014 Farm Bill: Organic Agriculture

By Steve Etka
National Organic Coalition, Legislative Director

One sector that is relatively new to the Farm Bill debate is the organic sector. Since USDA’s National Organic Program was first established by the 1990 Farm Bill, the U.S. organic sector has been growing by leaps and bounds. Every Farm Bill since 1990 has included funding for important organic programs to meet the demands of the growing sector.

But securing needed funding for organic programs as part of the Farm Bill process has never been easy. Despite $35 billion in annual sales of organic food and beverage, and nearly 18,000 certified organic farmers and handlers, many in Congress still view organic agriculture with skepticism and disdain. Those views have made the job of the organic community, and key organic champions on Capitol Hill, much more difficult.

A good example of the challenge is when, in 2012, Congress failed to renew the expiring Farm Bill. Instead, it passed a one-year stopgap measure to extend the old Farm Bill for a year. The problem here was that Farm Bill extension did not include any funding for organic farm bill programs, which were considered less important by Congressional leaders as compared to some of the older, more established (and in many cases more outdated) commodity programs.

As a result, the organic community had to re-double our efforts to make sure that the new Farm Bill, which was not passed until early 2014, included funding for key organic programs. After nearly three years of debate, dust finally settled on the new Farm Bill. And the organic sector fared well. Here are some of the highlights:

Certification Cost Share Assistance for Organic Farmers and Handlers

The annual process of organic certification is a necessary step for ensuring that all organic operations meet stringent organic standards, to ensure the integrity of the USDA organic seal and meet consumer expectations. But annual certification costs can be prohibitive, particularly for small and mid-sized operations. The 2014 Farm Bill includes over $12 million annually to help organic farmers and handlers defray some of their annual certification costs.

Organic Research

The Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) is USDA’s flagship competitive research and extension grants program dedicated to organic agriculture. The program funds research and extension projects to help meet the production, marketing, and policy needs of the growing organic industry. The 2014 Farm Bill includes $20 million annually for this important program.

Organic Data Collection

The Organic Production and Market Data Initiative (ODI) is a small multi-agency initiative that ensures that USDA collects organic statistics, conducts organic price reporting, and releases organic economic reports. Access to segregated organic data is critical to help organic farmers and handlers make wise business decisions, and to policymakers’ efforts to assess market trends and implications of policy decisions. The 2014 Farm Bill includes a one-time infusion of $5 million for the Organic Data Initiative.

Organic Crop Insurance

USDA does not provide appropriate risk management tools for organic producers. One of the big problems is that many organic farmers cannot insure their crops for the higher organic value, but must settle for the conventional value. USDA has made some progress in this area to provide “price elections” for some organic crops, but not enough. The 2014 Farm Bill includes a provision to require USDA to offer organic price elections by 2015 to reflect the actual retail or wholesale prices received by producers of organic crops.

National Organic Program Modernization

USDA’s National Organic Program enforces the national organic standards and ensures the integrity of the USDA organic seal. NOP is in need of a capital investment in innovative technologies that will position the program to be able to grow with the organic sector, providing improved domestic and international oversight, transparency and streamlining of systems, data and information. The 2014 Farm Bill includes a one-time capital investment of $5 million to address this concern.

While U.S. consumer demand for organic food and beverages continues to grow exponentially, domestic production to meet that demand has not kept up, requiring greater imports of organic production to fill the gap. The organic program funding in the new Farm Bill will help U.S. farmers and handlers better meet that demand.

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