What does the mid-term election mean for organic and the Farm Bill?

Republicans remain in control of the Senate after mid-term elections earlier this month. So far, Republicans have tentatively gained two Senate seats, but the final number could change pending a recount in Florida and a runoff in Mississippi. In the House, Democrats have now taken control with 227 seats (218 are needed for a majority), and several very close races are still being counted.

There is pressure on both sides of the aisle to try to complete a Farm Bill during the lame-duck session (the Congressional session that will take place this fall before the next Congress convenes in January with a new make-up, including new Agriculture Committee assignments, based on the election results).

The four key deciders are the House and Senate Agriculture Chairs and Ranking Members – Representative Mike Conaway (R-TX), Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), Representative Collin Peterson (D-MN), and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). House Ag Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, who will likely Chair the House Ag Committee starting in January, has been public about his preference to complete a Farm Bill during the lame-duck session, stating that he supports the Senate-passed bill. Other Democrats may also favor completing the Farm Bill now so they can move on to other priorities in January.

Waiting until next year carries risks for Republicans as well. House Ag Chairman Mike Conaway is more likely to get some of his priorities across the finish line now and will have a more challenging time if the new Farm Bill is written under a Democratic House. However, it is still unclear whether or not House Republicans will make the necessary compromises on their proposed reforms to work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), on conservation programs, and on commodity program policies to reach a deal this fall. If there is no deal during the lame-duck session, House Democrats could start fresh with a new Farm Bill when Congress begins next year.

Whether Congress moves quickly to complete a Farm Bill now or passes a one-year extension to buy time to debate the Farm Bill again next year, it is critical that we continue to communicate with members of Congress about organic priorities. We need to urge legislators to renew the certification cost-share program, which is in jeopardy, to boost funding for organic research, and to reject provisions in both the House and Senate bills that undermine the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). If Congress passes a one-year extension, critical organic programs will go unfunded without further action to ensure that they are funded during this interim period.

Abby Youngblood