What Happens to Organic Programs if the Farm Bill Expires?


With only a few legislative days left before the September 30 expiration of the Farm Bill, it appears increasingly unlikely that Congress will be able to complete its work in time. The four leads on the Farm Bill negotiation process - Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, Senate Agriculture Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, and Ranking Member Collin Peterson - have been in negotiations for weeks but thus far have failed to reach a deal to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill.

Unfortunately, organic programs are among the many smaller programs that will run out of funding on September 30 with the expiration of the Farm Bill. As the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has described, the programs that will go unfunded “are some of the most innovative, far-reaching programs in the federal farm bill, and include technical and financial assistance for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, local and regional food system development, healthy food access, rural development, agricultural research, organic farming, and more.”

Here's NOC’s analysis of the fate of important organic programs:

1. Organic Certification Cost Share: Organic farmers must go through rigorous annual organic certification process and pay fees each year. Two federal programs, the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program and the Agricultural Management Assistance Act (AMA), provide organic farmers with modest reimbursement of up to $750 to cover a portion of their annual certification fees.

The National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP): This program is in jeopardy when the Farm Bill lapses because the NOCCSP lacks permanent baseline status.

Agricultural Management Assistance Act (AMA): Farmers, but not handlers, in 16 states receive organic certification cost share assistance through the AMA cost share program. The 16 states are: CT, DE, HI, ME, MD, MA, NV, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, UT, VT, WV, WY.

Unlike NOCCSP, AMA has permanent baseline status and as a result, farmers in these 16 states will not experience an interruption in their cost share funding if the Farm Bill lapses. Handlers in these states, however, will be impacted.

2. Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI): OREI is a USDA competitive grants program dedicated to the growing needs of the organic community. OREI has a proven track record of addressing the unique research challenges that organic farmers and processors face. Investing in organic research is central to the goal of increasing domestic production of organic crops, to better meet expanding demand.

This program is in jeopardy when the Farm Bill lapses because the OREI program lacks permanent baseline status. It is our understanding that grants that have been issued before September 30 will proceed, but the USDA will be unable to administer any additional grant programs through OREI until the Farm Bill legislation passes or a short-term extension is passed that explicitly includes funding for this program.

3. Organic Production and Market Data Initiative (ODI): ODI is USDA’s multi-agency initiative that collects data vital to maintaining stable markets, creating risk management tools, tracking production trends, and increasing exports. The ODI program is typically provided with supplemental funding through the annual agriculture appropriations bill, in addition to direct farm bill funding. In a less than ideal scenario, this program will likely be able to limp along at a much lower funding level without a farm bill funding renewal.

4. Organic import fraud: Both the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill include increased authorities, responsibilities, and resources for the National Organic Program (NOP) for organic import enforcement, including provisions to improve tracking of organic imports and ensure that imported products fully comply with U.S. organic standards. Both bills also include $5 million in one-time mandatory funding for improving import data tracking systems. The USDA NOP will not be able to make use of these expanded resources and authorities without the passage of Farm Bill legislation that includes these provisions and funds.

NOC continues to urge Congress to pass a Farm Bill by September 30, but in the absence of that, we want to see the critical organic programs that are too small to have permanent baseline status funded if Congress must temporarily extend the current Farm Bill. Unfortunately, some in Congress are signaling that they might allow the current Farm Bill to expire without even passing a short-term extension as a way to keep up the pressure to pass a new Farm Bill. This scenario would mean that there is no chance of funding for organic programs that will lapse in the absence of an on-time Farm Bill, and would have far broader implications as many critical programs that farmers and communities rely on would come to a screeching halt until a Farm Bill deal is reached.

NOC is continuing to push for passage of a Farm Bill that includes the provisions that are so critical to organic community and to express opposition to changes that would undermine the National Organic Standards Board. We articulated these positions in our July 18 letter to members of the Farm Bill Conference Committee.

We urge members of the organic community take action now to protect organic programs that lack baseline funding and will lapse when the Farm Bill expires on September 30.

Lea Kone