May 18, 2022
OTA gives administration progress report on advancement of organic ag
Organic Trade Association

Two years into President Joe Biden’s presidency, we assess how well the Biden-Harris administration has lived up to its campaign promises on climate and agriculture and how actions taken by the administration to date stack up against the Organic Trade Association’s top transition memo recommendations on advancing organic agriculture.

Addressing climate change and bolstering American resilience was a central promise of President Joe Biden’s campaign. While still on the trail, then candidate-Biden stressed that “climate change poses an existential threat – not just to our environment, but to our health, our communities, our national security, and our economic well-being.” Biden also promised to invest in organic farming practices “such as conservation programs for cover crops and other practices aimed at restoring the soil and building soil carbon”.

Successes

Publish a Final Rule on Origin of Livestock

After seven years in the regulatory process, on April 5, 2022, the USDA National Organic Program published a final rule to amend the requirements for dairy animals eligible to produce organic milk and milk products. The Origin of Livestock (OOL) Final Rule came as a result of years of advocacy by the Organic Trade Association and our Dairy Council members.

The OOL Final Rule addresses several key gaps in the regulations and is largely in line with OTA’s recommendations:

  • Organic milk and milk products must be from animals that have been under continuous organic management from the last third of gestation. There is a one-time exception for operations to transition non-organic dairy animals to organic milk production by managing animals organically for 12-months.
  • Once an operation uses its one-time transition opportunity, it cannot transition any additional nonorganic animals.
  • Breeder stock must be managed organically from the last third of gestation of its offspring through the end of period that the breeder stock is nursing the offspring.

OTA’s OOL Fact Sheet and additional information on the final rule can be found on our website.

Restore Organic Leadership Within USDA

On April 27, 2021, President Biden announced his intention to nominate Jenny Lester Moffitt to the role of Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, which oversees the USDA National Organic Program. This appointment was particularly important to the organic industry, given Moffitt’s deep roots in organic agriculture – having grown up on an organic walnut farm – and established commitment to sustainability and conservation. Previously, Moffitt served as Undersecretary at the California Department of Food and Agriculture and as Managing Director at Dixon Ridge Farms, her family’s organic walnut farm and processing operation in Solano County, California. A profile of Moffitt can be found in the Spring 2022 OTA Organic Report.

Restore the Senior Organic Advisor Role at USDA

Marni Karlin was appointed as USDA Senior Organic Advisor in October 2021; a move which OTA celebrated in a press announcement welcoming Karlin. Reviving this role at USDA was among OTA’s top priorities for the Biden administration (it was eliminated during the Trump administration) as it ensures that organic is integrated across USDA staff, activities and policy making.

Works in Progress

Ensure organic has a seat at the table in climate discussions

Of OTA’s 12 total recommendations for supporting organic, our top priority was ensuring that organic has a seat at the table in climate discussions – particularly in the development of any certification-type programs that incentivize climate-friendly farm practices. On Feb. 7, 2022, USDA announced that it would be “delivering on its promise to expand markets by investing $1 billion in partnerships to support America’s climate-smart farmers, ranchers and forest landowners”. In the announcement, USDA encouraged stakeholders to apply for pilot projects that would incentivize farmers to adopt climate-smart practices and reward early adopters including organic farmers. OTA recently submitted a proposal for the project that, if funded, would provide free soil testing and technical assistance for up to 1,600 organic and transitioning farmers. The project would also invest in a consumer-facing marketing campaign to promote the climate benefits of organic farming systems.

Reinstate the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule

Organic livestock and poultry producers have been clamoring for stronger animal welfare standards for nearly 20 years – almost as long as the Organic Foods Production Act has existed. After years of public and industry engagement in the rulemaking process, the Trump Administration abruptly rescinded the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) rule in 2017. In response, OTA filed a lawsuit against USDA (ongoing) and has been working to bring the rule back to life ever since. To date, almost 120,000 comments have been submitted to USDA on OLPP, only .07% of which were opposed to implementation of the rule.

Soon, USDA plans to publish a new version of this rule – the Organic Livestock Poultry Standards (OLPS) rule. OTA urges USDA to swiftly finalize OLPS and to set a reasonable implementation timeline (organic regulations typically have implementation periods of around two years) that ensures uniform, higher standards are in place as soon as possible.

Publish an interim final rule to address the backlog of NOSB recommendations and establish a new framework for standards development

In February 2022, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced a “public listening session, with request for comment, regarding upcoming standards development activities, including feedback about specific recommendations received from the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB)”. This progress comes as the result of years of advocacy by OTA and from our allies in Congress to create transparency around the organic rulemaking process as outlined in H.R. 2918, the Continuous Improvement and Accountability in Organic Standards Act.

Integrate organic into federal nutrition and procurement programs

In their 2022 supply chain report, “USDA Agri-Food Supply Chain Assessment: Program and Policy Options for Strengthening Resilience,” USDA highlights the need to expand flexibility in purchasing programs to include local and organically produced options. The agency recommends specifically that Congress take action to “enact and promote policies that allow sourcing of ‘values-based foods,’ such as locally produced and processed foods, organic foods, and climate-smart foods, for food procurement. OTA is encouraged by USDA’s interest in bringing more local and organic foods and ingredients into federal nutrition and procurement programs and will continue to work toward expanding this opportunity for our industry.

Restore full-funding for organic certification cost-share

OTA’s transition recommendation urges USDA to restore National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program (OCCSP) funding to defray the cost of organic certification to the full/historic reimbursement rate of 75%. In May, 2022, USDA released the full details of the 2022 OCCSP funding opportunity along with details on the new Organic and Transitional Education and Certification Program (OTECP) – $20 million in pandemic assistance to cover certification, education, and other expenses for agricultural producers who are certified organic or transitioning to organic. While the reimbursement rate for OCCSP is still set at 50%, below the OTA recommended rate, OTECP does fill the gap – for now – by allowing farmers to cover up to 25% of their transition costs through that program.

Organic transition should also be on track to receive additional support, according to an announcement at OTA’s June 2021 member meeting made by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. At that meeting, Vilsack announced $200 million would be invested in a new Organic Transition Program. Through the new initiative, USDA plans to invest in technical assistance for farmers and organic training for USDA field staff, as well as market development investments to expand processing and distribution capacity for organic supply chains. The program may also make improvements to existing USDA programs to better serve organic and transitioning farmers including conservation, crop insurance, certification cost-share, and research. OTA expects USDA will soon announce further details on this initiative.

Improve Crop Insurance and USDA risk management tools

USDA has made some important strides in the risk management assistance and opportunities they offer to organic producers. In 2022, USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) increased expansion limits for organic producers with coverage through Whole-Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP). RMA is also updated the insurance option to allow producers to report acreage as certified organic or transitioning, as long as organic certification was requested by the acreage reporting date. Additionally, this year, RMA introduced a new WFRP option, Micro Farm, which is designed for producers with small-scale operations that sell locally, including organic producers.

Reform federal milk marketing orders

Federal Milk Marketing Orders (FMMOs) establish certain provisions under which dairy processors purchase fresh milk from dairy farmers supplying a marketing area. Efforts in Congress are currently underway to explore this in the next farm bill, though the organic dairy sector has not yet released specific recommendations or priorities.

Needs Improvement

Embed organic within USDA research programs

While organic has seen steady improvements in programming and funding for designated organic research programs (e.g., OREI – Organic Research and Extension Initiative) and set asides (e.g., EQIP-OI – Environmental Quality Incentives Program – Organic Initiative), there still remains significant work to be done in order to bring organic resources into parity with conventional agriculture.


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