2016 26.3 Policy Update
Federal Agriculture Funding The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have now both passed their respective annual agriculture appropriations bills for the fiscal year which begins in October.
• Disappointingly for sustainable agriculture, the House bill makes significant cuts to “mandatory” funding for multiple conservation programs.
• Both bills include increased support for agriculture research, though only the Senate bill increases funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Program.
• Both bills also increase funding for direct farm operating and ownership loans, and for the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (also known as “ATTRA”).
• The House bill (but not the Senate version) increases funding or the Value-Added Producer Grants Program.
• The Senate bill (but not the House) increases funding for the Outreach and Technical Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program.
• Both bills avoided riders which could have limited anti-competition regulation and blocked organic animal welfare standards.
Next, both bills will come to a vote in the full House and Senate, and then will be negotiated to reconcile the differences between them.
New Proposed Organic Livestock Welfare Standards
USDA has issued new proposed rules which strengthen and clarify livestock welfare standards for certified organic animals. The new rules are open for comment until July 13 at bit.ly/livestockcomment. Some organic advocacy organizations fear that new “rider” amendments may be introduced later in the budgeting process to block adoption of the new standards.
Farm to School
The House Education Committee has now followed the Senate Agriculture Committee in passing its version of the Child Nutrition Act, which funds the school lunch and WIC programs. Like the Senate bill, the House version also increases funding for the Farm to School Grant Program, expands eligibility, and reduces regulatory barriers to participating in farm-to-school sales. However, the House bill also reduces eligibility for schoolwide free lunch programs in high poverty schools, which is estimated to impact over 7,000 high-poverty schools. These two
bills also await full floor votes and conference negotiation.
GMO Labeling: It’s Coming
After failing to pass a federal bill that would have preempted statelevel GMO labeling laws, lawmakers have continued to negotiate a compromise bill that would set a federal standard for GMO labeling before Vermont’s law takes effect July 1st. The latest iteration of this bill mandates labeling but allows companies to choose between an on-package statement, a symbol (to be created by USDA), or a “QR code” which consumers could scan with smartphones. The House has adjourned for a recess until July 5th, so they will not have the opportunity to vote on this bill until after Vermont’s law takes effect.
Organic Trade Association (OTA) Farmer Advisory Council Meeting
Tilth’s representative on the OTA Farmer Advisory Council Larry Bailey traveled to Washington, D.C. this May to represent Tilth at the annual in-person meeting of the Farmer Advisory Council and subsequent Policy Conference. Larry reports:
The week of May 23-27, 2016 I represented Tilth at the Organic Trade Association Policy Conference and Capitol Hill visits. It was a great experience to meet other members of the OTA Farmer Advisory Council and to meet with other organic industry folks that included input manufacturers (of feed, fertilizer, etc.), wholesalers, and food processors.
Our state stood out in new research findings from Penn State University on “organic hotspots,” counties with high levels of organic agricultural activity. Washington state has 17 out of 225 organic hotspot counties identified nationwide. These counties contain 1,162 organic businesses and 73,441 acres of certified farmland, ranking our state 4th in the US. Organic hotspots are shown to reduce poverty levels by 1.35% (even more than government anti-poverty programs). Organic hotspot counties also increase household income by $2,000/year.
Despite these successes, federal funding for research on organic agriculture is limited. Organic foods represent 5% of consumer food dollars but presently organic research makes up only one-tenth of one percent of all funded agricultural research. A contingent of organic farmers also met with the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) director and staff to discuss options for better coordination between RMA and the National Resource Conservation Service (NRC S).
The Farmer Advisory Council meeting helped me appreciate the challenges and the opportunities of other organic producers in various locales. I also saw how national and regional ag policy and bureaucracies that don’t talk to each other create costly problems for organic growers and their families.
Ariana Taylor-Stanley has served as Tilth Policy Coordinator for the past five years. This is her final TPQ Policy Update as she prepares for a move to Ithaca, NY, where she will continue to farm and advocate for sustainable agriculture policy.