The Farm Bill

Posted on in On Our Radar by Michael Stein

What’s Organic About It?


The U.S. Farm Bill is a massive annual assemblage of legislation with far-reaching impacts on farmers, the food we eat, our environment, and public health. It covers everything from nutrition support for low-income families to rural development, research, and organic integrity—and much more.

To understand it you must get into the weeds a bit but it certainly provides food for thought. Did you just pop a piece of bread into your toaster this morning? Or maybe you started your day with an organic yogurt? If you eat, you should care about the Farm Bill. Let’s dive in.

Organic farming has been part of the Farm Bill since 1990, when the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) was incorporated. It seems hard to believe that it was more than 25 years ago when OFPA created the USDA National Organic Program, which continues to set the standards for organic. he 2018 Farm Bill will be a do-or-die moment for several organic programs. With the current Farm Bill set to expire on September 30, 2018, here’s what’s in play:

Organic Research

At a time when the demand for organic food is increasing it is critical to continue—and increase—funding for the research needed to support a healthy and sustainable domestic food system. This is vital to the success of organic farmers. Thankfully the Organic Agriculture Research Act is one of the few areas where members from both sides of the aisle find common ground. This act, which seeks to be included in the broader Farm Bill, ensures that organic research and extension programs will have the funding necessary to support all farmers with sound science, outreach, and education programs.

National Organic Standards

Now that organic food has become a mainstay of the increasingly global food market, modernization and enforcement are vital to ensuring that every player in the organic sector follows the rules and requirements for organic production and handling. The Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act of 2017 provides for modernization of organic import documentation, new technology advancements, and stricter enforcement of organic products entering the U.S. This bipartisan legislation has fortunately found robust support in the House of Representatives.

a man touching spikelets of wheat

Support for Going Organic

An interesting proposal that has received support from House and Senate Democrats—but not bipartisan support—is the Homegrown Organic Act. Among other things it would modify the Conservation Stewardship Program to create “suites” of conservation practices specific to farmers and ranchers wishing to make the important step of transitioning to organic.

It would also expand opportunities for producers under the CSP Transition Incentives Program (TIP). This currently provides retired or retiring farmers with two additional annual rental payments on land enrolled in expiring CSP contracts. The incentive condition is that the farmers sell or rent their land to a socially disadvantaged or armed services veteran farmer or rancher. Ultimately, this would make more land available to producers wanting to farm organically, provide economic opportunity in rural communities, and help ensure the next generation continues to work the land.

Promoting U.S. Organic Exports

U.S. organic exports are profitable and create jobs. In 2016 the USDA’s Market Access Program (MAP) invested nearly $1M in the organic sector, which led to more than $48 million in projected overseas sales opportunities for U.S. organic operations. To continue to grow the international market for American organic products, Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate have come together to introduce the Cultivating Revitalization by Expanding American Agricultural Trade and Exports (CREAATE) Act. This includes increased funding for programs that would help organic farmers develop and maintain global markets.

Organic Farming and
Rural Development

Organic farming is key to revitalizing farming communities. The Organic Farmers Access Act ensures that organic businesses are prioritized in USDA’s rural business development grants, locally and regionally produced agricultural food products loan programs, and value-added agricultural product market development grants. This program would enable organic agriculture to play a key role in revitalizing rural areas across the U.S.

Use Your Voice

All of these programs need support. By showing strong support for important organic issues, you work to ensure that the next Farm Bill grows organic.

Please call your member of Congress and encourage him or her to engage in the Farm Bill debate, and to support the House (HR) or Senate (S) version of these bills.

Michael Stein is policy associate at the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF). Based in Santa Cruz, OFRF fosters the improvement and widespread adoption of organic farming systems through scientific research, education, and advocacy on behalf of organic farmers and ranchers. It is working to make sure the Farm Bill supports what organic farmers and consumers need for a sustainable future.

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