Farm Policy Matters
Monthly News Bulletin
Trump Administration Pulls Organic Animal Welfare Rule
It took the Trump administration three tries and more than nine months to decide that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) lacks statutory authority to implement organic livestock welfare rules, finally announcing in late December that it will kill the regulation.
The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) rule would have clarified the organic standards by requiring farmers to provide outdoor access for their livestock and poultry on all but the hottest or coldest days, ended the practice of confining egg-laying hens in small cages, and required group housing of hogs.
Following the announcement, Representatives Pingree (D-ME), Kind (D-WI), DeLauro (D-CT) and DeFazio (D-OR) issued a joint statement, excerpted below:
“USDA’s decision to withdraw the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rules after three pointless delays is outrageous and shows complete disregard for the public comment process and the agency's role in providing stability in the organic marketplace.
“For years now, consumers have asked for high welfare standards for animals raised under organic practices and organic farmers have wanted clarity and a level playing field. …the USDA not only has the authority but also the responsibility to develop these rules under the Organic Foods Production Act. …When asked for feedback, over 40,000 people submitted comments in support of implementing the rules immediately—only 28 individuals wanted them withdrawn. This undermining of the public process is absolutely indefensible and should not be allowed to stand.”
Many conventional agriculture groups cheered the decision.
The public will have until January 17, 2018 to submit feedback on the withdrawal of the rules. Instructions for submitting comments can be found by going to www.federalregister.gov and entering 82 FR 59988 into the search bar.
Organic Certification Cost-Share Reimbursement Under Threat
Republican members of the House agriculture committee oppose organic certification cost-share reimbursement.
The National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program (NOCCSP) is critical in helping to partially offset the annual costs of organic certification for farmers. Having independent third-party annual oversight of organic standards is necessary to maintain a system of uniform standards and integrity that the public expects. Many small to mid-size farmers cannot afford to pay the full amount of yearly certification fees.
This comes at a time where the organic industry is actively recruiting more farmers to make the transition to organic production. If you use the NOCCSP, contact OEFFA today at (614) 421-2022 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
New Study Shows Insecticide Threat to Migrating Songbirds
Research conducted at the University of Saskatchewan found “the first direct evidence that neonicotinoids can harm songbirds and their migration.” Birds exposed to a neonicotinoid called imidacloprid lost weight as well as their sense of direction.
Neonicotinoids are the most widely used insecticides in the world. The study focused on the insecticide’s effect on white-crowned sparrows, which summer in northern Canada and winter in the U.S. South and Mexico. After given a small dose of imidacloprid, the birds lost up to 25 percent of their weight and were unable to identify the way north.
According to a report in The Guardian, Bayer, one of the companies that make neonicotinoids, said imidacloproid “has minimal environmental impact when used according to the label, including ingestion by seed-eating songbirds.” Europe has restricted the use of neonicotinoids since 2013, and Canada is currently considering whether to ban them.
2017 Census of Agriculture Under Way
The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service starts mailing the 2017 Census of Agriculture to the nation’s producers this week. Conducted once every five years, the census aims to get a complete and accurate picture of American agriculture. The resulting data are used by farmers, ranchers, trade associations, researchers, policymakers, and many others to help make decisions in community planning, farm assistance programs, technology development, farm advocacy, agribusiness setup, rural development, and more.
The census will be mailed in several phases through December. Farm operations of all sizes which produced and sold, or normally would have sold, $1,000 or more of agricultural product in 2017 are included in the census. The census is the only source of uniform, comprehensive, and impartial agriculture data for every state and county in the nation.
Bill to Support Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Introduced
The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act (H.R.4316) is a bipartisan bill that will break down barriers to entry and give real support to the next generation of farmers by:
Expanding beginning farmers’ access to affordable land;
Empowering new and veteran farmers with the skills to succeed in today’s agricultural economy;
Ensuring equitable access to financial capital and federal crop insurance, and
Encouraging commitment to conservation and stewardship across generations.
You can read the full policy summary of the BFROA. If you are a beginning farmer interested in supporting this bill, contact us today!
Interested in Learning More About the Next Farm Bill?
2018 will be an important year for anyone interested in food and agriculture. The current farm bill expires in September and unless local food grant and loan programs are renewed, they will disappear. If you are interested in learning more, please join OEFFA Policy Program Coordinator Amalie Lipstreu for a lunchtime webinar conversation about food policy on Thursday, January 18 at noon. To register, contact Amanda Osborne at email@example.com.
Legal Challenge of USDA Withdrawal of GIPSA Farmer Fair Practices Rules
Democracy Forward challenged the USDA’s rollback of critical protections intended to protect family farmers and ranchers from predatory and retaliatory practices by big agribusiness corporations. The new suit seeks to reinstate rules that prohibit major meat and poultry producers who contract with farmers from engaging in unfair and deceptive practices.
In October, USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) withdrew the “Farmer Fair Practices Rule,” which would have allowed farmers to hold agribusinesses accountable for practices like retaliation, bad faith cancellation of contracts, or collusion efforts to force farmers out of the market. Despite the long history of such abuses in the poultry and livestock industry, USDA halted the rule, making it effectively impossible for farmers to bring unfair practices claims.
The Farmer Fair Practices Rule was the result of a multi-year process, based on thousands of comments from the public, including independent farmers and ranchers, to help ensure fairness in the production of our country’s food. You can read the legal brief here.
U.S. Inspector General Investigates EPA Administrator Meeting with Mining Executives
The inspector general’s office at the EPA will investigate an April meeting between EPA administrator Scott Pruitt and the National Mining Association, said The Hill. At the meeting, Pruitt reportedly encouraged association members to press President Trump to withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change, a potential violation of anti-lobbying laws, according to critics.
Monsanto Offers Cash to Farmers to Use Controversial Chemical
Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, is discounting the price of its controversial weed killer Dicamba. The company is offering a 55 percent rebate to cotton and soybean growers, in the hopes it will persuade growers to buy the not only the herbicide but also costly GE seeds designed to withstand the spraying.
Monsanto faces an uphill battle after more than 3 million acres of soybeans were damaged by Dicamba drift during the 2017 season, resulting in more stringent Environmental Protection Agency rules on who can apply it and when it can be used. Read more here.
Crop Insurance Modernization
To make the federal crop insurance program more effective and efficient for farmers and taxpayers, OEFFA, along with many other regional and national sustainable agriculture organizations, are asking that the 2018 Farm Bill:
Expand access to crop insurance equitably to all types of farmers and for all farming methods;
Ensure that the program actively encourages soil and water conservation;
Promote a level playing field by enacting enforceable subsidy limits and means tests on commodity and crop insurance premium benefits, and
Improve transparency and accountability.
The first in a series of OEFFA crop insurance conversations was held in northeast Ohio last month. The discussion was an opportunity for farmers to learn more about crop insurance, ask questions, and help shape the next farm bill. The next meeting will take place in northwest Ohio at the OEFFA Grain Growers Chapter meeting on January 6, followed by a central Ohio meeting in Licking County on January 16. For more information, contact Julia Barton.
OEFFA’s Top Policy Wins for 2017
As one year ends and another begins it is a good time to take stock of what was gained or learned in the previous year and set targets for the future.
OEFFA has been working with farmer James Yoder for almost two years to protect his farm from decertification as two different pipelines crossed his farm. A visit in late 2017 revealed that the plan put in place to protect James did what it was intended and—because the company was required to implement an organic agriculture impact mitigation plan—he can now keep selling organic milk and keep his third generation family farm.
At the urging of OEFFA and others, the National Organic Standards Board is adding the impacts of fracking on organic farms to its work agenda for 2018. This is an opportunity to share some of the proactive solutions OEFFA has been using with its farmers with other certifiers across the U.S.
Over the past year, OEFFA commissioned a study and capacity-building support for local food councils and coalitions working across the state. This report, the services provided to local groups, and the state Ohio Food Policy Network, will allow us all to move sustainable, local, and regional food systems forward in Ohio.
OEFFA is most grateful for the increased engagement of its members over the past year. More farmers went to meetings with legislators in their communities, in Washington, D.C., attended National Organic Standards Board meetings, and 2018 Farm Bill listening sessions held by Senator Sherrod Brown’s office. It is only in partnership with our members that OEFFA will advance our shared agenda for a sustainable and healthful food and farming system.