Wins and Losses in the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018
While they let the 2014 Farm Bill go more than two months past its expiration deadline, Congress moved swiftly at the end of 2018 to pass a new farm bill, which will fund food and agriculture programs for the next five years. OEFFA members fought for many of the programs included in the Agriculture Improvement Act.
While the organic food sector is growing faster than any other in our food economy, investments in research and organic certification have not kept pace. OEFFA, in partnership with the National Organic Coalition and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, fought hard for increases in funding for organic research. The 2018 Farm Bill includes substantial increases in the lead organic research program, the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI). Funding for OREI increased from the current $20 million to $50 million by the end of the 2018 Farm Bill. Achieving the $50 million threshold means organic research will now continue to be a permanent part of all farm bills going forward.
Imported organic grain fraud was also addressed in the new farm bill. OEFFA members raised the alert about questionable organic grains being imported into the United States more than two years ago. According to the U.S Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service’s Agricultural Trade System, imports of organic corn increased from more than $36 million in 2016 to $160.4 million in 2016 and between 2011 and 2016 soybean imports went from almost $42 million to more than $250 million. This scale of growth raised red flags, and investigations over the past several years have found a large percentage of imported grain from Eastern Bloc countries was, in fact, fraudulent. Due in no small part to the advocacy of OEFFA’s organic grain growers, the new farm bill includes more financial resources and increased authority for the USDA National Organic Program to crack down on these fraudulent operations.
A partial win is the continuation of the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program. This program is very important in helping make annual certification costs affordable for organic family farms and recognizes that these farmers provide healthful foods, protect clean water, and promote soil health. The 2018 Farm Bill reduced funding for cost-share from almost $58 million over the life of the farm bill to $24 million. While this is partially offset by a carryover of unused funds, the program may run short before the current farm bill expires.
What is often far less clear as we fight for wins is how much we fight against bad provisions that are advanced by large corporate agribusinesses. Four provisions that were a direct attack on organic integrity were included in an earlier version of the bill. Two were successfully stripped from the final bill, but two damaging provisions remain: The bill includes unnecessary language about voting procedures for the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), and language that will dilute the voice of independent farmers in the NOSB process.
Local and Regional Foods
Thanks in no small part to Senator Sherrod Brown, resources available to farmers, farmers’ markets, regional food entrepreneurs, and local and regional communities are a permanent part of the farm bill. Senator Brown championed the Local FARMS Act, which included funding for several local food programs. That act—now renamed to the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP)—combines the Farmers’ Market and Local Food Promotion Program with the Value-Added Producer Grant Program, and it creates a new public-private partnership program for collaborative and regional work on comprehensive food system planning and development. LAMP will also provide resources for producers looking to offset costs of third-party audits or infrastructure updates needed for compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act.
The Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives Program, which provides incentives for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants to purchase fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets and retail outlets, is reauthorized and will also achieve permanent baseline funding status. Some of this funding is also allocated to a produce prescription program where doctors provide patients with innovative fruit and vegetable prescriptions.
A new emphasis and funding is dedicated to “Urban, Indoor, and Other Emerging Agricultural Production Research, Education, and Extension.” This will include a competitive grants program with $10 million in mandatory funding, a new USDA office, a 15-member advisory committee with granting authority, 10 pilot Urban and Suburban County committees, and a community compost and reducing food waste pilot project.
Next Generation Farmers and Conservation
None of us has real food security if we don’t have the next generation of farmers in place to grow our food. Providing support to beginning farmers is an OEFFA priority where we saw real wins in the farm bill, including permanent mandatory funding for the Farming Opportunity Training and Outreach (FOTO) program.
FOTO combines the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program with the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmer and Rancher Program, and it provides $435 million in mandatory funding over the next 10 years. This combined program prioritizes food safety and succession planning, ensures that all beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers enrolling in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) have the option to receive 50 percent of their cost-share payment up front, creates a National Beginning Farmer Coordinator position at the USDA, and provides for coordinators for each state in the country. Also, the funding cap for farm ownership loans through the Farm Service Agency has been increased from $300,000 to $600,000.
Additionally, there were no overall cuts to conservation programs and there are now increased payments for cover crops, resource conserving crop rotations, and advanced grazing management within the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). In fact, the program now includes an organic allocation and authorizes payments for comprehensive conservation planning. While there has been an organic initiative within the EQIP, funding caps for organic producers were significantly lower than those for conventional farmers. Although the farm bill does not create funding parity for all farmers, the cap for organic farmers was raised significantly to $140,000 over four years.
A critical part of our food security also means that we have farmland available on which to grow food. The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) provides funding to farmers that give up the development rights on their land to ensure it can be farmed in perpetuity. Funding for ACEP is increased to $450 million per year and prioritizes projects that include farm affordability protections and that maintain farm viability.
Unfortunately, the 2018 Farm Bill does nothing to reform funding to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and, over the long term, cuts funding for CSP.
Crop Insurance and Payment Limits
We saw a mixed bag of wins and losses for crop insurance and payment limitation reform. Importantly, the type of crop insurance that is most applicable to diverse producers—the Whole Farm Revenue Program—expands eligibility for a 10 percent premium bonus to all beginning farmers (in business less than 10 years), and it is directed to reduce the burden to farmers by reviewing the paperwork involved. The Risk Management Agency (RMA), charged with implementing USDA crop insurance, will now create a new Local Food Policy and the Noninsured Crop Assistance Program includes permanent buy up coverage and will offer a streamlined policy for small diversified operations.
OEFFA advocated that the RMA, when administering the crop insurance program, should accept all Natural Resources Conservation Services best management practices as “Good Farming Practices.” While they did make some improvements to allow farmers to use cover crops without fear of losing crop insurance, they fell far short of needed reform in this area.
The worst provisions in the new farm bill are broadening of payment limitation loopholes as cousins, nieces, and nephews are also eligible to receive up to $125,000 per year, effectively allowing mega farms to continue collecting unlimited payments. Also, no payment limits or adjusted gross income provisions were included for crop insurance premium subsidies.
This comes at the same time conservative Republicans in the House lamented the scuttling of their attempt at welfare reform in the farm bill, a proposal that an estimated seven million “work capable” adults aged 18-59 work at least 20 hours a week or spend equivalent time in job training or workfare to qualify for food stamps.
Overall, OEFFA is thankful for the many wins in the new farm bill and for the support of many members in the Ohio delegation including Senator Sherrod Brown, Congresswomen Marcia Fudge, Marcy Kaptur and Joyce Beatty, and Congressman Tim Ryan. Click here to thank Ohio's farm bill champions.
Losses on the structural side to payment limits and crop insurance are disappointing, and OEFFA will continue to advance those priorities in the years to come. Success on that front will require overwhelming grassroots engagement from our members. Join our policy team today!
FracTracker Documents Fracking Impacts from a Birds-Eye View
Ted Auch with the FracTracker Alliance has had the opportunity to view the impacts of fracking energy infrastructure from the air many times over the past couple of years, and those views reveal how far and wide these impacts are being felt.
From the frac sand mining in Wisconsin and Illinois, to the wells and pipelines in Southeast Ohio and West Virginia, take this visual journey from the air and learn more about why OEFFA prioritizes protecting farmers from these devastating impacts.
Photo: FracTracker Alliance
Energy Company Racks Up More Than 800 Violations
Energy Transfer owns and manages pipelines across the country. Their projects include the Dakota Access Pipeline, and have led to more than 800 federal and state permit violations and $15 million in fines while building the Rover and Mariner East 2 pipelines. The violations include drilling fluid spills, improper disposal of hazardous waste, and more. The Rover project crosses Ohio, and in total impacts 713 miles across multiple states.
In an interview with Reuters, James Lee, a spokesman from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency stated that "Ohio's negative experience with Rover has fundamentally changed how we will permit pipeline projects."
Fracking Comes to North-Central Ohio
Farm and Dairy reported last month that Cabot Oil and Gas, which has been drilling exploratory wells in the Ashland-Wayne-Holmes area, has been working to secure leases from landowners to use horizontal drilling for oil and/or gas. According to the article, lawyers have advised the landowners to wait and ensure the agreements are in their best interest and that concerns are not only monetary but also about potential damages to property. In some cases, landowners report being contacted by Cabot representatives who urge them to sign, threatening to force them into mandatory pooling if they do not.
OEFFA has worked with certified organic farmers in Ohio for the past several years to protect their properties, livelihood, and certification. If you are facing the potential for energy infrastructure on your land, contact OEFFA today for more information on how we may be able to provide assistance.
Clean Water in Lake Erie Will Have to Wait
The Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission delayed implementation of Ohio Governor John Kasich’s plan to create new regulations aimed at reducing fertilizer and manure runoff responsible for Lake Erie’s toxic algae blooms. Term-limited Governor Kasich issued an executive order last July, which would have designated several watersheds as “distressed,” limited the use of fertilizers, and required comprehensive nutrient management planning.
Kasich fired Ohio Department of Agriculture Director David Daniels in November over his opposition to taking action to clean up the algae.
The effort to require increased accountability and action on the algal blooms, which left more than 400,000 people in the Toledo area without access to water for two days and is causing major fish kills and beach closures, will not move forward. Instead, the legislature created a “Toward a Cleaner Lake Erie Working Group,” made up of representatives from the Ohio House and Senate Agriculture committees.