2018 Farm Bill: Boots on the ground — how your trade association made it happen

Once every five years, farmers and stakeholders involved in the food and agriculture industry get a chance to influence legislation that updates farm and food programs. The farm bill doesn’t get written overnight, and the process can take a few years.

Those most impacted by the policies in the farm bill have to make their case to members of Congress, especially those who serve on the Agriculture Committee charged with writing the farm bill. The House and Senate Agriculture Committees hold a transparent public process to collect input on the farm bill. During 2017, they collected comments and allowed anyone to submit written testimony to the committee for their consideration. While everyone is allowed a seat at the table, this does not necessarily translate into success for getting your priorities into a piece of legislation.

So how does one turn their ideas into reality? Membership-based organizations such as trade associations are a critical tool in the process of writing legislation.

At the Organic Trade Association, our mission is to promote and protect the organic industry. Just as Congress has been deliberating for over a year on the next farm bill, the Organic Trade Association reached out to our members in 2016 in anticipation of the next farm bill to gather input from across the country. The association worked with partner organizations to distribute a survey to certified organic farmers and handlers that evaluated the efficacy of current farm programs and policies utilized by the organic sector, identified the top barriers and challenges faced by industry that stifle growth, and recommended policy priorities that are the most critical for the next farm bill to advance organic.

In the spring of 2017, the Organic Trade Association released a comprehensive list of farm bill priorities for the organic industry based on the results of the survey. The trade association’s members along with other stakeholders rallied around these priorities and did extensive outreach in Washington, D.C., and back in the districts of members of Congress to get their voices heard.

That outreach around the country by farmers and businesses along with the tremendous growth and economic importance of the organic industry in many congressional districts have led to several pieces of legislation being introduced over the past year that move forward organic priorities. It takes hard work and persistence to get bills introduced and to build support with co-sponsors.

The Organic Trade Association is the leading voice in Washington, D.C., on issues affecting organic agriculture, thanks to our diverse membership of over 9,500 farms and businesses in all 50 states. The trade association and our members serve as experts to assist federal policymakers in identifying challenges and formulating solutions that will help ensure the USDA Organic label continues to thrive in the marketplace.   //

Megan Debates is the Organic Trade Association’s Director of Legislative Affairs and Coalitions. To get involved in farm bill advocacy, contact mdebates@ota.com.