2018 Farm Bill contains historic wins for U.S. organic sector

Over the past three years, the Organic Trade Association and its members have been heavily engaged in shaping and advancing key priorities for the organic sector in the new farm bill. It started with a survey sent out in fall 2016 to certified organic operations around the country asking for feedback on what the challenges and needs were for organic. The survey results helped inform our farm bill policy priorities. Over the next two years, we released a policy platform outlining big investments in organic, and worked with Members of Congress across both sides of the aisle to get bipartisan legislation introduced reflecting these priorities. Our members flew to Washington, D.C., and hosted lawmakers at their farms and businesses back home to advocate for a farm bill that better serves organic.

“Consumer demand for organic products continues to increase and this bill makes positive changes to support organic products by placing higher scrutiny on imports, helping farmers who seek organic certification and increasing funding for organic research." Congressman Rodney Davis (R-IL-13)

All this hard work paid off, culminating in the President signing into law the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (otherwise known as the 2018 Farm Bill) in December. Before it went to the President’s desk, it overwhelmingly passed in Congress with a bipartisan vote of 87-13 in favor in the Senate and 369-47 in the House, the largest margin of support for any farm bill since the Great Depression when the original farm support programs were authorized and signed into law. In fact, the 2018 Farm Bill was one of the few bipartisan victories of the 115th Congress, an increasingly rare occurrence in Washington these days as bitter divisions between Republicans and Democrats continue to stymie federal policymaking.

"There are many things in this bill that are commendable. As co-chair of the organic caucus we have the strongest organic title of any farm bill produced." Congressman Ron Kind (D-WI-03)

Why such strong support? By all accounts, this was a status quo farm bill. The massive $867 billion bill contained very few changes to the commodity, nutrition and conservation programs that make up most of the bill. And while it was not a revolutionary bill for most agriculture and nutrition stakeholders, it did contain major historic milestones for organic. Organic was one of the few big “winners” in the 2018 Farm Bill, and was cited as such in many of the media reports and statements from federal lawmakers praising the bill.

So what was included in the Farm Bill for organic? Check out the details at OTA.com.

So now that the Farm Bill is signed into law, what’s next? While Congress writes and passes the laws, the executive branch is in charge of implementing them. We will be hard at work over the next few years ensuring that USDA implements all the organic provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill in a timely manner that serves organic farmers and businesses. We will need your help throughout this process as we want to ensure that all the hard-fought wins for organic are not lost. This requires ongoing and continued engagement with USDA. Here’s to making sure historic wins for organic in the farm bill become a reality and are successfully implemented!

"As the father of the organic farm bill, I am pleased that the 2018 farm bill increases the funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative and guarantees $50 million a year in mandatory funding by fiscal year 2023. This will ensure baseline funding for future farm bill debates and further protect this critical investment in our local and organic food system."  Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) //

Megan DeBates is Director of Legislative Affairs and Coalitions for the Organic Trade Association (mdebates@ota.com).