How can organic impact policy in 2016 and coming years?

Election years are strange beasts across the country. Must-See TV is interspersed with political ads, pollsters call during the dinner hour, and folks around the country opine on how things should happen in the Nation’s Capital. Here in Washington, the impacts of an election year are a little different. We don’t get nearly as many political ads or pollster calls (perhaps someday the District of Columbia will get full representation…), and opining on policy is our sport of choice year-round. But things happen a little differently during an election year, and that has implications for how you and your trade association can impact policy.

What happens in Congress?

Congress has a long list of priorities this year, but only a fraction of the normal time to complete them. In 2016, the House will only be in session 111 days, which is the smallest number of  work days since 2006. And both chambers will take a summer recess from mid-July through Labor Day. It’s hard to know how Congress will get everything done in the short amount of time it has. On their list of priorities are a variety of issues (at the time of writing), including appropriations (congressional funding of the federal government, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture) and GMO labeling.

But while 2016 may be a quieter year on the Hill, we are gearing up for a couple of very busy years for agriculture policy. The Farm Bill (the large piece of legislation that is passed every five years, and creates and authorizes federal agriculture and nutrition policy) expires in 2018, and Congress is set to take up its reauthorization. In the normal course of business, this means that in early 2017, advocates will float policy ideas and engage champions. Later in 2017, the Agriculture Committees in the House and Senate will begin to hold hearings on various programs and titles of the Farm Bill. In 2018, both chambers will draft and consider full Farm Bills. OTA is already beginning to identify policy areas for consideration in the next Farm Bill, and will be ready to hit the ground running when the new Congress arrives in January 2017.

What happens in USDA? 

In the final year of an Administration, we see some speeding up, and some slowing down. The sitting Administration hurries to finish its top priorities, and may punt other issues to a future Department. The best place for us to influence policy this year is likely at USDA—encouraging the agency to finalize as much of the implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill as possible before the Obama Administration leaves on January 20, 2017. This includes encouraging USDA to move forward expediently with the application for an organic research and promotion program, to act to the extent of its authority in implementing organic certification cost-share, and to continue to move new organic practice standards (such as aquaculture and apiculture) through the process at the National Organic Program.

What happens in presidential campaigns?

Agriculture policy may be one of the least talked about issues in the 2016 presidential race, even though it is vitally important, with significant ramifications for the economy, health care, and jobs. When the presidential campaigns assemble their policy team—generally during the summer—we will need to make direct contact with key campaign staff handling agriculture, and ensure that organic is part of the conversation. Even before then, our members can attend campaign rallies and events to interact with campaign staff and (with any luck) the candidate. Every time a presidential candidate has a conversation about organic agriculture, the jobs it creates, and the consumer demand it answers, the organic sector is better positioned for whatever next Administration moves into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in January.

What can you do?

It’s important to remain engaged. Invite your Member of Congress or Senator to visit your operation in their district or state. Join OTA’s Farm Bill Working Group to identify priorities for the next Farm Bill. Hearings will begin in Congress in 2017, in advance of a 2018 Farm Bill.

And join us here in D.C. for Organic Week in Washington May 23-27!  During Organic Week, you can meet with your colleagues in the organic sector, learn from policymakers and leaders in Washington, and head to the Hill to advocate on organic priorities. Contact Marni Karlin for more information on how to get involved in any of these ways to influence policymakers on organic this year! //

Marni Karlin is OTA’s Vice President of Government Affairs and General Counsel.