Last Friday, April 14, 2023, several members of the NOFA-NY community attended a Farm Bill listening session hosted by House Agriculture Committee Chairman G.T. Thompson and Congressmen Marc Molinaro (NY-19), Nick Langworthy (NY-23), and Derrick Van Orden (WI-3) in Binghamton, NY.
We spoke on the most pressing opportunities for organic in the Farm Bill, my testimony was followed by testimony by Liana Hoodes, Policy Advisor and Co-Chair of the Certification Management Committee; and Kathie Arnold, owner of Twin Oaks Dairy and Northeast Dairy Producer Alliance Policy Committee Chair.
With 3 minutes each, we covered a range of topics including, organic dairy, organic research, conservation, organic cost share, organic integrity, and climate.
Each of us spoke to the urgent need to support organic dairy. Kathie summed it up:
“A large share of organic dairy family farms in the US are in crisis because increased consolidation and inconsistent enforcement of organic regulations has led to oversupply and a low pay price; organic feed grains have more than doubled in price due to unstable international market forces, including the war in Ukraine; plus last year’s high energy costs.”
We urged Members of Congress to not only provide immediate financial support to struggling producers but also invest in processing infrastructure, improve data collection and reporting, and create a safety net program for organic diaries that is based on organic-specific milk and input cost data.
The Farm Bill should increase funding for organic research through the Organic Research and Extension Initiative and the Organic Data Initiative. It’s estimated that <2% of the NIFA budget is on organic topics – including Specialty Crops research, yet 13% of specialty crops are organic. Organic must get its fair share of research dollars – an investment in organic research is an investment in the future of our food system!
Organic growers need improved access to NRCS conservation programs. This can be achieved by equalizing payment limits under EQIP, offering organic systems training for program staff that interface with farmers, and better utilizing the organic systems plan to streamline conservation program compliance.
Keep the label strong and well-defined. Organic, as one of the most meaningful food labels, is dependent on high standards, equitable enforcement, and continuous improvement and updates to meet consumers’ demands. USDA must be held accountable for enforcing constant standards, regularly updating standards, training USDA staff on organic systems, expanding technical assistance and fixing the Organic Certification Cost Share program.
Agriculture is particularly vulnerable to weather extremes – as our climate changes, we must be sure that farmers have the tools they need to not only build climate resilience and lower emissions but also meet our climate goals with incentive-based solutions like those detailed in the Agriculture Resilience Act.