cows in field

From the NODPA Desk March/April 2021

By Ed Maltby, NODPA Executive Director

We made the decision to have an in-person Field Days for 2021, at Wolfe’s Neck Farm at the Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment, Freeport, Maine in Thursday, September 30th and Friday October 1st, in the knowledge that we may have to make changes, adapt, and the all too popular, ‘pivot’ as the situation changes. If it becomes too risky or even uncomfortable we will make the changes we had to make last year. Nora and I have had the vaccine – Have you?

Liz Bawden in her introduction clearly highlights the Covid 19 challenges that producers have faced. The new administration, after being lobbied by many groups including the National Organic Coalition and Organic Farmers Association, has widened the type and number of groups eligible for assistance payments. At least $6 billion is being dedicated toward new programs. This includes the reopening of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) sign-up for at least 60 days beginning on April 5, 2021. In the announcement, USDA also shared that they will develop rules for new programs to put a greater emphasis on outreach to small and socially disadvantaged producers, specialty crop and organic producers, timber harvesters, as well as provide support for the food supply chain and producers of renewable fuel, among others.

According to USDA, they expect to invest approximately $500 million in expedited assistance through several existing programs and services by April 30. There was also a separate bullet that mentioned assistance with organic certification fees, which means that, hopefully, they will use the pandemic funds to fix the poor bookkeeping at the USDA that resulted in a reduction in certification cost share. Similarly, the US Small Business Administration has extended and widened the scope of the Paychex Protection Program to more accurately reflect the financial accounting of sole proprietors who have a limited number of employees. Organic dairy producers fit squarely into this category of commodity farmers with low margin retention of gross sales for net income or loss.

All the milk buyers profess to their consumers a concern for the environment, the rural economy and the quality of life but have failed their suppliers during this pandemic. While large and small companies paid essential workers more per hour, organic milk buyers did nothing to financially assist their suppliers despite evidence of hardship and problems. It is left to the administration to step in and provide much needed support for a situation beyond the control of organic producers.

We have been promised more information on the fate of the Origin of Livestock and the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) at the forthcoming National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting on April 28th, when the National Organic Program will make its report. The NOSB meeting runs from April 28 to April 30, from noon to 5pm ET each day. It’s available to view virtually if you can spare any time, and we will report on it in the next NODPA News. NODPA has also produced comments on the livestock section gleaned from its work with the National Organic Coalition.

The integrity of the Organic Seal got another hit recently when the United States District Court for the Northern District issued a ruling in Center for Food Safety's (CFS) lawsuit challenging U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) decision to allow soil-less hydroponic operations to be certified organic by exempting such operations from the requirement that certified organic crop producers build soil fertility. It was a victory for the Coalition for Sustainable Organics (CSO). “This case stems from an ongoing debate about whether hydroponics, a form of soil-less agriculture, may be certified organic,” wrote Chief Judge Richard Seeborg for the U.S. District Court in Northern California, “…..USDA’s denial of the rulemaking petition reasonably concluded the applicable statutory scheme does not exclude hydroponics from the organic program.” In response to the Court's decision, CFS and the plaintiffs issued the following statements: "Under the Court's ruling, hydroponic producers can sell their crops as organic without building soil fertility, yet organic farmers growing food in soil have to meet various soil-building requirements to be certified organic, " said Sylvia Wu, senior attorney with Center for Food Safety and counsel for plaintiffs. “This double standard violates the very purpose of the Organic label and is contrary to the federal organic act. We are analyzing all our legal options and will continue to work hard to defend the meaning of the Organic label.” The fight goes on. Rulings like this undermine organic’s claim as being the gold standard for CO2 reduction and long term soil improvement.

There are a number of agriculture based climate change bills that will soon be introduced or reintroduced from 2020, in Congress, these are currently the Booker Climate Stewardship Act, Pingree Ag Resilience Act, Stabenow-Braun Growing Climate Solutions Act. There is a long list of production practices that we are advocating to be recognized as incentive based conservation options. These include manure and composting to increase carbon sequestration; mulching; pollinator habitat; water/irrigation management, or possibly credit for growing a crop with reduced irrigation needs; increases in the minimum payment of the Conservation Stewardship Program to make it more attractive to smaller acreage farmers. And finally, not forgetting the idea that certified organic farmers should be paid so much per acre depending on the crops they grow because they are farming using the gold standard for climate friendly agriculture. The administration is asking for comments on the Notice of Request for Public Comment on the Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad which are due April 29th, 2021.

Busy, busy times to ensure that the billions of dollars coming out of the Federal government are put to good long term use.