cows in field

Organic Dairy Farmers go to Washington, DC

By Ed Maltby, NODPA Executive Director

Organic Farmers Association, Washington, DC, March 2024

An important part of the NODPA work is to represent organic dairy interests to Congress and the USDA. The interests of large-scale organic manufacturing, processing and corporate farms are well represented by the Organic Trade Association and large organic certifiers like California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). While this is usually a thankless task and one is hit hard by the dysfunctional nature of the federal government and bureaucracy, the Hill Days facilitated by Organic Farmers Association (OFA) and the National Organic Coalition (NOC) provide a coordinated presence that is designed to improve relationships and provide a face and a story to the need for regulation, legislation and parity in USDA services.

While we wandered through the various buildings (my phone told me I had walked 7 miles the day I was there!) to shouts of “we support organic farmers,” since we were wearing large buttons saying support organic farmers, it seemed increasingly important to provide that story of organic dairy farming. While we highlight immediate concerns and crises, it is also important to point out that organic needs the same support from USDA and their different agencies as non-organic operations. Farming is a business that needs all the tools possible to make it successful. Personal interaction with aides and sometimes the principal in those offices makes that task easier. Below is what we talked about and promoted that is important to organic dairy. A quick tip: if you are ever visiting Congress - do not argue with the younger capital police that do the metal detection screening!

Immediately important

With the passage of the 2024 Appropriations, Congress will be looking at 2025 Appropriations within a few weeks. There is a strong prediction that the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program will not be paying out in 2024 and Pay Price is still woefully low, so the following is immediately important:

Organic Dairy Marketing Assistance Program (ODMAP) Request to USDA FSA: In 2023, the federal government supported conventional dairy with $1.5 billion dollars of direct subsidy. In 2022, Congress allotted $104 million of Commodity Credit Corporation dollars to organic farmers to be allocated by USDA. In 2023, the USDA distributed approximately $20 million of that money, leaving approximately $83 million unspent. In 2024, organic dairy farmers need the unspent portion of the allocated funds to be distributed, hopefully using organic based data to make funding decisions.

2025 Appropriations ‘Asks’:

Organic Dairy Data Collection (Pay Prices, Production, Marketing, Costs/NASS, AMS, and ERS)- Report language requested: NOC and OFA are requesting that report language be included in the AMS, NASS, and ERS sections of the FY 25 Agriculture Appropriations bill regarding the need for improved data collection for organic dairy, including cost-of-production data for organic milk, feedstuff prices, and other production-related costs, the establishment of an “Organic All Milk Price Survey” to collect and report data about organic milk prices, and publication of periodic reports regarding organic mailbox milk prices.

Dairy Business Innovation Initiatives/AMS - $36 million requested.

The Dairy Business Innovation (DBI) initiatives support dairy businesses in the development, production, marketing, and distribution of dairy products. They provide direct technical assistance and sub-awards to dairy businesses, including niche dairy products, such as specialty cheese, or dairy products derived from the milk of a dairy animal, including cow, sheep, and goat milk. The DBI operates through regional Dairy Business Innovation Centers (DBICs), each of which focus on dairy challenges and opportunities within that region. The Northeast DBIC, for example, has been instrumental in helping to address the economic harms facing organic dairy farmers in several Northeastern states as are result of lost markets. The FY24 Consolidated Appropriations bill cut funding for DBIA to $12 million, a significant reduction from the FY23 level of $25 million. We request funding of $36 million for the DBI initiatives in FY25.

Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives (ODI)
Zach Cahill (Cahill Dairy Farm, CA) explaining
the importance of dairy data for organic farmers
to the House Ag Committee

As the organic industry continues to expand, the absence of comprehensive organic data remains a significant challenge. Therefore, for Fiscal Year 2025, the Organic Farmers Association (OFA) is seeking $1 million for the Organic Data Initiative. This funding will support the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), and the Economic Research Service (ERS) in their efforts to enhance organic data collection initiatives.

Farm Bill

While we wait for Congress to deliver a Farm Bill, it is a great opportunity to get support for different funding and programs that might be part of the Farm Bill in some form. There are various Marker Bills in the House and Senate that target the needs of organic dairy. A Marker Bill is introduced in Congress to signal policy ideas and gather support for those ideas, most often with a goal of inclusion in an omnibus bill like the farm bill.

Organic Dairy Data Collection Act H.R. 6937 – House

The bipartisan Organic Dairy Data Collection Act will provide improved data collection to better understand and address the challenges organic dairies face by requiring the USDA to collect and publish cost-of-production data for organic milk, including the costs of major organic feedstuffs, domestically produced or imported, to gather and report monthly data about the amounts that organic dairy farmers are being paid for organic milk, and to publish reports on the cost of production data by state, and regional data on the quality of organic milk production and prices.

Sponsors: Rep. Pingree [D-ME-1], Rep. Molinaro [R-NY-19], Rep. Van Orden [R-WI-3], Rep. McGovern [D-MA-2], Rep. Craig [D-MN-2], Rep Langworthy (R-NY-23)

Endorsers: Organic Trade Association, Organic Farmers Association, National Organic Coalition, Organic Farming Research Foundation, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, and Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, Organic Valley, NOFA-NY

Organic Dairy Assistance, Investment, and Reporting Yields Act (The O DAIRY Act) S. 3097 - Senate.

The Act would improve data collection for organic dairy, require USDA to design a functional safety-net program for organic dairy farmers, provide investments in regional organic dairy infrastructure and provide immediate support to address increased organic input costs for organic dairy farms by extending the program Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish (ELAP) to cover certain losses related to higher than normal organic feed or other input costs.

Sponsors: Sen. Welch [D-VT], Sen. Sanders [I-VT], Sen. Baldwin [D-WI], Sen. Gillibrand [D-NY], Sen. Booker [D-NJ]

Endorsers: Organic Valley, NOFA-Vermont, NOFA-New York, the MOFGA, Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, Straus Family Creamery, the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, the National Organic Coalition, the Center for Food Safety

If your Representative or Senator has supported these marker bills and appropriation requests, thank them. If they haven’t, please ask them to do so.