Making policy change is often a long and slow process. It can be difficult to identify “big wins” sometimes, but there are so many milestones we can look back on in 2019 that helped move sustainable agriculture forward into 2020 and beyond. Here are 10 positive strides we made this year:
Family Farm ReGeneration Act Advances in the Ohio Legislature
The National Young Farmers Coalition conducted a survey of young farmers across the country which found the top challenge these farmers face is access to land. Since 2017 when OEFFA launched its Begin Farming program, we’ve seen first-hand the difficulty Ohio farmers experience getting on the land.
That’s why, beginning in 2018, we started a conversation with state legislators and other farm groups to build awareness and support for legislation that would provide tax incentives for landowners who transition land or other agricultural assets to a beginning farmer. If enacted, the law would also provide a tax credit for beginning farmers to offset the costs of attending farm management programs critical to their business success.
In 2019, bipartisan legislation was introduced in the Ohio House (HB 183), the Family Farm ReGeneration Act. After numerous legislative meetings, advocacy through OEFFA’s May lobby day, and testimony from OEFFA farmers and staff, the bill passed out of the Ohio House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee in November. We expect the legislation to go to the full House floor for a vote early in 2020 and Senate legislative champions have draft legislation ready to go. About 480 members and supporters have signed OEFFA’s petition in support of the bill. Help us meet our goal of 500 signatures and sign the petition today!
Transition to Organic Mentorship Bill Advanced in Congress
Awareness is growing about the ability of sustainable agriculture practices to sequester carbon in the soil and mitigate some of the weather extremes that threaten future food systems. And, there are important discussions taking place about how to reward farmers who adopt these practices. At the same time, there is a expanding cadre of producers that are making the switch to organic, but cannot get access to the information and resources they need.
Land-grant university Extension staff rarely have experience and training in organic management systems, and it is not top of mind for federal agencies that serve farmers either. That is, in fact, one of the reasons OEFFA was founded more than 40 years ago—to provide the farmer to farmer network needed for mentoring and education. Now with organic being more than a $40 billion industry, it is time for us to ensure that these producers that are using a suite of interconnected best practices have the support they need to survive and thrive.
OEFFA has been working with coalition partners and Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan to craft a bill that will fund formal organic mentorship programs across the country. While it is still in the draft stages, this is an important step in helping family farmers succeed, providing healthy food to our communities, and mitigating the climate crisis.
OEFFA Members Take to the Statehouse
This year, OEFFA brought together a crew of staff, members, and other advocates interested in learning more about how to advocate on the issues they care about. Lobbyists from the County Commissioners Association of Ohio provided great information about how easy it is connect with representatives and develop positive, long-term relationships, while taking some of the anxiety and mystery out of the advocacy process. Members role-played possible meeting scenarios to prepare for meetings at the Statehouse.
In the afternoon, 17 meetings were held with House and Senate offices and considerable support was garnered for the Family Farm ReGeneration Act.
Thank you to those who attended and if you are interested in attending an OEFFA Lobby Day in 2020, contact us today!
Midwest Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Reborn
In 1988, sustainable agriculture leaders in the Midwest pioneered the Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SAWG), a regional network of organizations working on sustainable agriculture issues. Other regional SAWG’s were also developed across the United States but in the late 2000’s the Midwest SAWG, or MSAWG, became subsumed in a merger of organizations that became the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
Since that time MSAWG has ceased to exist despite active sustainable agriculture working groups in other parts of the country. In 2019, OEFFA in partnership with organizations in Indiana, revived the MSAWG. Now there is an opportunity for sustainable agriculture advocates at the state level to network with other state groups in the Midwest. This is especially important as special interest organizations at the national level often create legislation detrimental to the goals of small, independent family farmers and push that agenda through state legislatures across the U.S.
“Changing Contours” Report Details Ohio Leadership in Organics, Beginning Farmers, and Local Food Systems
Every five years the US Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service (USDA NASS) conducts a survey of farms where $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the census year. Policy staff eagerly awaits updated information that will inform trends and opportunities in agriculture and food systems. This census was no disappointment.
OEFFA compiled a summary of the census findings in “Ohio Agriculture: The Changing Contours of Farming.” Some of the key takeaways from the analysis are that Ohio is sixth in the nation in the number of beginning farmers (which is perhaps why our Begin Farming Ohio program is going strong!). We are also sixth in the nation in the number of organic farmers and second (only to California) in the amount of farmland that is being transitioned to organic management systems.
On the land use side, Ohio is home to more than 77,000 farms, the highest number of farms since 1997. After decades of farm loss, the number of farms is on the rise. In a key indicator that economic investments in regional food systems would yield exponential results is the fact that the value of food sold directly to consumers increased dramatically between 2012 and 2017 as sales went from approximately $46 million to almost $80 million.
If you like data as much as we do, you can download the complete report here.
Energy Infrastructure Panel Brings Experience of Ohio Farmers to National Organic Audience
OEFFA is both an education and advocacy organization and an organic certification agency. We certify farms in twelve states and that partnership allows us to serve our farmers and provide more support than organizations that do organic certification alone.
A good example involves the difficult situation that an increasing number of farmers find themselves in as a pipeline, compressor station, frack pad, or other type of energy infrastructure is proposed to be cited on their farm. This is a critical concern for organic producers who cannot count on synthetic fertilizer to help boost yields as they decline after soil disturbance or synthetic weed killer as weed seeds are brought onto the property. Starting about three years ago, OEFFA adapted an Organic Agriculture Impact Mitigation plan that has been used with farmers, pipeline companies and contractors, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. While far from perfect, this tool is adaptable to each farm situation and has clear requirements for extra measures contractors need to take to protect organic certification.
After many years of testimony on this issue to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the NOSB asked the National Organic Program (NOP) to add this item to their work agenda so that they could learn about the issue and how to protect farmers. As part of the preparation for the fall 2019 NOSB meeting, OEFFA staff organized a panel of impacted farmers, an organic inspector who has worked to monitor construction on organic farms, a researcher, and a certifier who all talked about the challenges surrounding this issue. While the NOP is not moving the item forward at this time, many board members were educated and engaged and one committed to take this issue to the national association of organic certification agencies, the Accredited Certifiers Association.
DC Work Helps to Protect the Integrity of Organic
OEFFA is a member of the National Organic Coalition (NOC), and through that collaboration, we are able to advocate on the integrity of organics. Our members have been clear about serious concerns over fraudulent imported grain, the certification of hydroponic products, lack of action on an origin of livestock rule that impacts the viability of organic dairy operations, and much more.
When we traveled to Washington, DC in March 2019, we went armed with information and a strong message. That message recently paid off as the House and Senate passed the annual agriculture appropriations bill that mandates the NOP move forward on an origin of livestock rule, provides more funding and staff to the NOP to fight organic fraud, and directs the national program to monitor the enforcement of access to pasture rules for very large dairy operations.
There is much more work to do, but our connection with our national coalition partners and regular communication with Congress keeps farmer and member concerns top of mind and can result in real dollars and sense(ible) regulation.
Blog Provides Home for In-Depth Policy News
Well, I really don’t need to tell you about our new blog because you are here! But seriously, we are very excited to not have to wait to share information through our policy bulletin once each month. (Adding a blog was part of our policy program’s website overhaul this year, so you’ll see that our other policy pages also have a new and improved look!)
These are important issues and so often the devil is in the details. You deserve more thorough information about the work we are doing and about what is happening in the sustainable agriculture and local and regional food systems space.
So please, come back, read often, and stay in communication with us about what you like, what you don’t, and what you would like to see more of!
Columbus Dispatch Features OEFFA Earth Day Message
One of the things we often tell our members is that a great way to get your message across is to write a letter to the editor or an opinion piece for your local newspaper. On Earth Day, we walked the talk and had an op-ed piece published in the Columbus Dispatch.
Certainly, it isn’t the first time that OEFFA has had an op-ed published, but it was an important time to get the message out about protecting our state-owned lands. Some OEFFA members have been actively opposing the clearing and re-mining (yes you read that right) of the Perry State Forest. These sustainable farmers are very concerned about the economic and environmental impacts this project would have on their communities and their businesses.
If there is an issue that you are passionate about and would like some help getting a letter to the editor or opinion piece in your local paper, contact us today!
OEFFA Members Invest in Leadership and Advocacy
OEFFA partnered with the Institute for Conservation Leadership to provide a leadership training for OEFFA members. We had no idea of the kind of response we would get and were pleasantly surprised by a full house of 35 attendees and a long waiting list. Truthfully, many of the folks in attendance are already leaders in their own right but frequently don’t recognize how much they are already doing. Nonetheless, the workshop provided hands-on exercises, time for reflection, networking, and an opportunity to develop a leadership plan of action.
We are thinking about offering this type of training again in 2020. If you are interested, please drop us a line and we can make sure you don’t end up on a waiting list!