• General

    Making a Difference Together: Six Conference Conversations You’ll Want to Be a Part of

    For many, getting the OEFFA conference schedule of workshops, keynotes, and networking events can make you feel like a kid in a candy store.

    There’s so much good material to choose from and opportunities to connect with old friends and make new ones, all while working collectively toward a healthier future. The 2022 conference will be no exception.

    If you want to see real change in our food and farming system—changes that support organic and regenerative farmers and invest in healthful local and regional food choices—you’re going to want to be a part of these key conversations at the 2022 OEFFA conference, Rooted and Rising, February 12 online and February 17-19 at the Dayton Convention Center:

    • An Organic Approach to Farm Policy: Scott Marlow served as the executive director for the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, working to reorient the farm system away from concentration and corporate control to truly supporting family farmers. Join his virtual workshop on February 12 focusing on how we structure farm credit and risk management, and how the availability or lack of capital and access to crop insurance has a profound impact on the farming we see on the ground. 
    • Farm Bill Forecast: On February 12, a panel of food system leaders will explore how 2022 will be a formative year for the creation of the 2023 Farm Bill, and the unique opportunities it presents for reorienting the food system toward sustainability. Hear an in-depth conversation from Eric Deeble, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Abby Youngblood, executive director for the National Organic Coalition, and Jonathan McCracken, Senior Policy Advisor for Senator Sherrod Brown.
    • How Should Organic Grow?: Patty Lovera, policy director for the Organic Farmers Association, will have a conversation with organic growers and supporters about how organic should grow in the years ahead during this workshop on February 12.
    • Organic is Risky? Progress and Challenges of Crop Insurance for Organic Farmers: Jeff Schahczenski of the National Center for Appropriate Technology will focus on organic farmers and the crop insurance tools that do and don’t work during this February 12 workshop.
    • Winning a Better Food and Farm System: OEFFA’s new policy team will lead a discussion on February 18 about how to win a better food and farm system, and provide real next steps you can take away from conference.
    • The Critical To-Do List for Organic Agriculture: We are excited to welcome back Kathleen Merrigan, former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While there, she helped establish national standards for organic food and oversee the National Organic Program. During this February 18 workshop, she’ll share insights from her work with the Organic Trade Association, where she is identifying the priorities for organic as we head into the 2023 Farm Bill.

    This is just a sample of the critical policy conversations that we hope you will be a part of during the 2022 conference. Please join us as we work toward positive change! Learn more and register at conference.oeffa.org.

  • General

    New Pandemic Cover Crop Program is a First Step

    This blog a re-posting from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

    Last week, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a new Pandemic Cover Crop Program (PCCP).

    It will offer a $5 per acre premium discount to producers who planted qualifying cover crops during the 2021 crop year and enrolled in eligible federal crop insurance policies.

    The PCCP is administered by the Risk Management Agency (RMA) and funds for this program are coming from the USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers (PAP) program. 

    To receive this premium benefit, eligible farmers must file their acreage report with FSA by next Tuesday, June 15, 2021.

    For additional details about the program and producer eligibility, click here.

    PCCP Background

    The COVID-19 pandemic caused many producers to lose revenue which made it financially challenging for them to maintain cover crop systems. The PCCP mirrors popular premium rebate programs in Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana that support farmers who use cover crops as part of their rotations. However, unlike these programs, the PCCP is being offered retroactively as a relief program to farmers who planted cover crops this year. 

    Farmers have long known the benefits of cover crops and their value is even more evident today as farmers are up against climate change driven floods, drought, and unpredictable weather. Cover crop adoption is an essential practice to build resilient systems and mitigate risk. There is a strong body of research which demonstrates the numerous benefits that planting cover crops has on crop yields, soil health, and farmers’ bottom lines. The announcement of the PCCP indicates that USDA recognizes the data presented by the agricultural research community and the wisdom of farmers who use cover crops.

    Despite these benefits, many obstacles remain to broad cover crop adoption. Just over 4.5 percent of land in farms is planted with cover crops – 15 million acres out of 320 million acres of harvested cropland in 2017. As we emerge from the pandemic, it is clearer than ever that there is room for dramatic improvement in these rates and that USDA should support farmers to adopt conservation practices that increase resilience in the face of production and market risk for individual farm businesses as well as our entire food system.

    NSAC has long advocated for aligning crop insurance with conservation practices. The PCCP is a welcome support to farmers who have been impacted by the pandemic, and may represent an important first step toward aligning crop insurance with soil and water conservation in the future.

    Estimated Impact

    The PCCP could cost up to an estimated $75 million (out of the $6.5 billion available through PAP) if all producers who planted cover crops on 15 millions acres received the PCCP premium. However, not all farmers who plant cover crops are enrolled in eligible crop insurance policies; in fact, farmers who adopt cover crops and additional practices to diversify production appear less likely than conventional farmers to enroll in crop insurance.  

    For these farmers, especially small farmers, diversified and integrated production strategies are natural risk-management strategies. 

    If these farmers were to enroll in crop insurance, the Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) program is a natural choice tailored to sustainable producers. WFRP is the only crop-neutral revenue insurance policy available nationwide designed to protect a farmer’s entire operation – insuring all crops and livestock under one policy, not just one crop. NSAC is thus disappointed that WFRP is explicitly excluded from the list of eligible federal crop insurance policies under PCCP. 

    Encouraging cover crops is a good thing,” said Scott Marlow, Long Rows Consulting, in response to the program’s announcement and its exclusion of WFRP. “But we have to be careful that rewarding the adoption of one facet of resilience (cover crops) in one sector of agriculture (crops eligible for standard crop insurance) isn’t reinforcing the drive toward industrialization that got us here in the first place. Are we creating an economic disadvantage against more fundamental elements of systemic resilience like crop diversity, integration of crops and livestock, higher-value and more diverse markets, and diverse farm scales?”

    The PCCP was announced on June 1, 2021, giving farmers just two weeks until the June 15 deadline to adjust course at one of the busiest times of the growing season. The accelerated acreage reporting deadline will be a challenge for many farmers who were not already planning to submit their forms early, especially considering FSA County Offices are not yet open to the public without appointments per COVID-19 safety protocol

    NSAC understands that this is a new program and that an early deadline for farmers to submit acreage reports will enable RMA to process payments before the August 15, 2021 premium billing date, but insufficient notice will hamper the reach and effectiveness of this program. While PCCP is looking at planting decisions made in the past, NSAC hopes that USDA will use this as a first step and extend the program to incentivize cover crop adoption into future planting years.

    Improvements Needed

    The PCCP will be a welcome support for eligible farmers who have been impacted by the pandemic as they work to maintain their cover crop systems. But this model is not perfect and it is important to recognize its limited ability to bolster food system resilience. 

    In the short-term, NSAC urges USDA to implement comparable support for farmers enrolled in crop insurance policies that are excluded from the PCCP, including WFRP, that better serve small, mid-size, diversified, and organic producers. In addition, we recommend that RMA consider extending the June 15 acreage reporting deadline given insufficient notice at the height of the growing season for farmers and reduced accessibility of FSA County Offices. 

    Looking ahead, there is a distinct possibility that levels of PCCP participation may be used as a proxy for producer interest or as a test run before USDA introduces a permanent iteration of this program. If true, NSAC recommends that any future program in this mold include WFRP as an eligible crop insurance policy. In addition, we feel that advance acreage reporting submission will only curtail participation, particularly among small or low resource farmers for whom the administrative burden is considerable, and should be extended to match the normal acreage reporting deadline. 

    Fundamentally, the PCCP is a relief program designed to retroactively reward farmers who planted cover crops during a financially difficult year. NSAC strongly recommends that any future program created in the mold of PCCP be designed as a proactive initiative to encourage more farmers to adopt cover crops, as well as continue to reward farmers who maintain cover crop systems. 

    While a $5 per acre premium is a relatively small reward that may not meaningfully offset the significant upfront costs that farmers face when adopting cover crops for the first time, the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program survey suggests that a discount through crop insurance would be one of farmers’ preferred types of conservation payment.

    These recommendations to improve PCCP, or shape a future iteration of the program, should be undertaken as a suite of additional actions which USDA could use to more effectively incentivize conservation practices as risk management tools. NSAC and our member organizations look forward to continuing to work with USDA to implement meaningful reforms that align conservation programs with crop insurance to actively bolster the long-term resilience and competitiveness of our country’s farmers.

  • Conservation,  General

    Unpacking Land Policy and What is Needed for a More Equitable Farming Future

    This guest post was written by Holly Rippon-Butler, Land Campaign Director with the National Young Farmers Coalition. The Coalition is a national advocacy network of young farmers fighting for the future of agriculture.

    Editor’s Note: To begin helping to address the challenges identified in this report, OEFFA is working to pass the Family Farm ReGeneration Act. The bipartisan House Bill 95, which would help beginning farmers access farmland and provide greater resilience to Ohio’s food system, has cleared its House committee hurdles and awaits a full House floor vote. If you care about these issues and would like to get involved, complete this petition to the Ohio legislature and call your Ohio House Representative today and ask them to bring HB 95 to the floor for a vote.

    This past year has highlighted the critically important role that young farmers and ranchers play in stewarding natural resources, advocating for policy change, and supporting food security. Yet, access to affordable, quality farmland—the key resource that these growers need—remains deeply inequitable and out of reach for far too many.

    The National Young Farmers Coalition released a new report, Land Policy: Towards a More Equitable Farming Future, that illustrates the critical connection between land, policy and power. The report highlights the challenges young farmers, and in particular, Black, Indigenous, and other farmers of color (BIPOC), face accessing land and provides a detailed path forward through policy change.

    Young Farmers released this report alongside a new Land Policy website which includes profiles of farmers who are navigating the challenges of accessing land as well as a growing library of resources and policy solutions that lawmakers can implement now to facilitate secure, equitable land access for growers. Together, these resources provide a toolkit for farmers, policymakers, organizations and advocates to understand these issues and take action.

    Understanding the Issue

    Access to farmland remains the number one barrier facing aspiring farmers today, and this barrier is even higher for farmers of color. Land ownership is rooted in the dispossession of Indigenous land and centuries of stolen labor from people of color—both sanctioned through public policy—while the contributions these communities have made to U.S. agriculture remain largely unacknowledged. This history is essential to understanding the land access challenges young farmers face today.

    While the challenge of access to land is nearly universal, the nuances vary significantly depending on your vantage point. Farmers in arid parts of the U.S. must navigate complex management structures to secure necessary water resources. In urban areas, farmers grapple with zoning barriers and contaminated soil. Land-related challenges are compounded for Black, Indigenous, Latinx, farm workers, women, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ individuals due to the intersection of land access challenges with structural racism and other tools of systemic oppression.

    Part of the reason finding secure access to farmland is so complex is that farmers are not simply searching for land to grow on, they are looking for land to build a life upon. Further, land often changes hands without ever coming onto the formal real estate market, presenting a serious challenge for young farmers in particular, many of whom didn’t grow up in farming and aren’t connected to networks of landowners.

    These factors all intersect with the affordability of the land. The prospect of saving enough money for a down payment while employed in agriculture is an elusive promise. Paradoxically, gaining the skills to actually run your own farm business often puts that same dream out of reach. For many farm workers, especially those who have traveled to the U.S. to work, language barriers, legal obstacles, and ingrained systems of oppression in farm labor mean that the dream is even further removed from possibility.

    Ultimately, while it may be possible to find available land to grow on, accessing land where a farmer can have the security that they need to invest in the land and their business can prove to be a nearly insurmountable barrier. For many, land ownership will forever be out of reach and leasing might be the only option. But leases often prevent a farmer from building financial equity, locking them into low-income careers with little prospect of saving and few avenues to grow their businesses without valuable collateral to borrow against.

    Private Property, Land Loss and Wealth

    The system of private property rights, which is based on an extractive relationship with land, is at the root of the land access challenge. The fact that land is a limited resource that is steadily being degraded, alongside the impacts of generational wealth-building, further exacerbate the issue.

    Land as an entity that can be bought and sold is a settler-colonial construct. This framework has been enforced through the United States’ political and legal systems, and it has been used to dispossess Indigenous people of billions of acres of land. Land has been tied to wealth extraction from every community of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color in America since Columbus. The result is deep inequity—98 percent of farmland in the U.S. is owned by white people and 95 percent of farmers are white.

    This inequity exists against the backdrop of numerous other challenges—the cost of land is rising, the climate crisis threatens farm viability, farm consolidation marches on, land continues to be developed at an alarming rate, and the agricultural land that remains is increasingly owned by non-farmers.

    Strikingly, the USDA estimates 30 percent of farmland is now owned by non-farmers; 40 percent of farmland is leased; and nearly 45 percent of landlords have never farmed. As investor interest in farmland grows, the consequences are significant for farmers who cannot compete in terms of price or speed of purchase.

    And that competition is getting steeper as the resource itself dwindles. According to the American Farmland Trust, farmland is lost at a rate of 2,000 acres per day. The land that is paved over and turned into housing developments is disproportionately high-quality land around urban areas, precisely where young farmers want to grow.

    As land is lost from agriculture or sold to non-farmers, farmers themselves are competing for what remains and being driven towards economies of scale that perpetuate consolidation of land. Forty-one percent of farmland in the U.S. is operated by just over 7 percent of the farms.

    Who Owns the Land Matters

    Land ownership has a cumulative effect on farm viability. When farmers own land, they can leverage that land to capitalize further land purchases, infrastructure investments, or other forms of saving that benefit future generations. The effects are clear: in the Coalition’s 2017 survey of young farmers across the country, the average farm size of respondents who came from farm families was 87.25 compared to 12 acres for those from non-farming backgrounds.

    Who owns the land matters in part because a lot of wealth is tied up in farmland. The overall value of farm real estate in 2020 was forecast to be $2.58 trillion, accounting for over 80 percent of all 2020 farm sector assets. Access to this land and wealth is directly tied to the ability to succeed in agriculture. However, the problem is bigger than simply who owns the land. We must look critically at the policies that have perpetuated commodification and inequity in land over centuries.

    Land, Policy and Power

    Land is a canvas where the results of a racialized system that uses extraction as a tool is made visible. If we are going to advocate for policies that move towards a more equitable farming future, we must understand the ways in which policy and land have been deeply intertwined to create our present reality.

    Land has been tied to controlling access to political power ever since colonial land laws prohibiting non-white ownership and restricting voting to those who owned land. Once in power, those individuals proceeded to enact policies designed to perpetuate their control of land-based resources. Strategies of this work have included dispossession and fractionation, employing state-sanctioned violence; redistribution of land to white individuals; and denying access to the resources necessary to acquire and hold land, such as home mortgages and farm loans.

    Once the system of land ownership that privileged white male landowners was established, tax laws and programs that provide government dollars to landowners have continued to benefit these owners without explicit statements of discrimination. These strategies have played out through executive orders, legislative action, judicial rulings, and administrative implementation. These tools of oppression can be turned to tools of liberation, but dedicated advocacy is required.

    In the face of this history, there is an equally strong narrative of resistance and innovation from communities of color. Many of the practices of what we call sustainable, regenerative, and organic farming in fact come from BIPOC communities. Tools such as land trusts, community supported agriculture, and critical policy advocacy that have advanced civil rights in the face of land-based discrimination have been led by those communities. The history of resistance is equally important and forms the framework on which we will learn and build our current resistance and dismantling work.

    Why Now?

    Secure access to land is the foundation of vibrant communities, food sovereignty, climate resiliency, and sound farm businesses. It is critically important for food safety, mental health, market access, farm planning, soil improvements, and navigating severe weather events.

    A greater percentage of U.S. farmland than ever before is farmed by individuals nearing the end of their career – meaning hundreds of millions of acres are expected to change hands in the coming decade. This represents an incredible opportunity to shift power and resources, but bold policy change is needed. If we do nothing, the forces of wealth accumulation and extraction from the land will continue, and we will lose a generation of young growers who are trained and stand ready to grow food for their communities.

    Policy Action

    As illustrated, public policy is at the heart of land use and many of the challenges that farmers face accessing land. Policy has shaped our food system and must be part of the bold, systemic change required to tackle its interconnected challenges. As millions of acres are predicted to change hands in the coming years, there is a real opportunity to work towards land justice, rematriation, and more equitable models of land access that put land in the hands of young, diverse farmers.

    Young Farmers’ report offers a path forward through key principles to guide policy solutions, as well as important, actionable steps that policy makers can implement now to create more secure, equitable land access for the next generation of growers.

    Specifically, the report calls on policymakers to act now to:

    1. Eliminate inequities in land ownership and access;
    2. Protect farmland for producers;
    3. Facilitate appropriate, affordable, and secure land tenure; and
    4. Support farm viability and transition.

    The report acknowledges and uplifts the work that farmers, and farmers of color in particular, are doing to address inequity and land access challenges through organizing in their communities, and urges policy makers to reflect the values and examples embedded in that work.

    For more detailed state, federal, and local policy recommendations, see the full report.

    Land is fundamental to survival. Access to this resource should not be a privilege. As we work toward a future defined by racial equity, community well-being, and climate resilience, land must be centered in our policymaking and our organizing.

    About the National Young Farmers Coalition

    The National Young Farmers Coalition (the Coalition) is a grassroots network of farmers, ranchers, and supporters fighting for a more bright and just future for agriculture. Since 2010, we have launched 48 farmer-led chapters across the United States and built a grassroots base of more than 200,000 individuals. The Coalition helps young farmers become leaders in their communities through local chapter organizing, ensuring they have a seat at the table in local, state, and national policy decisions. We address structural barriers facing young farmers through farm bill advocacy, United States Department of Agriculture program reform, and by training key stakeholders and service providers to better serve the next generation. In addition, we provide business services to young farmers, offering tools, resources, and technical assistance to help them navigate business challenges and seize market opportunities.

  • General

    What Does a Biden Administration Mean for Sustainable Agriculture?

    We recently survived one of the most contentious elections in recent memory. Whomever your preferred candidate, we now have a declared winner in Joe Biden. But what does that mean for sustainable and organic agriculture, local food systems, and conservation policy?

    One of the priorities of President-Elect Joe Biden’s agricultural agenda is to strengthen anti-trust enforcement. According to the campaign website, “American farmers and ranchers are being hurt by increasing market concentration. Biden will make sure farmers and producers have access to fair markets where they can compete and get fair prices for their products—and require large corporations to play by the rules instead of writing them—by strengthening enforcement of the Sherman and Clayton Antitrust Acts and the Packers and Stockyards Act.”

    Action to address concentration and consolidation would have tremendous, positive consequences for sustainable family farmers across the country. The increasing level of concentration and consolidation in agriculture, food processing, and retailing makes it increasingly difficult for all but the biggest and most specialized—and often the least sustainable—to thrive. By allowing more free market competition and development of local and regional food markets and processing infrastructure, farmers can be price makers instead of being forced to be the lowest price takers.

    Local and Regional Markets

    Biden’s platform also includes the development of local and regional food markets. By partnering “with small and mid-sized farmers to help them collectively create supply chains to deliver fresh produce and other products to schools, hospitals, and other major state and federal institutions, including the Defense Department…these farmers [can] negotiate their own prices.”

    Beginning and Early Career Farmers

    Importantly, a future for American agriculture requires a crop of new farmers interested, willing, and able to start a farm operation. Access to land, credit, and capitol are common, significant barriers new farmers must overcome, and despite a successful Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program that provides resources for programs, like OEFFA’s Begin Farming Program, the scale of the these challenges requires more resources and attention.

    Biden states that he “will expand the Obama-Biden Administration’s microloan program for new and beginning farmers, doubling the maximum loan amount to $100,000…and increase funding for the USDA’s farm ownership and operating loans.” 

    Community Development

    Farmers, new or old, are the backbone of rural communities that have struggled with the bifurcation of farming to, mostly, very large and very small operations, with those in the middle being squeezed out.  Biden’s platform includes measures to bolster rural communities by expanding broadband to every American and expanding the role of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI), to make up for the fact that almost 40 percent of rural counties don’t have one bank branch.

    Organic Agriculture

    There are few clear indicators of how this new administration will prioritize organic agriculture, address the ongoing concern over the integrity of the National Organic Program (NOP), or tackle long-overdue issues like integrity with organic dairy production, animal welfare standards, hydroponics, or fraudulent organic grain imports. But, Biden has stated an interest in increasing funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, which are important sources of research, outreach materials, and programming for sustainable and organic agriculture.


    There also indications that farm conservation will be a priority. Specifically, the Biden website states that it will “dramatically expand and fortify the pioneering Conservation Stewardship Program, to support farm income through payments based on farmers’ practices to protect the environment, including carbon sequestration.”

    As of this writing, it appears that we will have a divided government with Democrats controlling the executive branch and House of Representatives and Republicans controlling the Senate. If that remains the case, pending two senate runoff races in Georgia, a great deal of what is accomplished may depend upon a spirit of bipartisanship and cooperation, which has been lacking for more than a decade.

    OEFFA members care about the integrity of the organic program and the ability of organic and sustainable farmers to make a viable living.  We care about increase in the resilience of local and regional food systems as the globalized food system revealed its fragility amidst the 2020 pandemic.

    That’s why “We the People” must hold our decision-makers accountable for their support or opposition to the issues we care about. If you want to be part of that accountability team, contact OEFFA today to learn more!

  • General,  State Policy

    Find Our Where Your Local Candidates Stand on Food and Farm Issues

    The election season is well underway. 

    As you ponder who will get your vote in the upcoming election, OEFFA, in partnership with the Ohio Farmers Market Network, Produce Perks Midwest, and the Ohio Food Policy Network, compiled an Ohio Candidate Questionnaire—a list of seven questions you can use to find out where each candidate stands on important food and farm issues related to climate, food access, and local food systems. 

    There is an urgent need to help candidates understand the challenges Ohioans face every day in accessing healthy food, as well as those faced by farmers working to provide that food.

    Hold your candidates accountable this season and ask them to champion your priorities!

    How to Contact Your Candidates

    Here are some ways you can contact your local candidates to learn about their positions:

    • Attend an in-person or online debate or town hall
    • Call or email them
    • Post to their social media page or tag them on social media

    More Candidate Resources

    In July 2020, OEFFA and our partners released “Opportunity in a Time of Crisis: Recommendations for Building a More Resilient Ohio Food System.” This report is another resource to reference as you interact with candidates.

    Finding Your Candidates

    Finding your candidates’ schedules can be difficult! Check out your candidates’ websites and Facebook pages for their latest news or call their office if necessary. Other helpful resources are: County Boards of Elections; County Democratic Party Events page; and County Republican Party Events page.

    Voting in Ohio

    Have a question about voting in Ohio? Visit the Ohio Secretary of State website today.

    Thank you for participating in the democratic process with us! Please contact us to let us know what you hear!

  • General

    The Sequel is Better: CFAP 2 is Available Now

    Guest post from Jeff Schahczenski, National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), Agricultural and Natural Resource Economist

    Terrapin Farm

    Like many of our favorite movies, the sequel to the Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program (CFAP 2) is an expansion and improvement of the original. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) began taking applications for CFAP 2 on September 21, 2020. The program will end on December 11, 2020. About $14 billion has been made available to fund this relief effort for U.S. agriculture producers impacted by COVID-19.

    For Judy Owsowitz, owner and founder of Terrapin Farm in Whitefish, Montana, CFAP 2 is welcome help for the significant losses she experienced this year due to the pandemic. “I chose to not do farmers’ markets this year out of concern for my crew and the public. Many of my restaurants are also struggling. CFAP 2 has simplified access to pandemic relief,” Judy noted.

    With a new category of relief payments known as sales commodities, hundreds of specialty crops, aquaculture, nursery crops, and floriculture items are eligible. Relief payments for this wide category of goods are calculated based on the producer’s 2019 sales of these eligible commodities and a declining payment rate that is roughly 10 percent of the value of those sales is provided. So, a farm with a 2019 gross sales revenue of, say, $125,000 would receive a relief payment of slightly more than $12,500. As gross sales increases, the percentage of relief decreases slightly to a bit less than 10 percent.

    A highly diverse farm like Terrapin Farm with over 500 varieties of unique vegetables, fruits, and herbs, can simply report total sales revenue from 2019 as the basis of relief payment without having to list each product. “I tried to access CFAP 1 and it was just too burdensome to have to list each crop separately, particularly when the payment was so small for each crop,” said Judy. For CFAP 2, a producer only has to document the total sales of eligible crops in 2019 and an online calculator provided by the FSA will calculate the total relief payment, as well as generate part of the application paperwork.

    The larger diversity of crops and livestock products covered by CFAP 2 is significant. In fact, the only items not eligible for relief under CFAP 2 are:

    • Hay, except alfalfa, and crops intended for grazing
    • All equine, animals raised for breeding stock, companion or comfort animals, pets, and animals raised for hunting or game purposes
    • Birdsfoot and trefoil, clover, cover crop, fallow, forage soybeans, forage sorghum, gardens (commercial and home), grass, kochia (prostrata),
      lespedeza, milkweed, mixed forage, pelts (excluding mink), perennial peanuts, pollinators, sun hemp, vetch, and seed of ineligible crops

    In addition to sales commodities, there are two additional eligible ways to access CFAP 2 payments:

    • Price Trigger Commodities: Barley, corn, sorghum, soybeans, sunflowers, upland cotton, and all classes of wheat; broilers; eggs and milk; beef cattle, hogs and pigs; and lambs and sheep. Relief payment is based on 2020 planted acres, yield, marketing percentage, and a specified payment rate.
    • Flat-Rate Commodities: Alfalfa, amaranth grain, buckwheat, canola, Extra Long Staple (ELS) cotton, crambe (colewort), einkorn, emmer, flax, guar, hemp, indigo, industrial rice, kenaf, khorasan, millet, mustard, oats, peanuts, quinoa, rapeseed, rice, sweet rice, wild rice, rye, safflower, sesame, spelt, sugar beets, sugarcane, teff, and triticale. Relief payment is simply $15 per 2020 planted acre.

    The addition of the flat-rate commodities is significant, as these were not included in the original CFAP. Many of these flat-rate commodities, particularly some of the ancient grains such as amaranth, einkorn, emmer, flax an khorasan, and spelt, are grown organically, providing important support for organic grain farmers.

    Terrapin Farm Logo

    Even the Terrapin Farm logo of a turtle munching on a famously sweet Terrapin Farm carrot appears a bit happier, as she struggles through these difficult times. “It’s great to see our federal government become responsive and to recognize how important the full diversity of our local and regional food system really is,” Judy said.

    For more details, see the USDA website.

    Finally, a payment calculator tool is available that can help you assess whether the CFAP 2 makes sense for your specific situation.

    ATTRA specialists are on hand to walk you through what you need to know to receive a share of this government assistance package. Give us a call at (800) 346-9140 or e-mail us at AskAnAg@ncat.org. We’re here for you!

  • General

    Policy Responses to the COVID-19 Crisis: A Faltering Start and an Uncertain Future

    While the highly consolidated global food supply chain has broken under the pressure of the COVID-19 crisis, our diverse and distributed local and regional food system has proven more resilient. Many OEFFA farmers have been able to adapt to the market disruptions that occurred as restaurants and schools closed, by pivoting to other strategies like online pre-ordering and taking advantage of strong customer demand. Farmers’ markets moved quickly to adapt to the new reality of social distancing by implementing drive-thru markets, online ordering systems, and other market modifications.

    While these adaptations helped keep local food flowing, they did not come without cost, both financial and human. These changes included things such as recruiting and training more staff and volunteers, reducing the number of vendors at markets, purchasing personal protective equipment, setting up and managing new software for online ordering, and instituting new packaging and labeling requirements.

    The local food heroes whose herculean efforts have kept our families fed during this crisis have borne the cost of these adaptations with little to no federal or state support, while the nation’s largest agribusinesses have benefited disproportionately from federal aid packages.

    Farmer Assistance to Date

    The federal government passed three large aid packages totaling in the trillions aimed at lessening the impact of the pandemic on our society. The third aid bill, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, with a price tag of $2.2 trillion, is the largest economic rescue package in U.S. history and included provisions targeting farmers and food insecurity. Unfortunately, despite a provision creating $9.5 billion in disaster relief targeted to specialty crop, livestock and dairy producers, and farmers growing for direct markets, the U.S. Department of Agriculture chose to ignore Congressional emphasis that the agency support these farmers.

    The resulting Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), with $16 billion in funding, is helpful to farm operations with simple production systems, who can demonstrate a loss in price or sales this year, and who sell into commodity and wholesale markets. As with most federal policy, CFAP fails to help diversified farmers who sell into local and regional markets and value-added producers such as organic farmers, and grass-fed livestock operations. Only 2 percent of the CFAP payments to date have made to U.S. specialty crop farmers.

    The Farm Service Agency is accepting applications for CFAP on a first-come, first-served basis. Despite the program’s limitations, we encourage farmers to look at the application to decide if it may be worthwhile and if so, to apply soon. You can find details here. Initial program assessment shows that grain and dairy operators (organic or not) will particularly benefit. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s May 22 blog is a good guide. If you need assistance in applying, contact OEFFA. If you’ve already applied, please let us know about your experience.

    A Fourth Round of Aid

    The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act which, if signed into law, would be the fourth aid package since the start of the pandemic. The $3 trillion bill would build on the CARES Act and include increased funding for local food, beginning farmers, and specialty crop growers, as well as another $16 billion in direct relief for farmers, this time including organic farmers and others not supported in prior aid packages.

    Despite the inclusion of financial assistance targeted—once again—toward small to mid-scale, diversified, and value-added farmers, we need to make sure that the USDA doesn’t—once again—choose to target that aid to larger-scale commodity producers.

    The HEROES Act will also increase food assistance and provide $25 million to help states cover the cost of harvesting, processing, packaging, and transporting commodities that would have gone into large-scale commercial food service in order to shift these products into emergency feeding programs. However, that provision is lacking in several critical elements including language to target or prioritize resources to small farmers and those selling into local food systems. Additionally, funds cannot be used directly for purchasing farm products.

    Senate Action

    While Senate leaders initially put the brakes on additional stimulus, and the President threatened a veto, there are signs a fourth aid package will move forward.

    In the interim period, many members of Congress have stepped in with legislation that would fill some of the gaps resulting from the limited focus of the prior omnibus bills. Numerous bills are being introduced to “set the mark” for inclusion in the HEROES Act, including:

    • Farmers Feeding Families Coronavirus Response Act: Introduced by Representative Kim Schrier (D-WA) (HR 6725) and Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) (SB 3655), this bill would target federal funding for purchases from producers who rely on local agricultural markets (such as farmers’ markets, farm-to-table restaurants, and farm-to-school programs), provide funding for state agencies and food banks to directly and immediately replenish their food stocks to meet increased demand, and allow states to support farmers that may not normally participate in the USDA’s national purchase programs by purchasing surplus perishable foods at risk of going to waste.
    • Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act: Introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) (SB 3602) and Representative Patrick Maloney (D-NY) (HR 6683), this bill would alleviate debt, keep farms open, and fortify the nation’s food supply, providing direct relief to the nation’s most vulnerable farmers by providing a one-time debt forgiveness of up to $250,000, across three types of USDA Farm Service Agency loans. All small farms with an average adjusted gross income of up to $300,000 for the previous five years will be eligible, and, importantly, farmers who receive debt forgiveness or write-downs maintain their eligibility for future loans. Loan forgiveness would NOT be taxable.
    • Food Supply Protection Act: Introduced by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) this bill would strengthen food partnerships to prevent waste and feed families, retool small and medium-sized food processors, and support food banks and non-profits to help increase their capacity to address growing food demand. The bill is co-sponsored by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
    • SNAP Online Expansion and Delivery Act: Introduced by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) this bill would help Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) work better by allowing benefits to be used online across the country, while also providing information technology investments and technical assistance resources to ensure all authorized retailers, including direct market farmers, have the infrastructure necessary for online transactions.

    Next Steps and Opportunity for Action

    Over the coming days and weeks the Senate will come to some resolution about what they want to see in a fourth coronavirus aid package. If we don’t put serious pressure on our elected officials to provide more oversight and accountability on the use of these funds, we will continue to see the playing field be tilted toward the largest and wealthiest farms.

    Do you think it’s time for federal policy to support those who need it most? Contact Amalie Lipstreu at (614) 947-1607 or policy@oeffa.org and share your thoughts.

    Photo: Lisa Helm Hancock, Dayton Urban Grown

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    Economic Assistance for Farmers through the Paycheck Protection Program

    UPDATE: Since this article was originally published, the initial round of PPP funding under the CARES Act has been exhausted, but small farms can apply for another set of federal disaster loans under a new deal reached April 21 by Congress and the Trump Administration. The agreement allows agricultural operations with fewer than 500 employees to qualify for SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), which offers up to $10,000 in advance to businesses that are losing revenue amid the pandemic. Learn more and apply for EIDL. The deal also replenishes the depleted PPP, setting aside an additional $321 billion for the program, including $60 billion for small businesses without access to large financial institutions, but funding is not expected to last long, maybe just a matter of days.

    The COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc, not only on human health, but also on our economy. And farmers are not being spared. The good news is that there are some tools out there to help.

    Three disaster aid packages have been developed as of this writing and more are in the works. In this post, we will do our best to break down the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). This is one of two programs included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act for small businesses, and the only one available to farmers.

    The CARES Act expands the PPP, which is administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA), to provide much needed relief for small businesses, many of whom have temporarily closed their doors due to shelter in place and social-distancing directives. Congress allocated $349 billion to the PPP, which provides forgivable loans of up to $10 million to help businesses (including farm businesses) rehire or retain workers during the COVID-19 crisis. 


    The general rule is that this program is open to businesses (S-corps, C-corps, sole proprietorships, LLCs, and partnerships) with 500 employees or less. In determining “head count,” these business should include all employees (full or part-time and seasonal), but not independent contractors or volunteers.

    The program is also open to self-employed individuals and contractors, who can apply for themselves.

    SBA also requires that farms and agricultural businesses first explore Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan programs, particularly if the applicant has a prior or existing relationship with FSA. For more information about FSA loans and policies, check out USDA’s Farm Loan Compass.

    Use of Funds

    The loans can be used to cover payroll, paid sick leave or medical leave, insurance premiums, rent costs, mortgage interest, and interest on debt obligations incurred before February 15, 2020. The stated intent of the program is to “provide relief to American small businesses and keep workers paid and employed.”

    How to Apply

    The loans are processed through “SBA approved lenders.” If you don’t have a lender, SBA has a program called Lender Match, which allows applicants to find approved lenders by state. Those businesses that apply need to certify that the current economic uncertainty makes the loan request necessary to support ongoing operations.

    To begin preparing your application, you can download a copy of the PPP borrower application form to see the information that will be requested from you when you apply with a lender.

    These loans are on a first-come, first-served basis, so we recommend applying as soon as you can.

    Loan Forgiveness

    The loan may be fully forgiven if the funds are used for payroll costs, mortgage interest, rent, and utilities. At least 75 percent of the forgiven amount must have been used for payroll. Loan payments will also be deferred for six months. No collateral or personal guarantees are required. Neither the government nor lenders will charge small businesses any fees.

    Loan forgiveness is not automatic or guaranteed. Forgiveness is based on the employer maintaining or quickly rehiring employees and maintaining salary levels. The loan can be forgiven if employees are kept on payroll for eight weeks and the loan is used as intended. Forgiveness will be reduced if full-time headcount declines, or if salaries and wages decrease. This loan has a maturity of 2 years and an interest rate of 1 percent.

    Other Considerations

    Farmers will want to evaluate all options available to them to see if PPP loans make the most sense for their operations. For example, small farms who have very few employees and associated payroll may not receive significant benefit from PPP loans.

    Also, the demand for the program has been so high that few businesses have been able to have their loans processed. Congress tried to allocate more than $200 billion additional to the program unsuccessfully last week, but is likely to add more resources to this program soon.

    Taking Action for the Future

    It is important to ensure that as programs—like PPP and the $9.5 billion allocated to the Commodity Credit Corporation—are implemented for the express purpose of assisting farmers and small businesses, that Congress hears from farmers that need this assistance the most.

    If you operate without a safety net like subsidized crop insurance, Title One commodity supports, or Market Facilitation Payments, please contact your members of Congress to ensure they are thinking about you when future decisions are made.

    You can call the U.S. capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Their aides compile the number and types of calls received and this DOES impact legislation and appropriation of resources.

    Contact Us

    If you apply for PPP, or contact your member of Congress, send us a note describing your experience so that we can represent your concerns in our advocacy work and ensure the process is transparent and accountable to taxpayers.

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    OEFFA’s Top 10 Policy Highlights for 2019

    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:

    OEFFA Members and Staff at May 2019 Lobby Day

    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! 

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    Nourishing People, Nurturing the Planet: A Call to Action on World Food Day

    Today is “World Food Day,” an international day of action when people from around the world come together to declare their commitment to eradicating global hunger.

    As we join with the state, national, and international community today, it is important to critically consider the ways in which our food system so often fails us. Millions of people suffer from obesity and obesity-related diseases and more than a billion people globally are overweight.

    At the same time, 10 percent of the world—821 million people—currently experience chronic hunger. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued a report saying the impact of the climate crisis on agriculture will result in growing world hunger, unless there are seismic shifts in global land use, production methods, food waste, and human diets.

    Acknowledging this, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has made a commitment to these broader food system issues, stating that achieving zero hunger is “about nourishing people, while nurturing the planet.”

    Rather than calling for farmers to “get big or get out” in order to “feed the world,” the focus should be on true sustainability for the planet and agricultural justice for its people. On this important day, let us commit to a sustainable food system that pays farmers a living wage, provides ecosystem benefits, and feeds and nourishes communities with diets appropriate to culture and place.

    According to M. Jaji Chappell, political agroecologist and Executive Director of Food First, “It is within our reach to end hunger in the world. It has been within our reach for a while now. But the challenges we must surmount to achieve this have been fundamentally, essentially institutional.”

    Institutional capacity for food system change has been building in Ohio for many years starting with powerful community level efforts including food councils, the Ohio Agricultural Clearance Program, the Ohio Food Policy Advisory Council, and recently the Ohio Smart Agriculture effort.

    Ohio has a strong and committed group of volunteers in the Ohio Food Policy Network that has been building our capacity for fundamentally changing our food system for the better.

    On this World Food Day, join us in calling on Ohio Governor Mike DeWine to formally invest in state institutional capacity to support these efforts and the organizations doing good work for farmers and eaters in Ohio.

    Please take action and contact Governor DeWine now using the form below.