The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was signed into law on August 16, 2022. Among its other aims, the act includes investments in federal programs that address the climate crisis, like those in support of climate-smart agriculture practices. As such, part of the IRA’s $19.5 billion package includes funding for oversubscribed conservation programs implemented by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). In fiscal year 2023, this means $850 million will be available for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).
Additional Investments for Thousands of Farmers and Millions of Acres
In total, the IRA will provide an additional $1.4 billion for ACEP, $4.95 billion for RCPP, $8.45 billion for EQIP, and $3.25 billion for CSP. The funding begins in fiscal year 2023 and will continue to rapidly build over the span of four years. Providing direct mitigation benefits, these programs will support climate-smart agriculture through financial and technical assistance to help farmers advance on-farm conservation practices.
Formerly, there have been about twice as many farmers applying for CSP as those who receive funding. The IRA will help to address the issue of oversubscription and underfunding. According to the USDA, “These additional investments are estimated to help hundreds of thousands of farmers and ranchers apply conservation to millions of acres of land.”
What are Climate-Smart Agricultural Practices?
To date, the IRA is the most significant federal investment in climate-smart agriculture. It bolsters existing USDA programs that mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis while strengthening a farm operation. So, what are examples of climate-smart agriculture?
Climate-smart agriculture practices are numerous and varied. For farmers, they include activities like resource-conserving crop rotations, buffer strips, and even mulching to improve soil health. Climate-smart agricultural examples for ranchers include rotational grazing and forage plantings that help to increase organic matter in depleted soil.
CSP at a Glance
The CSP helps forest and agricultural producers take their existing conservation efforts and climate-smart practices to the next level. Covering more acres on a multi-year basis than other conservation programs, CSP encourages farmers and ranchers to protect natural resources and improve the environment—while supporting profitability.
The technical and financial assistance targets five key conservation areas:
- Air, soil, and water quality
- Carbon sequestration
- Biodiversity and pollinator and wildlife habitat
- Natural resource concerns in a particular area (i.e., erosion, water quality)
- Water and energy conservation
Agricultural producers who make use of eligible climate-smart agricultural practices can apply for CSP funding. The enrollment process is competitive. Applications are ranked based on conservation plans, which are developed with an NRCS agent. Fortunately, as a result of the IRA, more producers in 2023 will have access to conservation assistance and funding from the CSP.
Get Paid for the Climate-Smart Practices You Use
“The Inflation Reduction Act provided a once-in-a-generation investment in conservation on working lands, and we want to work with agricultural and forest landowners to invest in climate-smart practices that create value and economic opportunity for producers,” said Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack. Payment amounts vary and are based on conservation practices, but all CSP contracts pay a minimum annual payment of $1,500 (up to approximately $40,000 a year).
If you control land and its production, you’re eligible for CSP. This includes landowners, renters, and owners who crop share. To take advantage of CSP’s increased funding as a result of the IRA, it’s imperative to apply by your state’s ranking dates. In Ohio, the first application cutoff date for the IRA-CSP funding pool is April 7, 2023.
To begin the application process, contact your local NRCS office. Along with an agent, you can use Ohio’s IRA CSP activity list to determine eligibility for the program. Based on the climate-smart agriculture activities you use and plan to use, you’ll work with an agent to complete the Conservation Assessment Ranking Tool (CART). Your conservation efforts will be assessed against those from other applicants. If you rank highly, you will be offered a five-year contract and funding. Historically underserved farmers receive special consideration.
The Benefits of CSP
Thousands of people voluntarily enroll in CSP—a number that will be even higher as a result of IRA funding. They often see real results, like improved wildlife habitats, increased resiliency to extreme weather and market volatility, and a decreased spending on agricultural inputs. Do you engage with CSP and the use of climate-smart agriculture practices? If so, please contact us to share your experiences. The 2023 Farm Bill provides an opportunity for us to continue advocating for NRCS programs like CSP.
The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meets twice each year to hear public comments, discuss agenda items, and vote regarding issues and materials for use in organic production and handling systems. The outcomes of the board votes are shared as advice to the Secretary of Agriculture, which then often returns to the organic community with clarifications or changes to the organic standards.
The last meeting was held online October 25-27, 2022. Thanks to those of you who submitted comments to the NOSB or shared your ideas with us. OEFFA drew on that feedback to provide comprehensive comments to the NOSB.
The following are highlights from that fall NOSB meeting. The spring NOSB meeting will take place April 25-27, 2023, in Atlanta, Georgia, with the National Organic Coalition pre-meeting on April 24.
If you’re interested in participating in future NOSB meetings or engaging in OEFFA’s Organic Work Group, contact Julia Barton.
OFRF: National Organic Research Agenda Report Update
Brise Tencer and Thelma Velez of the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) shared highlights from the National Organic Research Agenda report, highlighting particular challenges and opportunities for organic growers.
Proposal: Human Capital Management, NOSB Technical Support
Serving on the NOSB is a huge job, and OEFFA has long supported technical support for the NOSB, especially for farmer members. Although OEFFA’s comments, those of the National Organic Coalition, and others urged the board to seek this support in a way that fits each individual board member, and to look outside of the USDA for this technical support, the board voted to move forward with technical support from within USDA staff. We will be closely following this recommendation as it moves forward to the National Organic Program.
Proposal: Oversight Improvements to Deter Fraud, Acreage Reporting
OEFFA has included acres per crop type on our organic certificate for many years. As a fraud prevention tool, the NOSB proposed requiring acres per crop type and total acres on organic certificates. This makes audits easier to conduct and offers another publicly available verification point. It was recognized that there will need to be accommodations made for how acreage of small, diversified growers is listed on the certificate. OEFFA currently uses a “mixed vegetables” designation for this purpose. The board voted to require acreage reporting on the certificate moving forward.
Discussion Document: Oversight Improvements to Defer Fraud, Minimum Reporting Requirements
Discussion continued regarding other tools to help prevent fraud through consistent reporting. The OEFFA Grain Growers Chapter led in comments supporting a universal Bill of Lading, a tool grain growers use to communicate with mills about what’s in the truck, what field it came from, whether its food or feed quality, and its organic status. The thinking is that a standardized document would better serve farmers, mill operators, certifiers, and inspectors alike. They are often looking at these documents from multiple farmers during busy times of year, in performing mass balances, trace back audits, and noticing areas of potential fraudulent activity.
Discussion Document: Organic and Climate Smart Agriculture
OEFFA urged the USDA to take ownership of organic as a climate-smart agriculture tool, and proudly promote it as such in USDA communications. Instead, the NOSB took the approach of outlining the many climate-smart attributes of organic agriculture by category. We will be closely tracking the next iterations of this discussion document, as it may move forward in proposal form for the spring 2023 NOSB meeting.
Verbal Update: Excluded Methods
After some initial discussion regarding a possible place for genetic engineering (GE) technology in organic by outgoing board member Rick Greenwood, fellow NOSB member Mindee Jeffrey reiterated that GE technology remains a method excluded from organic production, stating:
“I appreciate the tone of yesterday’s conversation indicating the USDA’s commitment to open and collaborative dialogue. In that light, respectfully, stakeholders, consumers, and previous boards have been unanimous in upholding the excluded methods provisions, including the part of those definitions that refer to gene editing techniques. We are united in the understanding that this organic system has positioned all forms of genetic manipulation as excluded from organic systems, just as we have prohibited other substances, natural or synthetic. I also appreciate that when stakeholder groups have questioned USDA on this issue, the USDA has responded by saying, ‘We appreciate your initiative in discussing the role of gene editing with your members and sharing the outcome with USDA. Genetically modified organisms, including gene editing, are considered excluded methods, and are prohibited in organic agriculture under the USDA Organic Regulations.”
No NOSB recommendations will take effect until the National Organic Program alters the regulations through rulemaking.
From January 29-February 1, OEFFA members and staff were on Capitol Hill as part of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s winter meeting and lobby day. It’s the first of four times OEFFA will be meeting with federal legislators to discuss the farm bill in the first three months of 2023!
Policy Director Amalie Lipstreu, Organic Policy Specialist Julia Barton, organic grain farmer Eli Dean, and Celeste Treece with Ag Noire and the Jackson Street Produce Market met with five of Ohio’s Congressional offices to discuss OEFFA’s priorities in the 2023 Farm Bill:
- Promoting soil health and climate resilience through conservation policy
- Increasing investments in local and regional food systems
- Addressing consolidation in the food and agriculture system
- Investing in organic and sustainable research
- Providing more support for beginning and BIPOC farmers
OEFFA Meets with Members of U.S. House of Representatives
With new legislators and their staff still getting settled in, it was visibly a time of transition in Washington D.C., particularly in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Senate and House offices are surprisingly small, so when OEFFA met with Julia Rossman, staff for Representative Shontel Brown, Eli and Julia sat on a pallet in the makeshift meeting space in a library. Celeste talked to Brown’s office about the importance of investing in urban agriculture and Eli spoke about the need to ensure better access to crop insurance.
Brown was elected to Ohio’s 11th Congressional district in 2021 after Marcia Fudge resigned to become Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. She is a member of the House Agriculture Committee, an important position for influencing federal agricultural policy. Brown is the first woman and first African American to serve as Cuyahoga County Democratic party chair, a position she held until 2022.
Nathaniel Dullea, a staffer for Representative Marcy Kaptur (D, OH-9), met with OEFFA and we asked for the Representative’s support for one of our priorities: state assistance for soil health. With a district stretching along Ohio’s north coast from Toledo to Erie County, Kaptur is the longest-serving woman in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives and ranks among the most senior Members of Congress. She currently serves on the House Appropriations Committee, which has authority over federal discretionary spending.
Next, OEFFA met with Mitch Caine, an aide to Representative Max Miller. Eli talked to Mitch about the economic development benefits of organic agriculture and about flame weeding systems, a tool used by organic farmers to control weeds without chemicals or cultivation. Miller represents Congressional district 7 in northeast Ohio, and is a former aide to Donald Trump.
OEFFA Meets with Both Ohio Senators
Additionally, OEFFA met with Wes King, legislative assistant to Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Celeste talked about support for urban agriculture in the farm bill and Eli talked about the importance of crop insurance reform, including setting payment limits. Wes said that the Senator is committed to introducing five farm bill marker bills related to crop insurance payment limits, increased support for local meat processing, cover crops, local and regional food systems, and an agroforestry bill focused on the Conservation Reserve Program.
Brown has represented Ohio in the U.S. Senate since 2006, and has consistently supported investments in local and regional food systems. He serves on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, where he has been instrumental in strengthening the farm safety net and addressing childhood hunger.
Finally, OEFFA met with a legislative director and agricultural staffer for the newly elected Senator J.D. Vance (R-OH). Eli was able to make a connection by sharing his story about his organic family farm and OEFFA staff helped introduce him to the organization and our work.
OEFFA Returns to Capitol Hill in March: Will You Join Us?
Both Eli and Celeste were amazing ambassadors for Ohio’s organic and sustainable farming community. We appreciate them taking time away from their farms, families, and businesses to advocate for their farm bill priorities!
With the current farm bill set to expire this year, OEFFA will be returning to Washington D.C. in March for a Rally for Resilience and days of action with the Organic Farmers Association and National Organic Coalition.
We will continue to advocate for a farm bill that helps achieve our vision of a future where sustainable farmers thrive, local food nourishes our communities, and agricultural practices protect and enhance the environment.
If you share these values and would like to attend future days of action or meetings with legislators, please contact us. We’d love to help raise your voice for a stronger farm bill!
Written by Ricardo Salvador, 2023 OEFFA Conference Keynote
The upcoming reauthorization of the farm bill will be the 23rd iteration of this legislation. According to Jonathan Coppess and Chris Adamo—Vermont Law School teachers of a course on the “modern farm bill”—this version could be revolutionary. They see the main driver of this potential departure being the role agriculture could play in mitigating climate change.
A Push for Business As Usual—But a Need for Something New
A problem with this otherwise sensible prediction is that it would require genuine change in farm practices and the policies that incentivize and support the structure of farming.
Already, the incoming chair of the House Agriculture Committee is on record stating that he “will not have us suddenly incorporate buzzwords like regenerative agriculture into the farm bill or overemphasize climate.” The president of the Iowa Farm Bureau—the most influential state chapter of the powerful national federation—wants the bill to stay the same, and continue to distribute public largesse without any expectation that it will return verifiable environmental benefits.
Of greatest concern is that in its recent announcements of nearly $3 billion in “climate smart commodity” awards, the USDA has amply demonstrated that the politics of farm country and agribusiness will dilute the Department’s ability to promote and support effective climate change action through agriculture.
There is a scientific component to this, but the most important factor is political. A patchwork of “climate friendly” voluntary practices used during any given production year will have limited ability to reverse greenhouse gas contributions—regardless of farmers’ positive intent. For this sector to meaningfully reverse its emissions, the massive changes in land use and row-crop and livestock production that are needed can only be brought about by the wide-reaching legislative power of the farm bill.
Revolutionary Farm Bills Throughout History
This brings us to the Coppess and Adamo analysis. On their telling, there have only been three truly revolutionary farm bills. They define these as legislation that completely shifted the direction of farm policy.
The most recent was the disastrous “Freedom to Farm” bill of 1996. It attempted to eliminate farm subsidies through a transitional program, but instead led to the consolidation of farmland into larger operations, and the failure and displacement of thousands of family farms. The system of government support was rapidly restored in the subsequent 2002 Farm Bill.
The first farm bill in 1933 was revolutionary precisely because it recognized the government’s essential role in agriculture: to manage the market for agricultural products in a way that farmers could not accomplish on their own. Farmers, and all of U.S. society, have lived since then with the reality of the determinative role of government programs in farming. All farm bill debates have largely been about whom and what to support with this massive public intervention (the current bill is a $428 billion package of tax dollars).
This brings up the remaining revolutionary farm bill, and a lesson for how to break the impasse created by powerful organizations and corporate interests dependent on government support—and which therefore have a stake in shaping and controlling “status quo” farm bills. The 1985 Food Security Act expanded the traditional interest groups vying for public tax dollars by bringing in the anti-hunger community.
This is what Coppess and Adamo identify as the beginning of the “modern” farm bill era, since the “Farm Bill Coalition” created to pass that bill has not only persisted, but the new “nutrition programs” they sponsored have become the lion’s share of the bill, capturing 76.1 percent of the most recent farm bill spending. The “farm side” and “nutrition side” need one another to be politically viable. And this is the ultimate lesson that Coppess and Adamo drew: it is all about the coalitions you bring to the debate.
Shaking Up the Status Quo
At the Union of Concerned Scientists, we have been working with a large number of partners, including OEFFA, to shape a new, broader coalition for the farm bill debate. By definition, a status quo approach to the farm bill begins with the existing legislation as a template, and is about making minimal adjustments.
A transformational approach calls for us to ask what we need from a 21st century food system, and to then craft that legislation without the constraints of programs designed to answer different questions from a different era.
The new coalition is led by the notion that many have a stake, in particular groups representing large communities historically excluded from shaping farm and food policy. We see the bill as a vehicle to center the racial justice issues accounting for farming being a dominantly white occupation, with the labor side of the farm and food system being a conspicuously Brown and Black work force.
This is why the coalition marks the return of the labor sector, which was an essential partner with farmers—as a grassroots, working-class coalition—in shaping the original agricultural policies embedded in the 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act.
No matter your perspective, we can agree this is indisputably a transformational approach to the traditional “farm bill debate.” Accordingly, the coalition’s priority demands are seen as a package, a set of issues so interrelated they cannot be effectively addressed by breaking them apart. They are:
- Center racial justice
- End hunger
- Meet the climate crisis head on
- Increase access to nutritious food
- Ensure safety and dignity for food and farm workers
- Protect farmers and consumers
- Ensure the safety of our food supply
All of us who are involved are pragmatic, and understand this approach is a long shot. This is because of powerful entrenched interests (the agribusiness lobby is larger than the defense lobby), and not because this suite of issues is not well-framed, urgent, and relevant to the times in which we live.
The status quo interests have vulnerabilities, key among which is the difficulty they will have in making the straight-faced argument that they need more of the lavish public support that has led to historical farm profits and farmland values. Coppess, who has authored what I consider to be the landmark book on the farm bill’s history, has been warning Midwest farm groups that the sailing might not be smooth for the “bipartisan approach” (code word for status quo) that such groups would like to see in the bill.
At the upcoming OEFFA conference, we will discuss the prospects, strategy, and progress of this transformational campaign, and the key role that OEFFA can play in advancing this work. After all, the farm bill is legislation in which every person in the nation has a stake, and no effort to take part in the farm bill process can be credible without the genuine and active participation of farmer groups.
Ricardo Salvador is an agronomist and the director and senior scientist of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. His keynote address, A Transformational Idea for the 2023 Farm Bill, will take place on Saturday, February 18 at the 2023 OEFFA Conference. Learn more about OEFFA’s 2023 Farm Bill Platform.
Organic and sustainable farmers work hard every day to practice good conservation on their land. They plant cover crops to feed the soil and protect it from erosion. They draw carbon from the atmosphere, protect our waterways, and improve wildlife and pollinator habitat. Many farmers would like to expand their practices to include no- and reduced-tillage systems, rotational grazing, and agroforestry.
But, these important practices, which benefit us all, require time and financial resources to implement. Hard-working farmers should not have to bear those costs alone. Luckily, there are programs available to help.
Right now, farmers across the country can apply for this year’s Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). This program provides payments to farmers who use new and existing conservation practices. Applications are due in April.
What is the Conservation Stewardship Program?
CSP is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) largest conservation program. It offers whole farm conservation assistance to farmers across the country. Sign-up opportunities are available each year.
The program provides financial assistance for advanced conservation through five-year renewable contracts to implement all kinds of conservation practices, including crop rotations, cover crops, and rotational grazing.
Many organic producers already use practices that are detailed in this Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) program or can benefit from using CSP to provide wildlife habitat, conservation buffers, protect water quality, and much more.
Changes to the program as a result of the 2018 Farm Bill include a higher payment rate for some conservation activities and specific support for organic and transitioning producers. Historically underserved farmers (including BIPOC, veteran, and beginning farmers) receive special consideration.
Yet, few Ohio farmers have taken advantage of this opportunity.
How Do I Sign Up for the Conservation Stewardship Program?
Applying to CSP is simple. By April (exact deadline to be announced), farmers must complete and submit an application by contacting their local local NRCS office.
Importantly, you need to have a farm record number established through the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA).
If you don’t have an FSA number, go to your FSA office to establish a farm record number before submitting your CSP application.
Applicants must also have control of the land for the five-year term of the CSP contract.
After submitting your application, you will work with NRCS to complete the tools to evaluate management systems and natural resources on the operation’s land.
If you plan to apply for CSP, drop us a line and let us know, or if you need assistance implementing conservation practices on your farm, contact one of OEFFA’s sustainable agriculture educators at (614) 947-1647.
The Conservation Stewardship Program and the 2023 Farm Bill
Every 5 years, Congress outlines the scope and funding of CSP and other programs in the Farm Bill. The next 2023 Farm Bill gives us the opportunity to expand and improve CSP so it better meets farmers’ needs.
But, to do that, we need to make sure that our legislators understand how important these conservation programs are.
Members of Congress need to hear how farmers in their communities are using these programs to create healthy soil, protect our waterways, and increase resilience. The best way to get that message across is for farmers to use these programs and share their stories. If your farm has used CSP, please contact us to share your story.
If you aren’t a farmer, your voice also matters. By creating healthy soil and clean water, these programs benefit us all. Please contact us to learn more about how you can help advocate for CSP and other conservation programs in the 2023 Farm Bill.
This post originally appeared on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) blog.
“Do no harm” to crop insurance has become a common refrain in Washington DC as we gear up for a new farm bill this year. NSAC agrees that a top priority should be to not harm crop insurance as the 2023 Farm Bill debate heats up. In fact, we aim to improve it. Barriers in program design and implementation leave small to mid-sized, beginning, specialty crop, and organic farmers without access to this pivotal safety net program, and Congress has the opportunity to address these shortfalls.
A federally subsidized farm safety net is a necessary tool to help protect farmers from the many risks of farming. Yet NSAC members have long supported and worked with farmers for whom crop insurance is inaccessible. Limited resource, small, beginning, diverse, and organic farmers find themselves choosing between either purchasing crop insurance each year, if a relevant policy is even available and advertised to them, or adopting on-farm conservation practices and diversifying production and markets to mitigate risk and improve long-term resilience against disasters. Almost invariably, they choose the latter.
If a farmer chooses to adopt conservation measures and diversification but then does not have enough remaining resources to be able to enroll in support of the farm safety net, it suggests that the program as it currently stands is not an effective tool that meets the needs of all farmers. No farmer should be forced to choose, and in fact, both strategies should be incentivized to help farmers manage risk.
While more than 85 percent of planted acres for commodity crops (e.g., corn, soybeans, cotton, and wheat) are insured under the federal crop insurance program (FCIP), the chart below illustrates most farms are not served at all by the program. Most farms above 500 acres hold insurance policies, yet very few farms under 260 acres are enrolled in the FCIP relative to the total number of operations.
All Farms and Farms Purchasing FCIP Policies, by Acres Operated
The reason for this disparity in access is not because these farmers do not want a safety net to protect against the once-in-a-generation weather event or market pitfall that have become regular features of the farm economy. Rather, the FCIP was not designed to meet the needs of small, beginning, specialty crop, and organic farmers.
Why Is Crop Insurance Not Working for Everyone?
First, because it is not accessible to farmers looking to diversify their income streams or differentiate themselves in the marketplace.
The federal crop insurance program is a public-private partnership. Farmers purchase insurance policies from private sector insurers, known as Approved Insurance Providers (AIPs). USDA, specifically the Risk Management Agency (RMA), regulates the policies sold by AIPs, uses taxpayer dollars to subsidize farmer premiums (the cost of purchasing a policy), and subsidizes AIPs for the cost of selling and servicing crop insurance policies.
Farmers may file a claim to receive an indemnity payment when they experience an insurable event, either a natural peril or revenue losses (depending on the type of insurance policy purchased: yield, revenue, or area-based policies, and more). Insurable commodities vary by location and depend on whether data exists to verify the projected value of a farmer’s product confidently and appropriately.
This variability in whether a crop is insurable already places small, beginning, and specialty crop growers at a structural disadvantage. For example, a beginning farmer who wishes to grow strawberries in a Montana county where no other producer grows that crop will almost certainly not have the option to purchase an insurance policy that insures strawberries. If they desire the security of a safety net, the farmer will be incentivized to instead grow a commodity that is already widely grown in the county – such as wheat – which is unlikely to unlock market opportunity and allow the beginning farmer to differentiate themselves, but for which an insurance product is readily available.
Second, because it promotes monoculture commodity production over specialty crops and on-farm conservation.
Several rules and guidelines that determine how the FCIP is administered challenge the ability of nonconventional farmers to remain eligible for full crop insurance protections. For example, farmers must adhere to “Good Farming Practices” as defined by RMA to qualify for indemnity payments in the aftermath of an insurable event. RMA currently maintains that a practice which reduces yields may not be considered a Good Farming Practice. This is a serious deterrent against adoption of many conservation practices because temporary yield drags are common on farms transitioning to climate-friendly, regenerative, and organic systems before yields can stabilize and even rise.
Additional guidance on when and how cover crops may be terminated creates a similar disincentive. What should be a farm-specific decision is applied to a broad region wherein conditions may vary wildly from farm to farm.
Likewise, RMA determines regionally appropriate final planting dates, wherein acres planted on or before this date receive the full yield or revenue guarantee that a farmer selected when purchasing their insurance policy. Organic and conventional operations are currently held to the same final planting date, even though certified organic farmers sometimes plant crops such as corn later than their conventional counterparts to avoid cross-contamination with neighboring genetically engineered seed. The value of a yield or revenue guarantee is reduced each day for farmers who plant after the final planting date.
This structure to incentivize monoculture commodity production over specialty crops and diverse rotations is mirrored in eligibility considerations to receive agriculture loans as well as other public and commercial resources. The Whole-Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) program is an exception to this paradigm and the dominant insurance model where the availability of policies is determined by crop and county. WFRP is the only insurance product designed to protect a farmer’s entire operation, not just one crop, and it is available nationwide. It also includes a built-in insurance premium discount for crop and enterprise diversification that considers the inherent risk reduction impacts of diversification. However, significant red tape has made it difficult for farmers to purchase WFRP. Recent changes announced by RMA are expected to improve farmers’ ability to access the product, and additional changes can and should be made.
How Can Insurance Be Improved to Expand Access?
There are many reasons why small, beginning, organic, diversified, and specialty crop farmers rarely purchase crop insurance. Historical barriers include limited policy availability, bureaucratic red tape (including burdensome paperwork), and insufficient outreach and education. While Congress and USDA in recent years have taken steps to address these challenges and expand insurance coverage for nonconventional producers, additional reforms are needed.
NSAC’s 2023 Farm Bill Platform proposes recommendations that will be key to improving crop insurance access for small and diversified farmers. In summary, these needed reforms include:
- Expanding insurance options and further streamlining the WFRP program;
- Directing RMA to provide continued education to insurance agents about agronomic practices and coverage options for nonconventional producers;
- Reforming barriers to conservation practice adoption perpetuated by insurance rules, including the RMA definition of Good Farming Practices and cover crop termination guidelines; and
- Establishing a secure data service to collect, link, and analyze data on conservation practices so this information can be integrated into crop insurance actuarial tables, as proposed in the Agriculture Innovation Act of 2021.
Remember: low enrollment in federal crop insurance policies among small and diversified farms does not reflect disinterest in participation. Overwhelmingly, these farmers desire a safety net to protect themselves from the worst impacts of unpredictable weather events and market variability, just as any other farmer does. It is the responsibility of Congress to ensure these historically underserved farmers can purchase an insurance policy as easily as their conventional counterparts.
The 2023 Farm Bill presents an important opportunity to increase support for sustainable, ecological, and organic farming practices.
OEFFA members know this kind of farming is a real solution to the climate crisis. We know that good farming respects and enhances the health of the land, people, and the natural world—and we need policies that reflect that knowledge.
We have a choice. We can continue the status quo and hope things don’t get worse. Or we can act now to address the threat, including the more frequent extreme weather events farmers are facing. We can each be champions of organic, sustainable, and regenerative solutions to the climate crisis.
Here’s the TWO things you can do right NOW to make sure climate solutions are in the next Farm Bill:
Sign the National Farmer Letter on Climate Change!
Please add your name to this farmer letter on climate change and send Congress this message: the next farm bill must be a climate bill.
Farmers need funding, research, and risk management tools to implement climate-friendly farming practices. The Agriculture Resilience Act is a comprehensive plan to implement these solutions in the next Farm Bill. Sign on to show your support now.
Not a farmer yourself? Share this page with someone in your network.
Save the Date for the Rally for Resilience!
Farmers, farm workers, and farmer allies—including OEFFA—will be converging on Washington D.C. March 6-8 to urge Congress to make climate change policy a priority in the 2023 Farm Bill.
The three-day event will include a rally and march, as well as an opening ceremony, grazing demonstration, press events, and a lobby day.
Save the date! Opportunities to participate and register are coming soon. Contact OEFFA Grassroots Organizer Heather Dean to learn more.
Farmland Access is the Biggest Challenge Young Farmers Face
The cost of buying or leasing land, combined with other significant start-up costs, puts a farming career out of reach for many. Farmers of color, in particular, have been historically disenfranchised from the land and unable to access USDA credit programs.
But, we need these next generation farmers on the land. Secure land tenure allows farmers to invest in practices and management systems that are sustainable, provide resilience, and strengthen the viability of our food system. It also helps protect Ohio’s disappearing farmland from development.
OEFFA Members Celebrate Statehouse Win
Beginning January 1, 2023, early career farmers can get some extra help accessing land and equipment through the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit, which is administered by the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA).
The Beginning Farmer Tax Credit program was created through the Family Farm ReGeneration Act (House Bill 95) and signed into law by Governor Mike DeWine in April 2022. This OEFFA-backed, bipartisan bill received near unanimous support and was co-sponsored by Representatives Susan Manchester (R-84) and Mary Lightbody (D-19).
Over the course of more than two years, more than 600 OEFFA members signed a petition, met with legislators, testified during hearings, and participated in lobby days to convey the importance of land access for Ohio’s 33,000 beginning farmers. Read more about OEFFA’s grassroots work that led to this victory, and see the photos of OEFFA’s members throughout this page.
What Beginning Farmers Need to Know
The tax credit is available to Ohio residents who have farmed for less than 10 years and who farm or intend to farm on land in Ohio. Beginning farmers also have to demonstrate financial eligibility, submit projected earnings statements, participate in a financial management program approved by the ODA, and meet other eligibility requirements.
In addition to receiving help accessing land or equipment from a participating asset owner, the beginning farmer receives a tax credit for the cost of the financial management program.
What Asset Owners Need to Know
Asset owners, or people or businesses that sell or rent farmland, livestock, buildings, or equipment to a qualifying beginning farmer may apply as well.
In order for land to qualify as an asset, it must either total at least 10 acres or produce an average annual farm income of at least $2,500.
Equipment dealers and similar businesses that sell agricultural assets for profit are not eligible for the credit.
Asset owners can receive a 3.99% tax credit on the sale price or three-year gross rental income.
Seeds are Storytellers
A single kernel of corn contains the genetic story of how its ancestor plants adapted and survived. It tells the story of the humans who tended those plants over millennia, selecting varieties that could thrive in poor soils and in the face of drought.
In Mexico, the birthplace of corn, indigenous communities have created hundreds of varieties of seed, each with its own surprising storyline. For example, one variety of corn which has long been stewarded by the Mixe people of Oaxaca was recently found to fix its own nitrogen. This unexpected discovery, which could potentially contribute to the fight against climate change, reinforces the importance of the link between biodiversity and indigenous and local seed stewardship.
U.S. Trade Policy and Genetic Engineering Threaten Local Seed Sovereignty
Unfortunately, developments in U.S. trade policy since the 1990’s have weakened, rather than supported, indigenous peoples in Mexico and local communities in the United States.
Prior to the free trade agreements of the early 1990’s, Mexico was self-sufficient in corn production for human consumption, and relied primarily on sorghum for animal feed.
But a flood of cheap, subsidized corn from the United States made it impossible for local producers to compete, resulting in an increased dependency on imports for livestock feed, and a decrease in production of local varieties.
This situation was further complicated in the late 1990’s by the introduction of genetically modified (GM) seed, which was soon found to have contaminated native corn varieties.
To protect both human health and genetic diversity, the Mexican government put a moratorium on the use of GM seed in 1998. In 2020, they issued a decree banning imports of GM corn and in 2024 they banned the herbicide glyphosate.
In response, the United States has threatened action against Mexico, stating that the ban would cause economic loss and affect bilateral trade.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack emphasized “in no uncertain terms that — absent acceptable resolution of the issue — the U.S. government would be forced to consider all options, including taking formal steps to enforce our legal rights” under the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement.
In response to this pressure, Mexico announced that it would extend the start date for the ban to 2025 and that it was working on a proposal to overhaul its plan.
Ending Corn Imperialism and Transforming American Agriculture
The threats made by the U.S. government undermine Mexico’s right to protect its indigenous communities and their seed heritage.
U.S. policy harms American agriculture as well, by locking us into an industrial system that undermines local communities, pollutes our waterways, and fuels climate change.
Instead of forcing GM crops on Mexico, the U.S. Department of Agriculture should focus on transforming American agriculture for the better.
- Support for farmers to move away from chemical intensive agriculture and transition to organic
- Support for grass-based grazing rather than feedlots that rely heavily on corn
- Publicly funded research on non-GM seed varieties collaborating with and compensating indigenous communities
- Development of local staple foods processing systems (watch this recent interview with OEFFA member Michelle Ajamian on why this is important)
- Creation of soil health programs to reverse carbon loss and help store carbon in the soil
To learn more about how you can support these solutions in the 2023 Farm Bill and in the Ohio legislature, please contact the OEFFA policy team.
Guest blog post by Jim Riddle, Organic Independents LLP, Blue Fruit Farm
The fundamental concepts of organic farming have always been, “Feed the Soil, not the Plant,” and “Healthy Soil leads to Healthy Crops, Healthy Animals, Healthy People, and a Healthy Planet.” Now, those concepts have been turned on their head, with a recent Appeals Court ruling that you don’t even need soil for growing terrestrial crops, in order to be certified organic in the United States.
If the ruling is allowed to stand, it will mean that crops grown using hydroponic methods can officially be certified as “organic,” as has been done by a handful of renegade certification agencies for a number of years. Consumers will continue to be deceived when they buy organic products, thinking that such products were grown in healthy soil, using methods that “foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity,” as required by the legal definition of “organic production.”
It will also mean that authentic organic farmers, who produce crops in healthy soil, who protect and enhance the biological diversity of their operations, and who use green manures, cover crops, crop rotations, and compost to recycle nutrients, will continue to compete with hydroponic operations that use inputs “approved for organic use,” but do not comply with the soil building, crop rotation, and ecological requirements of the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) and the National Organic Regulations (7 CFR 205).
Decision Violates Organic Foods Production Act
The Court’s ruling directly contradicts a stated purpose of the OFPA, which is “to assure consumers that organically produced products meet a consistent standard.” Consumers who purchase “organic” blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and leafy greens will have no way of knowing if those products were produced by operations that comply with all requirements of OFPA and 7 CFR 205, or if those products were produced by hydroponic operations that only use “approved inputs” in their nutrient solutions.
In its ruling, the Court stated, “the statute imposes three requirements for organic crops—a restriction on synthetic chemicals,” 7 U.S.C. § 6504(1); a prohibition on growing organic crops “on land to which any prohibited substances . . . have been applied,” id. § 6504(2); and a requirement that organic products “be produced and handled in compliance with an organic plan,” id. § 6504(3).”
The OFPA requirements for an organic crop production plan, at 6513(b)(1), state, “An organic plan shall contain provisions designed to foster soil fertility, primarily through the management of the organic content of the soil through proper tillage, crop rotation, and manuring.” (emphasis added.)
The Court stated, “USDA’s decision [to allow “organic” hydroponic] interpreted that provision to mean that if crops are grown in soil, their producers must take measures to preserve that soil’s ‘fertility’ and ‘organic content.’” (emphasis not added.)
That interpretation is not supported by the OFPA, which contains no language that allows for organic crop production plans which do not address soil fertility. The word “if” is not used in the plain language of section 6513(b), which establishes the requirements for organic crop production plans.
In addition, the Court failed to address the fact that USDA has issued no rules or regulations to guide the organic certification of hydroponic operations. In fact, there is no language in the OFPA or 7 CFR 205 that supports organic certification of hydroponic systems.
The Court went further, stating that the USDA’s “interpretation is consistent with the OFPA, which provides that ‘…[i]f a production or handling practice is not prohibited or otherwise restricted under this chapter, such practice shall be permitted unless it is determined that such practice would be inconsistent with the applicable organic certification program.’ 7 U.S.C. § 6512.” (emphasis added).
That interpretation is extremely dangerous, and could open the door to all sorts of technologies, systems, and practices, such as genetic engineering and food irradiation, which are not explicitly prohibited by the OFPA, from being approved for organic use, if the regulatory prohibition on such practices is challenged in court.
Decision Violates National Organic Regulations
There is a silver lining on this issue, however – the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), which is charged by the OFPA with providing advice to USDA regarding implementation of the organic law and with making “consistency” determinations, clearly stated, in April 2010, by a decisive 12-1 vote, that, “Hydroponics, the production of plants in nutrient rich solutions or moist inert material, or aeroponics, a variation in which plant roots are suspended in air and continually misted with nutrient solution, have their place in production agriculture, but certainly cannot be classified as certified organic growing methods due to their exclusion of the soil-plant ecology intrinsic to organic farming systems and USDA/NOP regulations governing them.”
This is a clear indication that USDA’s statutory advisory board has ruled that hydroponic production is not consistent with organic certification. This important fact was ignored by the Court.
Likewise, the Court failed to mention that the NOSB, in establishing the “Principles of Organic Production and Handling” by a 15-0 vote in October 2001, stated, “Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity.” The Principles go on to state, at point 1.2, “An organic production system is designed to optimize soil biological activity.”
The Court ignored the General requirement section of 7 CFR 205.200, which states, “The producer or handler of a production or handling operation intending to sell, label, or represent agricultural products as ‘100 percent organic,’ ‘organic,’ or ‘made with organic (specified ingredients or food group(s))’ must comply with the applicable provisions of this subpart. Production practices implemented in accordance with this subpart must maintain or improve the natural resources of the operation, including soil and water quality.”
7 CFR 205.2 defines the “natural resources of the operation” as “the physical, hydrological, and biological features of a production operation, including soil, water, wetlands, woodlands, and wildlife.” Hydroponic operations do not comply with this provision, since the crops are produced in isolation from soil and natural resources.
The Court even ignored the definition of “organic production” at 7 CFR 205.2, which requires that organic production systems integrate “cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”
There is no way that hydroponic operations comply with the soil fertility requirements of the OFPA 6513(b)(1); the natural resource requirements of 7 CFR 205.200; the definition of “organic production” in 7 CFR Part 205.2; or are consistent with organic certification, as ruled by the NOSB.
What Can We Do?
To protect organic farming, as we know it, what can be done? There are a number of viable options:
- Partial Appeal – Parties who filed the original suit can challenge the substantive portions of the Court’s ruling, due to the omissions, misinterpretations, and misrepresentations it contains.
- New Suit – A new lawsuit, based on the USDA’s failure to enforce the law and rule as written, could be filed by certified organic growers who follow all requirements, yet are forced to complete with hydroponic operations that only have to comply with “approved input” rules.
- New Suit – A new lawsuit could be filed by consumers, based on the USDA’s failure to enforce the law and rule as written, and for its failure to follow the second purpose of the OFPA “to assure consumers that organically produced products meet a consistent standard.”
- Economic Pressure – Expose the corporations, including Driscoll’s, Wholesum Harvest, Eden Green, Superior Fresh and others, which sell hydroponic products as “organic.”
- International Pressure – No other countries, including our major trading partners, allow hydroponic products to be labeled “organic” and most explicitly prohibit it. Pressure can be brought to bear to exclude hydroponic products, ingredients, and formulated products, certified as “organic” under the USDA, from accessing foreign markets, and reciprocity agreements can be amended.
- Support Local and Regional Organic Producers – Buy from local and regional organic growers who follow all OFPA and regulatory requirements. Plant organic gardens and orchards.
- Support the Real Organic Project and Rodale’s Regenerative Organic Certification, both of which highlight operations that fully comply with all requirements of OFPA and 7 CFR 205, including those which require soil building, crop rotation, protection of biodiversity, and natural resource management.
- Amend the Law – As a Big Plan B, amend the OFPA to make it clear that hydroponics, genetic engineering and food irradiation are not allowed in organic. Period.
While the USDA would like us to believe that this is a “settled issue,” it will not be settled until the USDA enforces the soil fertility provisions of 6513(b)(1) and uses its accreditation program to stop certification of hydroponic operations as “organic.”
Jim Riddle grew up on a small, diversified farm in Iowa, and has been involved in farming since graduating from Grinnell College in 1978. In addition to operating Blue Fruit Farm, Jim has been involved in the organic sector for more than 30 years as an organic inspector, consultant, educator, speaker, and activist. Jim was founding chair of the Winona Farmers Market and the International Organic Inspectors Association. He served on the National Organic Standards Board and on the boards of the International Organic Accreditation Service and the Organic Farmers Association.