Legislation Introduced in Congress to Support Local and Organic Food

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–November 4, 2011.  On Tuesday, November 1, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Representative Chellie Pingree of Maine along with 35 original co-sponsors, introduced the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act (LFFJA) – S. 1773 and H.R. 3286 – a comprehensive bill intended for inclusion in the 2012 Farm Bill. The legislation helps farmers and ranchers by addressing production, aggregation, processing, marketing, and distribution needs to access growing local and regional food markets. The bill would provide critical support for a number of programs that benefit organic farmers and the organic industry, as well. It also assists consumers by improving access to healthy food. The measure provides secure farm bill funding for critically important programs that support organic and family farms, expand new farming opportunities, create rural jobs, and invest in the local food and agriculture economy. Take action.

Among the provisions of the bill that would benefit organic producers are an increase in funding and payment caps for certification assistance, elimination of surcharges on crop insurance for organic farmers and development of more accurate price estimates, and expansion of specialty crop block grants that often are awarded to organic operations (“specialty crops” being the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s term for fruits and vegetables).

The bill would expand the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP), a key initiative which uses funds allocated through the farm bill to provide financial and technical assistance to producers as they seek to certify or recertify their organic operation. Many farmers, especially new farmers or those with small acreages, who are interested in transitioning to organic production face hurdles in initial investment, due in part to the costs of obtaining certification. Even existing operations can have difficulty with the costs of such certification expenses as pesticide residue testing. NOCCSP encourages farmers to obtain, or continue obtaining, certification by lessening these costs, thereby helping the organic sector to continue its growth.

Currently, NOCCSP is funded with a one-time allotment from the 2008 farm bill of $22 million through 2012, with $4.87 million allocated by Congress for fiscal year 2010. LFFJA would increase funding for the program and spread it out evenly at $10 million a year. Additionally, the program contains a cap on how much money a single producer can receive in a given year. Currently the cap stands at $750 per year, but LFFJA would increase that cap to $1,000 per year per producer.

Liana Hoodes, Director of the National Organic Coalition, explains, “NOCCSP is the only program that assists organic farmers with their cost of certification. This is especially important to encourage small and medium-size organic farms to transition to organic in order to meet the growing consumer demand and to maintain a diversity in scale of organic operations.”

Crop insurance is a key part of many farm operations, as it protects farmers from natural disasters, crop loss, or other damages that could result in serious financial loss. As currently administered by the USDA Risk Management Agency, the crop insurance program requires organic farmers to pay a surcharge on their insurance. In addition, organic crops are not insured at the prices that they actually receive on the market, but rather at the same rates that a conventional commodity would receive. This means that an organic farmer who experienced a crop loss and received compensation through crop insurance would receive significantly less money than if he or she had been able to actually sell the crops.

LFFJA seeks to correct both of the current imbalances in the crop insurance program by eliminating RMA’s surcharge on insuring organic crops and by developing a new price series for organic crop insurance that reflects the actual prices organic crops receive in the market.

The bill would also increase support for and coordinate administration of research on classically bred (not genetically engineered) varieties of plants and livestock for agriculture. This would help to counteract the growing dominance of genetically engineered seeds and plant varieties in the marketplace. Without easy access to classically bred crop varieties, farmers, especially organic, are put at a severe disadvantage in terms of their costs of production and seed procurement as well as what they are able to produce.

The bill contains numerous other provisions to enhance local, regional, and sustainable food systems as a whole, including support for small producers and beginning farmers, increased access to local food for low income communities, and increased research funding on sustainable food systems. The goal of the bill is to enhance food sovereignty by increasing the viability of local and sustainable food systems. It aims to increase development, infrastructure, and support for small diversified farmers producing food for their communities. See this fact sheet for further details on the specific programs and changes that the bill contains.

For more information on organic food and farming, visit our organic program page.

TAKE ACTION: Call or email your Senators and Representative and urge them to support these bills, S. 1773 and H.R. 3286, the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act. Support for organic agriculture and local food systems is essential to ensuring a fair and sustainable future for all of us.

Source: National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, beyondpesticides.org

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.