Wins, Losses and Work Still Ahead
What does NOFA achieve by taking part in advocacy and policy work? It is good to look back and see whether joining in coalitions has led to any successful policy change.
In 1998 NOFA was part of a large coalition demanding that USDA withdraw the initial set of regulations they had proposed for the National Organic Program (NOP) and start over. Together with this coalition that included all organic farming associations and our faithful customers around the coun-try, we were successful in making this demand. USDA took another four years to complete a final Rule, the regulations that the NOP uses to this day. As Roger Blobaum, NOC member and long-time organic proponent, has remarked, “Getting the feds and organic farmers together in 1990 wasn’t easy. It certainly wasn’t love at first sight. It had many of the characteristics of a shotgun wedding and when it was over, there was no honeymoon. Although these two have tried to work things out, they have been on the verge of a breakup ever since.” (From a speech at the MOSES Conference, March 6, 1993). NOFA continues to watch-dog the NOP as a member of the National Organic Coalition (NOC).News on organic in the 2018 Farm Bill does not sound very hopeful. For more detail, see article on NOC by Abby Youngblood.
There have been several other NOFA efforts aimed at preserving, reforming or strengthening the NOP. We were successful in specifying that all the res-idue and GMO testing that certifiers do (both random and for cause) be included in the NOP requirement that certifiers test 5% of all certified entities annually. We succeeded in stopping retail chains from using the Grower Group organic certification category. With the passage of the Pasture Rule, we seemed for a while to be successful in opposing the use of the organic label by mega-dairies that did not allow access to pasture for their cows. It is hard to believe that 10,000- or 15,000 cow dairies can logistically pasture so many cows and milk 2-3 times a day. We breathed a sigh of relief in 2010, when USDA-NOP issued its final Pasture Rule, requiring that cows graze on pasture a minimum of 120 days per year (more if conditions are practicable), eating at least 30% of their dry matter intake on grass. Things came to a head with a Washington Post (1 May, 2017) article titled “Why your “organic” milk may not be organic.” Reporter Peter Whoriskey had observed a Texan mega-dairy for eight days in good weather, never seeing over 10% of its 15,000 cows outside. Aurora and the other big dairies continue to evade proper oversight and undersell family-scale dairies in the marketplace. We have also pushed for a clear definition of organic origins for replacement livestock; we got some better language, but a big loophole remains, exploited by mega-dairies.
Over and over again, we have saved the cost share payments for organic certification fees. We will have a hard fight again to keep them in the 2018 Farm Bill.
While the NOP is far from perfect, the system of organic certification that it oversees is the most respected eco-labeling program in the US. To keep it this way, and to make continuous improvement one of its baseline principles, takes constant vigilance, as does any democratic process. As long as over 90% of the food eaten by people in our region comes from third parties (grocery stores, food services, etc.), farms will need a reliable label to communicate with the public.
Hemp, Labeling and Food Safety
NOFA-NY members would like NE farmers to be able to legally grow industrial hemp – that day gets closer. In NY farmers can grow hemp if it is part of a research program.
We opposed USDA plans for a National Animal Identification Program. After a few years of trying, USDA seems to have given up on that one.
We have opposed mandatory irradiation of foods for food safety and the sale of cloned animals for human food, so far with success. And we did win the labeling of irradiated foods.
Although it took five years to change federal policy on crop insurance, organic farmers no longer have to pay an extra premium only to be reimbursed at conventional prices. The organic crop insurance premium is gone and organic farmers now receive organic prices. A new program insures Whole Farm Revenues and gives a premium for farms that have more than three crops. Gradually, this program is becoming more farmer friendly and useful for smaller diversified farms.
The Food Safety regulations are final, though some sections like water testing are still not resolved. The huge coalition of farm groups that worked on FSMA has been successful in getting FDA to recognize that safety measures should be different for family-scale farms than for large-scale processors. NOFA has been working on food safety as a member of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)
GMO Labeling and Commercialization
Although we lost our state level fights for GMO labeling when it was preempted by the DARK Act of 2016, that legislation does require some sort of la-beling. In expectation of the Vermont GMO labeling bill, some food manufacturers started labeling their products right on the package and continue to do so. USDA is still pussyfooting around with how to do it and may yet come out for QR codes instead of on-package labels.
For decades, NOFA members have wanted farms and food manufacturers to make information on all chemicals and irradiation used on foods and in food production available to the buying public. We still have a lot of work ahead to make full transparency of labeling a reality. We have made no headway yet on a moratorium on GMO commercializations or plantings.
Fracking and Licensing Undocumented Workers
Together with many other residents of the NOFA states, we have helped hold off hydraulic fracking for gas. This battle is far from over, as is the effort to prevent the construction of the pipelines and other infrastructure for storing and exporting natural gas and liquefied natural gas.
In Vermont, Migrant Justice led the successful campaign for legislation to allow undocumented people to access drivers’ licenses. In NYS, NOFA-NY sup-ports the Green Light NY campaign for similar legislation headed up by Alianza Agricola.
NSAC’s long list of achievements
• Substantially increased farmer awareness of funding opportunities offered through the Value-Added Producer Grants Program
• Increased opportunities for direct marketing from small family farms to consumers through the Farmers’ Market Promotion Program (FMPP). NSAC designed the legislation for FMPP in 2001, led the campaign to secure its addition to the farm bill in 2002, and secured mandatory funding for the pro-gram in 2008.
• Expanded the scope of FMPP in the 2014 Farm Bill, transforming it into the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP), by craft-ing and securing legislative champions for the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act (LFFJA) – a marker bill which expanded support to local and regional food systems.
• Secured financial and technical assistance for very small business start-ups through the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program
• Secured loan guarantees for local and regional food enterprises to help rebuild infrastructure for a healthy food system through the Local and Regional Food Enterprise Provision of the Business and Industry (B&I) loan program (2008 Farm Bill). Expanded the scope of B&I in the 2014 Farm Bill to in-clude urban projects and businesses.
• Supported the growth of organic agriculture through the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program
• Supported innovative loans to help new farmers buy their first land through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Down Payment Loan Program
• Secured targeted federal credit assistance to beginning and minority farmers through set-asides, target participation rates, and special incentives
• Expanded outreach, education and assistance for beginning and minority farmers through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program
• Created and steadily expanded the award-winning, keystone Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program
• Established and continuously supported the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative as a first step toward a fair share of federal research dollars for organic systems
• Secured funding for research projects that foster small farms, environmental protection, rural economic and community development, and new markets through the Fund for Rural America, the Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems, the National Research Initiative, and now the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative
• Promoted accessibility to information on sustainable agriculture and secured funding for the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service Pro-gram
• Developed the nation’s first-ever “green payments” program supporting advanced stewardship systems through the Conservation Stewardship Program
• Restored and rebuilt conservation cost-share assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
• Ensured flexible support for local innovative conservation projects through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program
• Created opportunities for implementing conservation techniques and activities for organic and transitioning-to-organic farmers through the EQIP Or-ganic Initiative
• Secured permanent funding for the restoration and protection of agricultural wetlands through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program
• Secured payments for conservation buffers to improve water quality and habitat through continuous enrollment options in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)
• Extended soil and wetland conservation requirements to crop insurance subsidies
• Protected critical grasslands through the creation of the Sodsaver program and the development of a grasslands initiative within CRP
• Established strong roles for farmers and NGOs to influence the shape of conservation programs through State Technical Committees
Of course the 2018 House Farm Bill puts many of these programs on the chopping block and it is anyone’s guess what will emerge in this Congress.
The Work Ahead
We still have our work cut out for us to achieve justice for both farm workers and family-scale farmers with fair contracts, pricing that fully covers production costs and recognition of farm work as a respected and fairly remunerated vocation. The “Farm Crisis” will continue until we achieve farm justice.