Organic Agriculture: Title I (Commodities), Title II (Conservation), Title III (Trade), Title V (Credit), Title VII (Research), Title X (Horticulture), and Title XI (Crop Insurance)
Aims to support the organic sector by providing cost-share assistance for organic certification, expanding and establishing permanent funding for the organic agricultural research initiative, and improving organic crop insurance and marketing programs.
- Expands total mandatory organic research funding and creates permanent funding status.
- Expands authorized funding for USDA’s organic regulatory program, the National Organic Program (NOP), to improve enforcement, and adds mandatory funding to strengthen NOP's technology for tracking and verifying organic imports.
- Expands access for organic and transitioning farmers to various USDA commodity, conservation and other farm programs.
New Programs and Provisions
Noninsured Crop Assistance Program (Title I)— The 2018 Farm Act clarifies that the market prices used to calculate Noninsured Crop Assistance Program (NAP) payments include organic prices.
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Organic Initiative (Title II)—Conservation practices related to organic production and transition continue to be eligible for payments under an EQIP provision of the 2008 Farm Act. Payment limits for organic and transitional farmers under this provision are increased from $80,000 during a 6-year period to $140,000 during the 5-year period of the 2018 Farm Act. Payments remain capped at a lower level than in the regular EQIP program, although organic and transitioning farmers may also apply for assistance through the general EQIP program. While both programs are competitive, producers compete against fewer applicants in the organic program.
Transition incentive under Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) (Title II)—Allows farmers to begin transitioning to organic production prior to contract expiration to meet USDA’s organic certification requirement for a 3-year period.
Funding under Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) (Title II)—Adds funding to States to support organic and transitioning farmers under CSP; funding allocation is based on the number of certified and transitioning operations and acres within States.
Market access for organic exports (Title III)—Clarifies that commodities that are organically produced are included in the Market Access Program, which encourages the development, maintenance, and expansion of export markets for U.S. agricultural commodities.
Mediation services for organic producers (Title V)—The list of issues covered by State agricultural mediation programs is expanded to include the National Organic Program, family farm transition, farmer-neighbor disputes, and others.
Organic research grant program gets permanent funding (Title VII)—Permanent (baseline) funding is established for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), USDA’s major extramural organic grant program. Mandatory annual funding remains at $20 million in FY 2019 and grows to $50 million by FY 2023 and remains at $50 million in each year after that.
National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program (Title X)—Mandatory funding to assist organic producers and handlers with the cost of organic certification is included in the 2018 Farm Act, but the total decreases from $57.5 million in the 2014 Farm Act to $24 million in the 2018 Farm Act.
Organic data initiatives (Title X)—Total mandatory funding to improve economic data on the organic sector continues at $5 million over FY2019-FY2023; another $5 million in mandatory funding is earmarked for technology upgrades to improve tracking and verification of organic imports.
National Organic Program (Title X)—Several new provisions are added to improve the enforcement of USDA’s organic standards and certification. Authorization for appropriations increases from $16.5 million in FY 2019 to $24 million in FY 2023 under the 2018 Farm Act, totaling $100.5 million over the life of the act—up from $75 million total between FY2014 and FY2018.
National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) (Title X)—The Organic Foods Production Act created the NOSB as a Federal board to advise on a wide range of issues involving the production, handling, and processing of organic products. The 2018 Act clarifies that an employee of a farmer can serve as a member of NOSB, and codifies current NOSB voting procedures for making changes to the list of materials that are acceptable in organic production.
Improving Crop Insurance for Organic Crops (Title XI)—The 2014 Farm Act required USDA to expand organic price elections for producers insuring organic crops. The 2018 Farm Act establishes continuing education requirements for crop insurance agents and loss adjusters to ensure that they are familiar with the conservation activities and agronomic practices used in organic and other production systems.
The 2018 Farm Act adds support for organic agriculture in many farm programs to bolster consumer confidence in the "USDA Organic" label, increase research support for organic farming, and help incentivize organic transition and production.
U.S. organic retail sales reached a new record in 2017 of $49.4 billion, up nearly 6.5 percent from the previous year according to industry estimates—and organic demand continues to outstrip supply in many organic commodity sectors. Greater Federal support could mean more organic farms and production as U.S. consumer demand continues to grow.
Bolstering consumer confidence in the "USDA Organic" label. Many consumers have come to rely on the “USDA Organic” label. Consumers cannot visually distinguish organic food from conventional, and must rely on labels and other advertising tools for product information. Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 to establish national organic standards that facilitate marketing and provide consumer assurance. USDA finalized rules to implement this legislation in 2000.
Enforcement challenges have grown along with the size of the U.S. organic industry, and the 2018 Farm Act substantially increases authorized funding for the USDA regulatory program to help maintain consumer confidence in the organic label. Farmers in over 100 countries are now producing food for the U.S. organic market. Congress also added a number of new provisions in the 2018 Farm Act to improve detection of fraudulent imports and enforcement of organic regulations.
Increasing research on organic production systems. The value of U.S. organic farm sales more than doubled between 2011 and 2016, to $7.6 billion, according to findings from USDA surveys, and the organic share of total agricultural sales increased from 1 percent to over 2 percent during that period. Congress boosted funding for organic research in previous legislation as the organic farm sector expanded. The 2018 Farm Act creates permanent funding status, and provides nearly $400 million in funding for USDA's extramural grant program, the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), over the next 10 years to help solve the unique challenges of organic production.
Challenges in the organic production sector are often region- and crop-specific, and the expansion of funding in the 2018 Farm Act, along with its new permanent funding status, will help researchers address many research needs.
Incentivizing organic transition and production. USDA's regulatory definition of organic farming specifies that practices be integrated to foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. A number of studies have found enhanced soil tilth, higher biodiversity, higher soil organic matter/productivity, lower energy use, and reduced nutrient pollution with organic production methods, according to a 2009 USDA Economic Research Service report.
While organic farming systems were used on approximately 6 percent of U.S. acres for vegetables in 2015, they were used on under 0.3 percent of U.S. corn and soybeans acreage. U.S. field crop producers have been especially slow to adopt organic practices, even though a recent ERS study based on national survey data found that the higher economic costs of producing organic corn and soybeans were more than offset by the higher prices for these crops. Reasons for sluggish adoption include the 3-year transition period required before earning organic price premiums and the relative ease of producing for the conventional market, with inputs readily available from local dealers and established markets at the local elevator.
To help incentivize transition to organic production, Congress added organic transition as a purpose of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and created an Organic EQIP Initiative to provide technical and financial assistance to farmers interested in transitioning to organic, as well as those who had already transitioned. The 2018 Farm Act increases the payment cap for the Organic EQIP Initiative, and includes new conservation provisions designed to support organic producers and producers that want to transition to organic production.