Earlier this week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed two major bills
that would fund the government through September 30, 2020. One of the bills sets funding for a number of major departments, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
National Farmers Union (NFU) is pleased with many of the bills’ provisions. For one, it would required the USDA to finalize and enact Origin of Livestock proposed rule
, which would more clearly define regulations for organic dairy production. Currently, organic dairy farms are allowed to transition conventional replacement animals into organic production only once. While some certifiers strictly adhere to the policy, others have allowed farmers to repeatedly raise calves using practices prohibited under organic regulations, and then transition them into organic management when they are ready to be milked. By providing greater clarity on transition regulations and ensuring that standards are uniformly applied, the Origin of Livestock proposed rule would protect consumer confidence in the organic label and ensure its economic viability for family farmers.
Additionally, the package would fully fund the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network
(FRSAN) – a program meant to provide farmers with affordable stress assistance programs – at $10 million. It would also provide $5.55 million for the Agricultural Mediation Program, $550,00o over the House bill and NFU’s requested allocation. The program is intended to help producers handle matters within their means, avoiding legal fees and litigation, shortening the time to resolve disputes, and potentially avoiding bankruptcy.
There are wins for local and sustainable agriculture as well. The Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) would receive $17.4 million, including $12 million for the Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program and $5.4 million for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP). This is in addition to the mandatory funding these programs already receive through the farm bill. Though earlier proposals would have cut conservation funding, mandatory funding for both the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) would be maintained, while discretionary funding for the Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) would get a boost at $735.7 million.
NFU was similarly relieved that the bills would extend an expired biodiesel tax credit
through 2020. The credit, which helped the biodiesel industry grow from a few hundred million gallons of production in 2005 to a more than 2.6-billion-gallon annual market today, lapsed in 2018, causing the once-promising industry to stall.
The Senate is expected to avert a government shutdown by passing the bill by Friday at midnight, which is when current federal funding expires.