Action Alert: Congress Needs to Hear from You as it Reconciles the House and Senate version of the 2018 Farm Bill

Author(s): 
Chrys Ostrander

I have compiled a series of recommendations regarding provisions in the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill that I have gleaned from various sources such as organic farming and sustainable agriculture advocacy groups, food and nutrition organizations and environmental organizations. You are welcome to use my compilation as a starting point to send the Farm Bill conference committee your own comments. Do so today as time is growing short. I recommend sending your comments via fax, using the fax numbers listed below. If you do not have fax capability, you can use any on-line fax service such as https://faxzero.com/ and upload a Word document or PDF. Using Faxzero will probably cost you $1.99 per fax, a nominal fee considering the importance of the issues at hand. My comments follow the names, addresses and fax numbers of the Committee leadership, below.

A note regarding contacting the conference committee:

The 2018 Farm Bill is currently being considered by a House and Senate Conference Committee to work out a compromise between the House version and the Senate version which are vastly different. The Senators and Representatives who make up the committee need to hear from the American people about what they should include in the Farm Bill and what should not be included. When Senators and Representatives are working in a conference committee, they are no longer only working for their respective state constituencies but rather are making decisions that affect all Americans and therefore it should be appropriate for any American to contact members of a conference committee. Contacting the members of a conference committee is difficult, however. This difficulty reflects on-going and worsening issues with the ability of constituents to let their voices be heard by their congressional delegations. Letters sent by postal mail can take two weeks or more to reach a congressperson due to strict security measures now in place, making time sensitive correspondence by postal mail impossible (like correspondence re the Farm Bill, deliberations upon which must be wrapped up before Sept 30). While every congressperson has a phone number, it is not very feasible to deliver a detailed, 9000-character message to a congressperson over the phone. Adding to this difficulty is that, these days, Senators and Representatives often do not publish their official email addresses. Instead, they refer people to their "Contact Us" pages of their websites where folks are to enter their communication using an on-line form. Many of these forms will not accept messages that are longer than a set number of characters, commonly 5000 characters. This is often not enough characters to communicate detailed information. Some congresspersons' on-line forms also forbid you to send a message if you do not live in the congressperson's district (filtered by zip code). All very frustrating indeed! I called the Congressional Switchboard and asked if there is a way to contact the conference committee directly or if there is a committee staff person to whom comments on the committee's deliberations could be sent and relayed to its members. Apparently, there is no main email address for the committee nor such a committee staff person. Instead, the Congressional Switchboard person provided me the fax numbers for the committee leadership.

Text of my comments:

To: The Honorable Pat Roberts Chairman
Senate Agriculture Committee
109 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-1605
Fax: 202-224-3514

 

The Honorable Debbie Stabenow
Ranking Member, Senate Agriculture Committee
731 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-2204
Fax: 202-228-0325

 

The Honorable Mike Conaway Chairman
House Agriculture Committee
2430 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Fax: 202-225-1783

 

The Honorable Collin Peterson Ranking Member
House Agriculture Committee
2204 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Fax: 202-225-1593

Dear Congressperson,

As you know, the US House and US Senate each passed their versions of the Farm Bill back in June and you are now in conference discussions to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions by Sept. 30. I am writing to urge your support for and your opposition to certain provisions that are of great concern to me.

I urge you to make every effort to finalize Farm Bill deliberations in time for the Sept 30 deadline to avoid shutting down numerous farm bill programs that support family farmers and food-producing communities in terms of new funding and grant opportunities for fiscal year 2019 if Congress instead is forced to pass a short-term Farm Bill extension.

I urge you to oppose the plan in the House version of the Farm Bill to take food off the tables of over 2 million struggling Americans by cutting SNAP (or food stamps) by nearly $19 billion. I also urge you to oppose the work requirement proposals for SNAP recipients contained in the House version.

I urge you to support provisions in the Senate version that nearly double the funding for SNAP employment and training programs. These programs help move people off SNAP and into good paying jobs.

I urge you to support provisions in the Senate version that reauthorize the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant program which helps SNAP recipients purchase more fruits and vegetables and reduce administrative barriers to make it easier for low-income seniors and people with disabilities to apply for SNAP, reduce barriers for seniors to participate in the Commodity Supplemental Foods Program (CSFP), and make a modest increase for food banks. The Senate bill manages to do all of this without touching household benefits for currently eligible SNAP recipients.

I am concerned about the fate of the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program, which the House bill eliminates. I urge you to support the Senate position with regard to Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) and ensure on-going organic certification cost-share assistance for farmers and handlers in all states.

I strongly urge you to oppose provisions in the bill that would make unnecessary statutory changes to the National Organic Standards Board structure and the process the board uses to review and approve materials for use in organic.

I urge you to support provisions in the Farm Bill that would facilitate permanent baseline funding for research in organic agriculture annually. The Senate bill increases mandatory funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) to $40 million annually for fiscal year 2019 and 2020, $45 million for fiscal year 2021, and $50 million for fiscal year 2022 and beyond, thus achieving permanent baseline funding status.

I urge you to support provisions in both the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill that call for increased authorities, responsibilities and resources for the National Organic Program to implement organic import enforcement, including provisions to improve tracking of organic imports and ensure that imported products fully comply with U.S. organic standards. Please support the $5 million in one-time mandatory funding for improving import data tracking systems, includes a very important provision to give the USDA National Organic Program the authority to enforce a higher level of scrutiny on organic imports from countries with a track record of fraudulent activity with regard to organic certification, specifically, Section 9006(a) of the House bill.

I urge you to support provisions in the Senate version that delineate certain circumstances authorizing expedited investigation procedures with regard to foreign organic operations, specifically, Section 10104(f).

I urge you to support provisions the Senate version that include more detailed provisions with regard to interagency coordination and collaboration to address organic import fraud and enforcement, specifically, Section 10104(h) of the Senate bill which establishes an Organic Agricultural Product Imports Interagency Working Group to facilitate coordination and information sharing between the Department of Agriculture and U.S. Customs and Border Protection relating to imports of organically produced agricultural products.

I urge you to oppose provisions in the House version that eliminate the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). I urge you to preserve funding for this critical program, in line with the Senate version. In addition, I urge you to retain the Senate CSP provisions within Section 2204 of the bill to require an allocation of funds to each State to “support organic production and transition to organic.”

I urge you to include provisions in the final bill to include a state organic allocation for the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), similar to the language included in Section 2204 of the Senate bill’s CSP provisions to increase the payment limit for the Organic Initiative to $160,000 for the period of fiscal years 2019 through 2023.

I urge you to support provisions in the House version that would make it easier for landowners with Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts to start the 3-year organic transition process prior to the expiration of their CRP contract to be eligible for certification when the contract expires.

Both the House and Senate bills fail to make meaningful improvements for risk management options for organic farmers. I urge you to support efforts in Conference to address some of the risk management challenges and inequities facing organic farmers, specifically, you should support inclusion of new provisions regarding the Direct the Risk Management Agency (RMA) to prioritize development of additional organic price elections for crop insurance coverage, and review policies that cap Contract Price Addendums at two-times the conventional price election for any specific crop, continue Whole-Farm Revenue Protection established in the 2014 Farm Bill, recognize the change in farm revenue after a farm has transitioned to organic, eliminate the 30% cap on increased production value under the expansion provision and direct the Farm Service Agency to develop organic price elections for storage loans offered and direct RMA to consider organic farming practices when developing the “good farming practices guide” and ensure that organic producers’ ability to obtain crop insurance is not negatively impacted.

I urge you to oppose any provision that would roll back pesticide rules associated with the Clean Water Act ending simple permit requirements for pesticides sprayed near waterways.

I urge you to oppose the proposal in the House version to weaken pesticide protections for endangered species that would eliminate the rule requiring pesticide regulators to consult with federal wildlife experts when new pesticides are registered that could harm wildlife listed as threatened or endangered.

I urge you to oppose Section 9101 of the House version of the Farm Bill. If this language is adopted, it would strip authority from local municipalities to put rules in place protecting their communities from health-harming pesticides. This would further undermine the ability of local communities to protect themselves and could roll back existing policies already in place in municipalities across the country.

I urge you to support Sections 7205 & 7206 of the Senate bill requiring USDA to develop a national strategic germplasm and cultivar collection assessment and utilization plan to address the significant backlog of characterization and maintenance of existing accessions critical to preserve the viability of, and public access to, germplasm and cultivars.

I urge you to include additional provisions in the final Farm Bill to require USDA to use existing competitive grant research programs to expend at least $50 million annually on public cultivar and breed development activities, and to establish a Coordinator position within the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to oversee these activities.

I urge you to support the Senate version of the 2018 Farm Bill regarding the Local Agriculture Marketing Program (which combines and strengthens the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, Value-Added Producer Grant Program, Regional Food Economy Partnership Program, and Food Safety Cost-share Assistance) and the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach Program (which combines and strengthens the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and Section 2501 Program).

Thank you for your consideration of these matters,

Chrys Ostrander
7034-C Hwy 291
Tumtum, WA 99034
farmrchrys@gmail.com

Edition: 
Action Alert September, 2018