Bicameral Group of Lawmakers Seek Emergency Aid for Organic Farmers
WASHINGTON — A bicameral group of lawmakers led by Reps. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, and Jared Huffman, D-Calif., in the House and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., are urging the U.S. Agriculture Department to provide emergency assistance to organic dairy and chicken farmers.
In all, more than two dozen members of Congress signed a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this week, urging him to take action in the face of skyrocketing organic feed costs, elevated energy prices and the lingering impact of droughts in many parts of the country earlier this year.
“Without rapid action, families are on track to lose their farms,” the lawmakers wrote.
“While the agriculture sector overall is struggling with a multitude of challenges that have impacted the market, organic is a unique supply chain and market that requires tailored solutions to meet the needs of producers,” they continued.
“International trade challenges specific to organic, persistent drought, and the lack of a stable domestic supply of certified organic feed have created a dire economic situation for organic livestock farmers across the U.S. over the last two years,” they said.
They go on to urge Vilsack to “work closely” with Congress and stakeholders to develop a solution that quickly gets assistance to producers to prevent further losses.
As an example of what’s occurring in the market, the lawmakers pointed to the price of organic soybeans which reached a high of $40.52 per bushel in May 2022, up nearly 100% from the $19.37 the same bushel would have cost in January 2021.
“Feed costs for organic dairy and poultry producers traditionally average over 50% of the total cost of production, but dramatic increases year-over-year in organic feedstuffs are now creating unsustainable circumstances that could lead to farm closures, reduced competition and ultimately, limited consumer choice,” they wrote.
“If not addressed, these closures will have devastating impacts on the burgeoning organic dairy and poultry sectors and diminish the role of organics in the marketplace for years to come,” they said. “ Unlike conventional farming, the organic sector cannot respond quickly to market needs due to the three-year transition period required on most land.”
“We ask that you work with us to find a targeted solution to provide immediate, direct relief,” they concluded.
“USDA is in receipt of the letter and will respond accordingly,” a department spokesperson said in an email to The Well News. “We appreciate the members of Congress who are working hard to provide support to the producers who are facing challenges, particularly Senator Leahy who has been a long time champion and leader for organic agriculture.
“USDA, too, is exploring avenues to address the challenges faced by organic dairy farmers, while also pursuing ongoing work to support organic and transitioning farmers through USDA programs,” the spokesperson said.
USDA has bolstered funding for the Dairy Business Innovation Initiatives grant program, including with $80 million in supplemental funds from the American Rescue Plan.
DBI initiatives provide valuable technical assistance and sub-grants to dairy farmers and businesses across their regions, supporting them with business plan development, marketing and branding, as well as, increasing access to innovative production and processing techniques to support the development of value-added products.
USDA is also investing $300 million in a new Organic Transition Initiative that will build new and better markets and streams of income for farmers and producers. Through the comprehensive support provided by this initiative the department hopes to open opportunities for new and beginning farmers and expand direct consumer access to organic foods through increased production.
The initiative will deliver wrap-around technical assistance, including farmer-to-farmer mentoring; provide direct support through conservation financial assistance and additional crop insurance assistance, and support market development projects in targeted markets.
This story has been updated to include the USDA's response.