April Policy Updates

By April 27, 2023Policy

Thank you !!

Thank you to all who signed the Farmers’ Climate Letter to Congress asking for a Farm Bill that includes all key provisions of the Agriculture Resilience Act (ARA). Read NSAC’s account of delivering the letter with 1,192 signatures to ARA lead sponsor Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine.  The article includes quotes and a link to a video of VABF member farmers Janet Aardema and daughter Sylvie Aardema-Gagnon advocating for the ARA in conversation with Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-7th) in Washington, DC on March 8, the day after our Farmers Rally for Resilience


Take Action on Federal Organic Research Bills:


Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research (SOAR) in the House

Cultivating Organic Research Now (CORN) Act in the Senate

Let’s Get our Senators and Representatives on Board!


Members of Congress are introducing new legislation to expand USDA funding for organic research.  In the House, Representatives Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), and Chellie Pingree (D-ME) introduced the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research (SOAR) Act, whose provisions include:

  • Increases mandatory funding for the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) by $10 million each year to reach $100 million in 2018.
  • Authorizes funding for the Researching Transition to Organic Program (formerly the Organic Transitions program or ORG) at $10 million per year during 2024-26 and $20 million in 2027-28.
  • Doubles funding for the Organic Data Initiative and charges the USDA Economic Research Service to conduct a comprehensive analysis of socio-economic benefits of organic agriculture.


On the Senate side, Senator John Fetterman (D-PA) will introduce a parallel bill, Cultivating Organic Research Now (CORN), which includes the above three provisions and the following:

  • Adds three new legislative priorities for the OREI: climate adaptation and mitigation, allowable alternatives to NOP prohibited substances, and identification and adoption of traditional ecological knowledge with free and informed consent of the Indigenous Tribes that possess the knowledge.
  • Establish an Organic Coordination and Expansion Initiative across the USDA Research, Extension, and Economics mission area.
  • Require the USDA Agriculture Research Service (ARS) to increase organic acreage under ARS management to be commensurate with the organic market share (now ~7%).


At this time we are seeking to get as many additional Members of Congress to co-sponsor these excellent bills. With bipartisan lead sponsors, the House Bill should have broad appeal in that chamber.  Representative Abigail Spanberger (D-7th) serves on the House Agriculture Committee has been a strong champion for organic and regenerative agriculture, and is likely to be interested in co-sponsoring the SOAR Act.  Her office phone number is 202-225-2815. You can also email her staff person for agriculture, Isabel Coughlin at Isabel.Coughlin@mail.house.gov, or staffer Bonnie Krenz Bonnie.Krenz@mail.house.gov, who works on climate and environment.


While the Senate bill (CORN Act) has not yet been introduced, this will happen quite soon, so by all means contact our two Senators and ask for their cosponsorship – mention Senator Fetterman as the one who will introduce the CORN Act.


Take Action on Federal Climate-in-Agriculture Bill:


Agriculture Resilience Act Introduced March 28

Let’s get our whole Virginia delegation to cosponsor it!


Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) reintroduced the Agriculture Resilience Act (ARA, H.R. 1840 and S. 1016) in both chambers of Congress on March 28. Like its earlier version introduced into the last Congress in 2021, this is a comprehensive piece of legislation designed to help farmers faced with climate disruption and make US agriculture truly climate-friendly and climate-resilient.  A few key provisions include:

  • Achieve net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from US agriculture by the year 2040 and make this a new statutory goal for USDA research, education, and extension (REE).
  • Establish GHG mitigation, C sequestration, and climate resilience as conservation objectives for USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) programs.
  • Set aside 1% of USDA conservation funding for technical assistance to help producers mitigate and adapt to climate change.
  • Increase the conservation funding set-aside for beginning, socially disadvantaged, and veteran producers from the current 10% to 30%.
  • Support transition to advanced grazing management on all grazing lands by 2040. Devote two-thirds of livestock-related Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) cost share payments to advanced grazing management.
  • Support conversion of 30% of current annual cropland to perennial systems by 2040.
  • Legislative authorization for funding the Climate Hubs and the Long Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) network at $50 million per year for each program.


The ARA is a “marker bill” meaning that the goal is not to pass it into law as a stand-alone, but to integrate its key provisions into the 2023 Farm Bill which is currently in development on Capitol Hill with a “due date” of September 30 when the current (2018) farm bill expires.


This year’s ARA has been amended and fine tuned in a few ways including:

  • Adding another statutory goal for USDA REE: “Develop food systems that are healthful, sustainable, equitable, and resilient to extreme weather and other impacts of climate change and other potential intersecting global and national disruptions.”
  • Coordinate Climate Hubs and LTAR for enhanced efficacy and information sharing.
  • Increased emphasis on agroforestry and perennial plantings in conservation programs.


Now is the time to get as many co-sponsors in both Senate and House to sign onto the ARA. The more cosponsors on ARA, the more likely we will see substantial investments in climate-related research, technical assistance, conservation, and rural developmet in the 2023 Farm Bill.


Here in Virginia, Reps. Donald Beyer (D-8th), Gerald Connolly (D-11th) and Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-7th) are co-sponsors for the ARA. Virginia’s Senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, are strong conservation advocates and might be willing to co-sponsor the ARA if they hear from many of us how important it is.  Bipartisan support may be a longer shot, yet it is worth asking your Representative to co-sponsor the ARA, regardless of their party affiliation.


What you can do

  • If you are in Rep. Spanberger’s or Rep. Connolly’s district call or email to thank them for co-sponsoring the ARA.
  • If you are in any other district, urge your Representative to cosponsor the ARA. Tell him/her how climate change has impacted you, your farm, or your community, and how the ARA or any of its key provisions will help.
  • Call or email each of our Senators to ask them to co-sponsor the ARA. For Senator Mark Warner, call 202-224-2023 or email Taylor Durbin, Legislative Correspondent at Taylor_Durbin@warner.senate.gov. For Senator Tim Kaine, call 202-224-4024 or email Jahnavi Patel, Legislative Correspondent at Jahnavi_patel@kaine.senate.gov.


To learn more about the provisions of the ARA, see the link here and list of changes for 2023.


Make Inflation Reduction Act Funding Part of Farm Bill Baseline


The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which passed and was signed into law toward the end of last year, contained the nation’s largest-ever investment into climate-mitigating and climate-resilience infrastructure, practices, and services. The IRA investment in climate friendly agriculture amounted to some $20 billion in USDA conservation programs, including $1 billion in technical assistance for farmers seeking to cope better with climate disruption and several billion each for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), specifically to support adoption of climate-smart farming systems and practices.


What happens when this money is spent?  Depending on how Congress shapes the 2023 Farm Bill, this new investment could become part of the baseline for mandatory conservation funding levels (i.e., renewed when the current funding runs our) or it could be “rescinded” (set aside and just go back to past funding levels).  Virginia’s Rep Abigail Spanberger (D-7th), who serves on the House Agriculture Committee, strongly supports making it part of the regular baseline funding so that the investment is continued and potentially expanded into the future.


CSP and EQIP are greatly over-subscribed, meaning that only about one in four farmers who apply are able to enroll in the program, as discussed in this guest blog about conservation funding.  IRA funding can help address this shortfall – especially if it becomes permanent.


What you can do:

  • If you are in Rep Spanberger’s district, thank her for her dedicated efforts toward making the IRA conservation funding part of the regular Farm Bill baseline.
  • Contact our Senators (see above for contact info) to encourage their active support for making the IRA conservation funding investment permanent.
  • If you are in another district, let your Representative know how important it is to our future to make this investment in climate-friendly and climate-resilient agriculture and food systems permanent.
  • If your Representative is Ben Cline (R-6th), note that he has recently been appointed to serve on the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. He is thus a key player in annual appropriations decisions around programs that the Farm Bill “authorizes” for discretionary funding up to a certain limit.  These include, for example, the highly successful and beneficial Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, and the Organic Transitions research program (ORG), both of which support vital research into sustainable and organic ag issues including climate.

Other Sustainable Agriculture Policy News and Developments

Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack Outlines Priorities at Congressional Hearing

Substantive discussions to kick off the 2023 Farm Bill Process

On March 28, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack met with the House Agriculture Committee for six hours to share his priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill and answer questions from Committee members.  In-depth discussions focused on improving conservation program delivery, improving the safety net for smaller scale diversified producers, advancing racial equity across USDA programs, building resilient local/regional food systems, strengthening Packers and Stockyards Act enforcement to level the playing field for smaller-scale livestock producers, and improving access to healthy foods.  The degree of common ground and bipartisan support for sustainable agriculture and food system priorities was encouraging, as outlined in this NSAC blog post on the hearing.

EPA Funds Climate Pollution Reduction Plans

One large component of Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) funding for climate mitigation went to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to fund States, Tribes and larger municipalities to plan and implement plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  States and municipalities had to get their initial plans to EPA by the end of this month while the deadline for Tribes is June 15.  Later this summer, EPA will disburse funds for plan implementation. Read more about the EPA climate pollution reduction plans.

Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production

A Progress Report

The 2018 Farm Bill established a new USDA Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production and authorized funding up to $25 million per year.  While the program got off to a slow start and annual funding has reached just $8.5 million, significant progress toward program objectives has taken place.  USDA has also provided opportunities for public input on how the program can be improved, and NSAC submitted comments. See this NSAC blog on Urban Ag for more on this relatively new initiative, and this additional article about a recent letter to Congress asking for full funding at $25 million.

SARE Program Continues to Grow

$60 Million Sought for the Coming Fiscal Year

The USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, the most farmer-driven of all USDA extramural research and extension competitive grants programs, was authorized at $50 million for the current fiscal year (2023) and has funded some excellent projects. For FY 2024, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and member groups are seeking appropriation of the full authorized amount for this program.

Policy Updates by Mark Schonbeck