The Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association. NOFA/Mass welcomes everyone who cares about food, where it comes from and how it’s grown

Growing Organically Since 1982

Policy Updates, Sept. 2018

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2018 September Issue Newsletter

By Marty Dagoberto, Policy Director

Action Needed on Federal Farm Bill

If readers only skim the first few lines of this, they will hopefully glean the fact that organic agriculture is under attack in the proposed 2018 Farm Bill, and that they should contact Congress right now and over the coming weeks. With a deadline of Sept. 30th (when the 2014 Farm Bill expires), the current House draft is a major threat to organic agriculture. Please read on, take action and help mobilize your networks (nationwide) to contact their members of Congress and save organic agriculture.

Anyone who has been following the Farm Bill at all will likely have heard of the major proposed cuts and changes that the House version makes to SNAP (food stamps) benefits. The House version of the bill, which was drafted in a hyper-partisan process, also threatens the future of organic agriculture. Most notably, it totally eliminates the organic certification cost-share program, which many small organic farms rely on to cover the cost of certification. It also eliminates and compromises key conservation programs which help farmers protect our soil and water.

Our partners at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition as well as the National Organic Coalition have helped us make sense of the dizzying number of provisions in the massive Farm Bill. We have assembled from these sources a breakdown of the major issues and recommendations of priority concern for NOFA/Mass. Please find the details at http://bit.ly/NOFApolicy.

Although the Massachusetts delegation is in the minority as Democrats, we do have one legislator who was assigned to the “conference committee” which is currently tasked with reconciling the (very different) House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill. Congressman Jim McGovern is the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee and, while food security is his top agricultural issue, he has already voiced his support for increased funding of organic research and is a member of the House Organic Caucus. During drafting negotiations we need him to be able to point to a large volume of calls and letters from constituents in his district, as well as organic farmers across the state who are counting on him to save organic agriculture in the Farm Bill.

Please pick up the phone while it’s fresh in your memory and call your members of Congress about the Farm Bill (and perhaps set a reminder to do it again in mid September). You can read here for more details, but the most important message to get across is:

“Please push for the adoption of the Senate bill on issues of organic agriculture and conservation programs in the Farm Bill. We need increased and permanent funding of organic research, fully funded conservation programs and organic certification cost-share program. Please encourage Congressman McGovern to fight for organic agriculture in the conference committee.”

Farmers across the state should feel free to contact Congressman McGovern’s office so that he has your personal stories of how this Farm Bill could affect you. (Please also thank him for his support for increased funding for organic research!) All residents outside of his district should contact their own members of Congress. Both Senators Markey and Warren, as well as the other members of the House delegation, need to know that organic issues are important to their constituents. They can then encourage Congressman McGovern to fight for them in the conference committee. You can look up your members of congress, here.

Please note that in the increasingly likely event that legislators are unable to come to a compromise and pass the 2018 Farm Bill before the 2014 one expires on Sept. 30th, more than a dozen critical conservation and organic programs will immediately lose their funding. If it looks like that will be the case, then we will issue a special action alert to our list and social media in order to generate calls demanding “extension funding” while legislators continue negotiations (which might end up being kicked to the next Congress…).

State Policy Update

The 2017-18 formal legislative session ended on July 31st with many important bills stuck in the House Ways & Means committee, a biannual tradition aptly described by former State Senator Ben Downing in a recent insightful and maddening article. Unfortunately the end-of-session legislative logjam presents a serious challenge even for wildly popular and timely bills. If well-connected financial interests are in opposition to a particular bill, it's much more likely to get stuck in the bottleneck.

Quite unfortunately, the two state bills that were the focus of our attention were both casualties of that logjam. The Pollinator Protection Act (H.4041), even though it had 67% of the legislature signed on as cosponsors, was denied the vote it deserves and is effectively dead until the effort is renewed next January. The Healthy Soils Bill (H.3713) still has a chance of passing during “informal session,” which extends until the end of the calendar year, as it may be considered “uncontroversial.”

Mass. Pollinator Protection Act

As disappointing as it is to see the Pollinator Protection Act die a second death, especially after garnering so much support, our work together was not in vain. Awareness of this class of pollinator-killing pesticides has increased greatly since we began – both inside and outside the State House. Many legislative offices reported that it was one of the issues they heard the most about. The MA Pollinator Coalition is reassessing our best options for the next legislative session and we'll keep you posted.

Major gratitude is due to Mass Bee, the Plymouth County Beekeepers and the other county beekeepers associations and “beeks” across the state who swarmed to defend our pollinators with extreme vigilance! They know the bees best, have spoken for the bees when no one else would and provided a very strong base of support and mobilization network for this effort. Special thanks also go to Friends of the Earth who provided significant support on direct advocacy efforts. Thanks also to our other coalition partners (MASSPIRG, New England Wild Flower Society, Regeneration Mass, Toxics Action Center and the Western Mass Pollinators Network) for a great collaborative effort. And of course, huge thanks go to the Queen Bee, Representative Carolyn Dykema, and her staff, who have been leading the charge to protect pollinators in the MA State House.

Moving legislation through the State House is but one vehicle to protect our pollinators. Many of you are working on other critical strategies, such as promoting pollinator habitats, educating people about pesticides, and promoting beekeeping. There is also increasing interest in local municipal bans on neonicotinoids and other pesticides. All of these efforts will be easier because of the education and mobilization done on this state legislative campaign.

MA Healthy Soils Bill

The Healthy Soils Bill is only in its first cycle through the legislative process (bills rarely make it through on their first), and we are encouraged that it was passed unanimously by the Agriculture committee. We have not encountered any objection by legislators or any advocacy or industry groups to this bill, which would establish a Healthy Soils Program within the Department of Agricultural Resources. All of your calls and emails during our recent push to have the bill added to larger “must-pass” bills helped to increase awareness and support for the measure among leaders in the State House. We will continue our advocacy work over coming weeks and especially need farmers to contact their State Representative and Senator to express their support for a Healthy Soils Program. The details of the bill can be found on our action page, here.

Compost Regulation Change Defeated!

In a bit of good news, a broad coalition of agriculture advocates (including many of you) mobilized to successfully defeat a piece of legislation that would have moved the regulation of compost in Massachusetts from the Department of Agricultural Resources to the Department of Public Health. Of course a department familiar with agriculture is better suited to regulate compost rather than a department which views compost as a form of waste! Thanks to an outpouring of calls from farmers and advocates across the state, Governor Baker vetoed the offending amendment to the Environmental Bond Bill.

Local Action: Time to Pick it Up!

NOFA/Mass is rekindling past efforts to promote local organic organizing for local organic solutions (at the town/city/community level) and to build power for greater impact at the state and federal levels. We would like to help connect you with each other, with partner organizations, and with educational resources and guidance for whatever actions you are drawn to, whether it be Farmers’ Market education, film screenings, local resolutions for pollinator habitat protection, municipal pesticide policies or any other areas that might interest you. We will be starting monthly roundtable calls to share inspiration and advice. We welcome experienced advocates as well as those who are ready to take their first step. Please contact me at marty@nofamass.org.

Thank you to everyone who has continued to answer our calls to action: writing letters, making phone calls, sharing stories and “memes,” and to all of our yearly members who support our policy work and give us strength in numbers. If you’d like to receive more frequent policy updates as well as volunteer requests, feel free to contact marty@nofamass.org.

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