Delmarva Farmer Columnists


New organic rules, programs: To be or not to be? (Feb. 28, 2017)

Ag Law

By Sarah Everhart, University of Maryland Extension Legal Specialist Agricultural and Resource Economics

(Writer’s note: This column should not be interpreted as legal advice for the reader.)

During the last weeks of the Obama Administration, the USDA made several regulatory and programmatic changes for the organic industry.
However, the Trump administration has ordered that any regulations or rules published in the Federal Register but not yet effective shall be delayed 60-days to allow time for review and once a new secretary of agriculture is at the helm, how newly established programs will be implemented is unknown.
Although the future of the recent proposals for the organic industry is unclear, if finalized the new legal standards and programs could have a big impact on organic farmers and farmers transitioning to organic.
One new program for farmers transitioning to organic is USDA’s National Certified Transition Program (“the Program”). Based on standards developed by the Organic Trade Association, the Program will oversee agents who will offer transitional certification to producers.
Under the current USDA organic certification rules, before a farm can be certified organic it has to be farmed according to organic practices, including but not limited to without the use of synthetic pesticide and fertilizers, for the previous three years.
The three-year transitional period presents a challenge to farmers who must use organic practices to grow their products during that period but sell the products in the conventional marketplace.
The Program is expected to ease the transition process by allowing farmers to be certified as transitioning to organic after 12 months of following organic standards.
The Program does not include certifying products labeled as “transitional” in the marketplace, but OTA anticipates working with certifiers, food manufacturers, and retailers to develop appropriate market-driven guidelines for proper use of the term “transitional” on consumer packaged goods.
On Jan. 17, the USDA opened a comment period on an organic checkoff program which will pool money from organic farmers, handlers, and processors; the funds would be used to promote the sector, educate consumers, and conduct research on organic production methods.
The OTA estimates the program could bring in more than $30 million annually.
Supporters of the program say the supply of U.S. organic products fails to meet demand, and that consumers are confused by labeling and organic certification standards.
Some organic farmers are opposed to the checkoff program and consider it akin to a tax on their operations.
Days before President Obama left office on Jan. 19, USDA published a final rule (82 FR 7042) amending the organic livestock and poultry management practices.
The rule, (not yet in effect) adds animal welfare provisions to the organic standards dictating how farmers must raise livestock and poultry, including during transport and slaughter.
The rule requires producers to give livestock enough room to move, lie down, turn around, and extend their limbs and to give birds enough room to move freely and spread their wings.
Organic farmers will also be required to provide their animals access to the outdoors, fresh air, and direct sunlight.
Lobbying groups such as the National Pork Producers Council were opposed to the rule and have vowed to work with the new administration to prevent it from becoming law.
Given the number of legal changes proposed in weeks before the inauguration, clearly USDA under the leadership of former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack felt it was a priority to shape the future of organic farming before its time in Washington was up.
Although many programs and legal changes were set in motion, only time will tell if the current administration feels that these programs are in the best interest of our nation’s farmers.
(Editor’s Note: Sarah Everhart is a legal specialist and research associate with Agriculture Law Education Initiative and the University Of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.)

Conservation Client Gateway just a click away (Feb. 28, 2017)

Keeping the Farm

By Genevieve Lister, Public Affairs Specialist, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Maryland

Farmers put in long days, and driving to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service office every time paperwork needs to be signed is not always productive.
To streamline the conservation assistance process and make it easier for our customers to work with us directly, the Natural Resources Conservation Service has an online tool and mobile app available.
Conservation Client Gateway lets individual agricultural producers and business entities work with NRCS on their schedule:
Gateway is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The gateway provides users the flexibility to determine when they want to engage with NRCS online and when they prefer in-person conservation planning assistance.
NRCS staff will still be available in field offices to work with individual landowners and operators face to face — this new tool just provides another option to get technical assistance and do business with NRCS.
One of the biggest benefits Gateway provides is the ability to sign contracts online securely.
Viewing and printing documents at the farmer’s convenience saves time. Plus, everything is logically organized and easy to find.
For many farmers that have multiple projects going on with no time to spare, this feature is a tremendous time saver.
Gateway also helps the farmer keep track of payments. Everyone wants to know when they are getting paid. With Conservation Client Gateway, you can get payment status online without the need for a phone call or waiting for a call back.
Farmers can request conservation practice certification or technical assistance through Gateway.
Submitting certification online speeds up the process — no need for a special trip to the USDA Service Center.
And by asking technical questions online, NRCS is better able to reply with more detailed information that can be read online and available to go back to anytime.
At NRCS, we’re committed to providing producers the best possible experience. Farmers will always be welcome in our field offices, but if it is more convenient to work with us online, now they can. It is a matter of providing the assistance that works best for that particular producer, their schedule, their operation and their natural resource goals.
For step-by-step instructions on getting started in the Conservation Client Gateway, registering to activate your account, verifying your identity, and getting your user ID and password, visit