Associations that represent organic growers are asking Congress for provisions in the next coronavirus relief package to help the sector survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
The National Organic Coalition and Organic Farmers Association said in a news release said they are concerned that direct payments from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act will not reach organic and diversified farms and those serving local markets. The act, through the Coranavirus Food Assistance Program, allocates $2.1 billion for specialty crop growers.
“We are concerned that the payment formulas used by USDA to distribute payments will shortchange organic farmers, particularly small-and-medium-scale diversified operations that have been economically impacted by the pandemic,” Kate Mendenhall, director of the Organic Farmers Association, said in the release. “We are asking Congress, in the next coronavirus response package, to be more explicit about providing direct assistance to organic and diversified farms and to establish oversight procedures to ensure USDA compliance with the requirements.”
Laura Batcha, executive director and CEO of The Organic Trade Association, sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue requesting that certification cost-share funding be released in a timely manner, and advocated for the release of the Strengthening Organic Enforcement proposed rule.
The association requested that emergency assistance include adequate funding to cover losses for organic producers and personal protective equipment for workers.
Batcha also asked USDA to allow accredited certifiers to use emergency remote inspections when on-site inspections are not possible.
Changes in retail operations since COVID-19 restrictions have been put in place have hurt organic marketers, Batcha said in the letter.
“Retailers have reduced (stock-keeping units) as they focus on core products, which has hurt many specialty and premium products,” she said.
Organic marketers are among those experiencing “hardship due to the reduction in shelf space and lost opportunities for business.”
The loss in consumer buying power could also weigh on the future of organics, she said, stating that “a protracted long-term recession resulting in a significant reduction of buying power from the public could result in market harm for organic products.”
That creates more long-term risk and uncertainty for farmers.
The Organic Trade Association asked USDA ensure that future financial assistance covers COVID-19 losses, taking into account increased costs of production for organic farmers, and covering market losses outside of commodity price declines when calculating direct payments as part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.