Organic Growers Trying To Find A Place At The Table

The Farm Bill priorities for organic agriculture were discussed by a diverse group of representatives from the organic sector during the first House of Representatives hearing on organic agriculture and business in April. Testimony from leaders within the organic industry was presented to the newly formed House Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture.

The testimony represented a consensus of priorities for the 2007 Farm Bill. Mark Lipson, policy program director for the Organic Farming Research Foundation, presented information that focused on the obstacles facing the growth of domestic organic production and the gaps in organic production research and education. Specifically, he spoke about the need for increased information delivery and education for transitioning and veteran organic growers, increased federal funding for organic research and

Extension, and the obstacles that organic farmers face in obtaining credit and fair crop insurance premiums.

Caren Wilcox, executive director of the Organic Trade Association (OTA), also provided an overview of the industry and expressed the need for government resources to support the need of the industry to increase market share to meet growing consumer demand for products. She stated that “U.S. organic food sales were about $14.6 billion in 2005 and occupied about 2.5% of the retail marketplace. The fastest-growing organic product categories include meat, dairy, and condiments. Fruits and vegetables represent the largest dollar value category in the organic sector. Pet food was growing as a category even before the recalls, and is growing even faster now.”

The Plan

The OTA Farm Bill plan focuses on four priorities:

1. Fostering conversion to organic agriculture and trade;
2. Eliminating hurdles to organic agriculture and trade;
3. Initiating and funding organic agriculture and economic research, and;
4. Maintaining and enhancing current agency programs.

In general, many of the grassroots organizations who represent large numbers of organic producers have identified these issues that are priorities for the Farm Bill:

• Reauthorization of the Organic Production and Marketing Data Initiatives of the 2002 Farm Bill. This includes expanding data collection on national organic fruit and vegetable pricing through the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), funding overall market trends and farm financial indicators data collection through Economic Research Service (ERS), funding surveys and census data through the National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS), and promoting international organic research collaboration.

• Stronger fiscal commitment for research, Extension, and educational efforts in organic agriculture. Although there was an increased commitment to organic agriculture research dollars in the previous Farm Bill, only about 0.4% of the USDA research and education outlays went to efforts specifically addressing organic production. The Organic Farming Research Foundation is calling for a fair share of research dollars — approximately 3%, which would be consistent with the current contribution of organic sales in the U.S. marketplace.

Additionally, ARS should strengthen efforts to disseminate organic research results through the USDA National Agriculture Library’s Alternative Farming System Information Center. The Integrated Organic Program administered by USDA Cooperative State Research, Education & Extension Service (CSREES) Plant and Animal Systems Division should receive increased funding based on the high level of interest in the program and the fact that only 10 of the qualified applicants have received funding.

This would also increase grant programs to include organic priority areas within the current USDA-CSREES Marketing and Economic Systems section and the National Research Initiative germplasm programs. The USDA-CSREES Integrated Pest Management Centers should expand their role in serving the organic sector with products that relate to acceptable organic BMPs. 

• Support for the Conservation Security Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program with the addition of language to the ensure that these programs serve the organic sector.

• Support for mandatory annual funding of the Certification Cost Share Program.

• Support for a Beginning Organic Farmer/Rancher Program.

• Support for tax breaks and other financial incentives for transitioning to organic.

• Support for changes in the current Risk Management Agency/Crop insurance program. Organic growers should not have to pay the 5% additional fee surcharge they currently must pay to be covered by the Multi-Peril Crop Insurance Program. When an organic producer incurs a loss they should be reimbursed at the price their organic product would have received. Currently, organic growers are reimbursed for crop loss at a rate based on average conventional prices, generally far below the value of the organic crops. This would involve expanding the Whole Farm Revenue Insurance Program so that it is available to all organic producers.

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