Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Dan Newhouse (R-WA), and Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) recently introduced the Organic Agriculture Research Act to support the continued growth of the nation’s booming organic agriculture industry.
The legislation increases funding for USDA’s flagship organic research program, the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), from $20 million to $50 million annually. The program funds applied research projects across the country that help organic farmers improve their operations and meet the growing consumer demand for organic food.
“Over the last 10 years, sales of organic food in the United States have doubled, which has benefited rural economies and raised the income of many farmers. There’s still a lot of room for growth — it’s just a question of getting farmers what they need to keep up with consumer demand,” Pingree said. “Organic Research and Extension Initiative funding has been critical in solving problems and developing ways for farmers to increase productivity, prevent loss, and streamline their operations. But insufficient funding has led to many unmet research needs and missed opportunities. The Organic Agriculture Research Act would increase funding to reflect the industry’s growth in the market and maintain its momentum.”
This bill is supported by Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Organic Trade Association, National Farmers Union, Union of Concerned Scientists, Organic Valley, Stonyfield, Organic Farming Research Foundation, National Organic Coalition, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Organic Seed Alliance, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, Oregon Tilth, and Florida Organic Growers.
“A strong commitment to organic research benefits our farmers, our health, the environment, and local economies,” said Ted Quaday, Executive Director, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.
Organic Industry Booming — A Boon for Farmers
U.S. organic product sales currently exceed $43 billion per year, up from less than $19 billion in 2007 and $3.5 billion in 1997. Almost 13% of the produce sold in the U.S. is now organic.
Organic farms are 35% more profitable than the average farm. Premiums paid to organic farmers can range from 29% to 32% above non-organic prices. The difference in on-farm net income in many cases is what makes staying on the farm possible.
The dramatic increase in consumer demand has not been met with an increase in public investment in organic research. Funding for OREI has remained around the same level since 2010.
In 2016, 18 projects totaling $17,640,143 were funded through OREI. The same year, 43 additional projects totaling $40,282,461 were recommended for funding but could not be funded for lack of resources.
Additional funding would address organic research gaps. The 2016 National Organic Research Agenda identified three topics where organic farmers’ research needs are still unmet: soil health, weed control, and fertility methods. Organic and non-organic farmers alike benefit from this research. For example, cover cropping is standard practice on organic farms but has been widely adopted by non-organic farms as well.
“To remain competitive, these operations depend on innovations in research, particularly when it comes to improvements in soil health and pest management,” said Panetta. “The Organic Agriculture Research Act will provide economic opportunity for our producers and increase accessibility to consumers through science-based advancements.”