Congress Makes Substantial 'Down Payment' Toward a Fair Share for Organic
SANTA CRUZ, Calif., May 27 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- America's ten thousand organic farmers have won a strong commitment to organic systems research, according to the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF). "With the override of the President's veto and final passage of the 2008 Farm Bill, Congress has made a substantial down payment toward a fair share of federal funding for organic agriculture," said Steve Ela, an organic tree fruit grower from Colorado and President of OFRF.
OFRF led the fight for increased organic research, education and extension funding, which proved to be the biggest win for organic farming in the legislation. The 2008 Farm Bill provides $78 million for organic agriculture research and education, an historic five-fold increase from the $15 million allocated in the expiring 2002 legislation. These funds will dramatically expand competitive grants for the development and sharing of organic farming systems information through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Integrated Organic Program. Such an expansion is urgently needed to ensure that organic farmers and ranchers can continue to meet the growing demand for organic products and be successful stewards of their land.
While this increase is another major landmark for U.S. organic agriculture, it is still not a "fair share" of public investment in this area, according to OFRF. The new funding represents approximately 1% of USDA's research budget -- well behind organic products' nearly 4% share of the U.S. retail food market.
"U.S. producers need far greater science-based information resources than they currently have, in order to support the nation's desire for healthier food and farming systems," noted OFRF Executive Director Bob Scowcroft. "With this bill, Congress has made progress toward fulfilling organic agriculture's potential to provide broad environmental and economic benefits along with the sustained harvests needed to feed us all. Matching federal resources to the organic share of the marketplace is the next step, and we will continue working towards that."
Congressional support for organic research was led by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. Iowa dairy farmer and OFRF board member Francis Thicke said, "Chairman Harkin was a true champion for organic agriculture in this bill, and we owe him great thanks. He has seen first-hand what organic farming has meant to family farmers in Iowa, and it is part of his vision for U.S. agriculture."
Another key leader on the bill was California Representative Dennis Cardoza (D-Merced). As chair of the newly created House Agriculture Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture, Cardoza was crucial to formulating the initial organic provisions in the bill and preserving these gains through its final passage. OFRF board member John Teixeira, an organic grower in Rep. Cardoza's district, noted that "Dennis has a lot of organic farmers in his district, and he helped make sure we were heard and respected in the process."
Other champions for organic agriculture in the Farm Bill process included Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), New York Representative Kirsten Gillibrand (D-Saratoga Springs) and Wisconsin Representative Steve Kagen (D-Green Bay). Congress's two certified organic farmers, California Representative Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) and Senator John Tester (D-MT), do not serve on the Agriculture Committees but played helpful supporting roles.
In addition, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and New Jersey Representative Rush Holt (D-West Windsor) successfully led the opposition to a harmful provision that could have limited the USDA's ability to reward the use of organic farming systems for conservation goals.
Key Role of Farmers
Organic family farmers played a direct role in advocating for changes in federal farm policy thanks to OFRF's Organic Farmers Action Network (OFAN). According to Scowcroft, "The direct relationships that organic farmers established with their legislators played a key role in achieving these gains. Both at home in the districts and during visits to Washington, D.C., the growers made a strong case for the benefits of supporting organic agriculture, family farmers and local food systems."
OFRF expects organic growers to continue to play an important role in monitoring and advising the implementation of the bill, and OFAN will help them to do so. "Passing the 2008 Farm Bill is only the first step of delivering organic systems knowledge to both organic producers and conventional producers who want to farm more sustainably. Organic farmers will be working with each USDA agency as they integrate organic food and farming into their programs," said Mark Lipson, OFRF's Senior Policy Analyst.
Other Organic Wins
In addition to the increased research, education and extension funding,
the 2008 Farm Bill addresses other factors that are limiting organic
production in the U.S., including:
-- providing $5 million for collection of economic data about organic
production and markets;
-- providing $22 million to offset part of farmers' organic certification
-- taking steps to eliminate bias against organic growers in crop
-- establishing financial and technical support for conversion to organic
"All of the parts of the organic policy package are important," said Lipson, "and we want to thank the Agriculture Committees' leaders and all our supporters in Congress for making progress on many of them with this Farm Bill."
Ela expressed the sense of purpose that he and many other organic growers feel: "It's not just about supporting organic farmers," he said. "Organic research has already demonstrated important benefits for consumers and the environment, from reducing pesticide contamination in children's diets to conserving the health of pollinators. It can make a huge contribution to storing carbon in living soil. Added investment in more and better organic farming practices is part of solving many of the urgent issues we all face."
For details on 2008 Farm Bill provisions related to organic agriculture, go to http://ofrf.org/policy/federal_legislation/farm_bill/080520_update.pdf
About the Organic Farming Research Foundation
The Organic Farming Research Foundation was founded in 1990 to foster the improvement and widespread adoption of organic farming systems. OFRF sponsors organic farming research and education projects, disseminates the results to organic farmers and to growers interested in adopting organic production systems, and educates the public and policymakers about organic farming issues. The majority of OFRF's board members are working organic farmers. http://www.ofrf.org
|SOURCE Organic Farming Research Foundation|
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