Protect Organic Farming Measures in the 2012 Farm Bill

When the current 2008 United States Farm Bill expires in September 2012, the 2012 Farm Bill will replace it, and there is some speculation of how to best revise the bill to suit the country’s current agricultural needs. Many Americans support provisions related to domestic organic farming in the bill, including the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), an organization based in Santa Cruz, Calif., that aims to promote organic farming practices across the country. The Farm Bill is the primary source of federal agricultural laws, and must be passed by Congress, but lobbyists and consumers who voice their demands often have an impact on the bill’s policies. Though the current farm bill contains initiatives designed to support organic farmers, it is critical that these initiatives receive continued and increased funding and investment in order to sustain and expand the organic farming industry.

While some American farms have adopted organic practices, most have not, and there is a growing need for organic farming as consumer demand for pesticide-free products rises. Organic growing methods are not widespread and organic farmers are still in the minority in America. Most organic farms are small farms as opposed to large corporations.

Organic farming is rapidly expanding and is now a $29 billion industry with over 14,500 organic farms. Despite the current economic crisis, domestic organic farming has continued to thrive. The OFRF estimates that, if consumer demand for U.S.-grown organic products continues to increase at the current rate, the organic farming industry will need to serve 42,000 farmers by 2015. The OFRF states in their petition letter, “With a modest investment in USDA research, marketing, and farmer assistance programs to support the U.S. organic sector, we can close the gap and expand this critical job base here at home” and says that additional investment into programs supporting organic farming is needed to meet consumer demand and expand organic farms, suggesting several ways to do so through existing federal initiatives.

Among the programs the OFRF supports expanding are the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), which funds research projects related to organic production methods, and the National Organic Program (NOP), which enforces national organic standards and protects the integrity of food labeled as organic. The National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program (NOCCSP) allocates funds to aid small and mid-size businesses in becoming certified as organic, a process that can be costly to small businesses in their early stages.

The OFRF also suggests implementing new policies into the 2012 Farm Bill. One proposed initiative would enable organic farmers to take advantage of risk management tools provided by the USDA, who currently does not pay organic farmers a cost reflective of organic produce when their crops are damaged due to disaster. The USDA also requires organic farmers to pay a surcharge to participate in the federal crop insurance program. Another initiative would distribute funds to farmers to ensure that they have access to seeds that are suitable for their growing region.

Other reforms suggested for the 2012 Farm Bill include distributing federal government subsidies for agriculture evenly between organic farmers and large corporations. Currently, corporations that grow large-scale crops like corn and produce products such as corn syrup from their crops receive notably higher subsidies than small, sustainable, organic farms. In a New York Times article earlier this year, blogger Mark Bittman said, “What subsidies need is not the ax, but reform that moves them forward. Imagine support designed to encourage a resurgence of small- and medium-size farms producing not corn syrup and animal-feed but food we can touch, see, buy and eat – like apples and carrots – while diminishing handouts to agribusiness and its political cronies.” 

Reinforcing organic farming provisions in the 2012 Farm Bill would provide needed support to a growing sector of the American economy, and would ensure that supply will meet the demands of the increasing number of consumers who buy organic food. Add your name to the OFRF’s petition to support organic farming initiatives in the 2012 Farm Bill.

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