The Farm Bill is a law that will serve as the framework for American Agriculture for a period of 5 years starting in 2018.
It is currently being finalized in Congress, which is why Mark Squire, an organic farmer, Good Earth partner, and a board member of the Organic Trade Association (OTA), recently traveled to Washington DC with a number of other farmers, retailers and organic activists to speak with Congress members about the importance of including support for organics in this bill.
We all need to be vigilant to maintain the integrity of organic certification, but the good news is that the investment and momentum of our collective participation in organics has paid off, and the National Organic Program (NOP) looks like it is here to stay, despite the current administration’s rush to defund all non-military government programs.
The Farm Bill will decide a few very important points for the further growth of the organic foods movement, which are detailed below.
While the Farm Bill has not yet been finalized, draft versions in both the House and Senate looked promising in terms of support for organic.
Funding for the NOP (National Organic Program)
The NOP has ramped up the level of enforcement of organic claims over the last 5 years, but considering that organic sales in the US have gone from $30 Billion a year, in 2011, to $47 Billion in 2016, the NOP is totally underfunded to do the job. The request to congress is increased funding.
Support for US organic farmers, and farmers looking to transition to organic systems
In recent years the domestic demand for organic food has outstripped the ability of US farmers to meet that need, resulting in vast tonnage of organic grain and beans being imported yearly, despite the fact that US organic farmers are about 35% more profitable than their neighbors. The USDA could play an important role in helping farmers make the transition to organic systems, which are more healthful to both people and the environment, as well as helping US farmers remain in business.
Funding for organic research
Organic agriculture is in need of meaningful research. In the previous Farm Bill, organic received 20 million in research dollars, out of a total research budget of 1.1 billion per year. Most of the USDA’s research dollars spent over the last 25 years have been directed at developing methods to support a highly chemical dependent form of cropping. As an example, plant varieties have been developed to excel in these high input systems and very little research investment has been made into developing plant varieties that do well in organic systems. Even the small amount spent on organic research in the last few years has shown what a huge difference a little research can make to improving organic systems.
Due to the phenomenal growth of the organic sector, the organic message to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle has become a much easier sell.
What was once a young movement has developed into a large industry that is hard to ignore, representing economic growth, rural development, and jobs.