Helping U.S. farmers transition to organic
Organic food has take criticism lately, because a portion is flowing from overseas. (All those food miles, all that lost support for American farmers.) Well, there’s a reason that trend is underway: Not enough American farms are growing organic crops and fewer still are converting, so demand is exceeding supply. With the Farm Bill, attempts are underway to address that problem.
The organic farming community is seeking a few tender morsels off the Congressional table, to help farmers get into the organic sector. I explained these on Chews Wise, with links to more in-depth documents, but the main points are these: Organic farmers seek research, so growers can more easily figure out how to farm organically, and funds are needed to offset the costs of certification and aid farms through the difficult transition period.
- Basic research funds. Currently organic farming research only gets about $3 million in dedicated funds out of a USDA research budget of about $2 billion. They want $15 million.
- Certification cost share. Farmers can get up to $500 annually to offset up to 75 percent of the costs of organic certification, but much of that money has run out. (This $500-per-farm subsidy is the only one specifically for organic farmers and is aimed at smaller operations.)
- Transition support. The lobby is looking for $50 million per year to help farmers with the three-year transition to organic farming.
Environmental Working Group recently launched a site to gin up support on the issue and generate 30,000 signatures to lawmakers by July 15. The point is to win baseline funding for organic agriculture, so that it can be increased in the next farm bill. If the baseline is near zero, it isn’t going to move at all — not in the next bill, or the one after that — and farmers will continue to sit on the sidelines.
When you wonder why organic products are coming from overseas, you will have your answer: the modest government incentives and research U.S. farmers needed to pursue organic farming weren’t available. So they didn’t bother to switch.