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OTA's Farm Bill Outline for Advancing Organic Agriculture - Organic Trade Association
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OTA's Farm Bill Outline for Advancing Organic Agriculture

 

March 19, 2007

Preface

 

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is the only trade association representing all aspects of organic trade for the United States-based organic industry and has concentrated on helping to build and reinforce an organic systems approach to deliver organic food, fiber and personal care products to consumers.  As part of its obligations to its membership, OTA has been examining the key aspects of organic development that can be fostered by appropriate attention by the Congress to organic systems development, farming, handling and processing, distribution, wholesaling and retailing as part of the 2007 Farm Bill. 

 

U.S. sales of organic food and fiber now constitute the fastest growing segment of U.S. agriculture.  This double-digit growth in consumer sales is expected to continue for the life of the next Farm Bill.  Organic food consumption now constitutes about 2.5% of the food market and OTA studies indicate that sales in the organic segment will grow consistently in the next few years.

 

However, not all sectors of organic production in the United States are thought to be progressing at the same rate. Anecdotally, wholesale and retail outlets are reporting shortfalls and unfulfilled markets; dairy companies report active programs to increase production of organic milk, cheese and butter; and there are some reports that as much as 10% of organic food sold in the U.S. is currently being imported.  The Organic Trade Association is actively working to enhance the U.S. conversion to organic production.  

 

Not only will consumers of organic products benefit from an increased local, regional and national supply of organic food and fiber, but the environment of the U.S. will be greatly enhanced as water and air pollution are reduced by the organic practices that use no toxic and persistent pesticides and herbicides, as well as natural conservation practices that are an inherent part of organic production.  The United States deserves to enjoy both the environmental benefits of organic production and the ability to meet consumer demand by delivery of an organically produced food and fiber supply.

 

OTA is proposing integrated and coordinated programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture that could lead to proportional support for organic production and sales in the United States and to parity in treatment for organic agriculture and food/fiber production systems, as well as increased export to, versus imports from, the global marketplace. 

 

Setting Priorities

 

OTA believes that four objectives can lead to the accomplishment of these goals.  If the Congressional leadership considers and supports these goals, the United States will receive the substantial benefits of organic production and consumption.  OTA’s priorities are:

 

1 – FOSTER TRANSITION TO ORGANIC AGRICULTURE AND TRADE

2 – ELIMINATE HURDLES TO ORGANIC AGRICULTURE AND TRADE

3 – INITIATE AND FUND ORGANIC AGRICULTURE AND ECONOMIC RESEARCH

4 – MAINTAIN AND ENHANCE CURRENT AGENCY PROGRAMS

 

The following pages provide detail and suggestions for program placement.

1. FOSTER TRANSITION TO ORGANIC AGRICULTURE AND TRADE

 

The Organic Trade Association membership understands that the first steps to enhance domestic organic food and fiber supply must lie in fostering the transition to organic systems and organic agricultural production.  There are important first steps that Congress and the USDA can take to increase encouragement for and information flow to conventional farmers and handlers to aid them in the consideration and decision making necessary for making the transition to organic production. These steps begin with technical assistance, information and mentoring via the USDA network of experts and by contracting with organic systems experts in academia and NGOs.  This technical assistance, ideally, will lead to decisions to convert conventional land, and handling and processing facilities to organic operations.  Such conversion can be aided by support for certification, as well as by actual transition aid for a limited period of conversion time – ideally no more than five years.  Following successful conversion, organic farmers and handlers may need enhanced aid, including parity in treatment in various traditional support programs granted to others in U.S. agriculture.

 

A key deterrent to transition is a lack of solid production and market data that informs farmers, processors, wholesalers and retailers about the supply of key organic commodities and gross or regional pricing data for these commodities.  OTA has sought parity with conventional programs in data collection from the Congress and USDA for some time, and small steps have been taken to remedy the lack of data.  However, USDA still does not or cannot issue a gross number of certified organic farms in the United States or a list of all certified organic operations including farms, handlers, processors and sales outlets by category.  Conventional farmers have access to USDA data with which they can begin to plan crops with an eye to marketing their crops at a fair price.  This data is not currently available to organic farmers or potential farmers, and Congress needs to address this gap.

 

Provide Education and Technical Assistance

 

Description

Agency/Program

Provide funds for ATTRA to develop organic transition technical assistance materials and outreach programs

RBS

Provide funds for SARE’s Professional Development Program’s competitive grants program for technical training in organic production and handling

CSREES

Fund inter-agency organic working group to enhance shared communication within USDA and between USDA and stakeholders

Secretary

Fund technical assistance training in organic production to NRCS field staff

NRCS/NGO

Fund technical assistance for FSA field staff

FSA

Provide technical assistance or training to farmers receiving loans or payments for the purpose of making the transition to organic agriculture

NRCS, CSREES or NGO

Fund private sector grant support for education in transition to organic agriculture methods, training and infrastructure

CSREES

Fund a pilot project to identify and utilize at least one “organic farm advisor” in each 1860 & 1890 university, as well as Native American and Hispanic agriculture colleges and universities.

CSREES

Fund grants to youth organizations encouraging organic production methods (4-H, FFA)

CSREES

Fund beginning farmer/rancher programs for education in organic production

CSREES

 


Fund Transition and Maintenance of Organic Certification

 

Description

Agency/Program

Expand EQIP to cover organic on a national basis by establishing nationwide crop and livestock transition incentive payments based on successful state models. Link environmental monitoring to incentive payments:  less sediment, pesticides, and fertilizers in runoff equals greater green payments (e.g., Minnesota, Maryland)

NRCS

Authorize and fund a short-term organic transition program to encourage conversion to certified organic production to include 3 –5 year loans (such as feed grain crops, meat and poultry, specialty crops)

FSA

Amend CSP to provide bridges to certified organic farms and delete requirement for 100% of acreage to be farmed Tier 3 in order to receive the top payment (adding acreage to organic farms should not reduce payments on existing acreage)

NRCS

 

Enhance Certification Cost Share Program

 

Description

Agency/Program

Re-authorize and grow organic certification cost share program. Increase cost share from $500 to $750 maximum or 75% of cost

AMS/NOP

Require annual report on funds allocated

AMS/NOP

 

Require Data Collection

 

Description

Agency/Program

Re-authorize and fund §7407 to identify, fund and publish organic production and market data initiatives and surveys and analysis of the state of organic production, handling, distribution, retail, and trend studies

ERS

Fund comprehensive organic price report

AMS

Fund special reports regarding organic agriculture based on census results, as well as continue to expand organic census data and analysis

NASS

 

2. ELIMINATE HURDLES TO ORGANIC AGRICULTURE AND TRADE

 

Organic agriculture also must overcome hurdles.  Some of these hurdles will only be overcome by long-term work in the private sector.  However, the U.S. can adopt certain practices that will enhance organic production.  First, since most organic agriculture does not receive support from marketing orders yet some organic farmers are required to make payments to marketing orders, OTA is seeking relief for these farmers.  Organic agriculture has developed its own markets, outlets and sales mechanisms, and has not expected conventional agriculture to pay for these developments – neither should organic agriculture be required to pay for marketing of non-organic products.

 

Second, growth in small farm output in organic is a critical effort that will contribute to local and regional availability of organic food and fiber and to the economic and environmental health of rural America.  Special attention should be paid to the needs of small organic farmers as they seek to convert to more organic production.

 

Third, risk management is also of great importance to organic farmers.  Historically organic farmers were denied USDA crop insurance on the grounds that organic agriculture was experimental and higher risk.  Those fears have been allayed, and conventional risk insurance is available to many organic farmers.  However, because of a lack of price data that would help to determine actual loss numbers, organic farmers must pay a 5% premium and even then are insured only for loss of the conventional price.  Organic inputs, labor and conversion costs create a higher cost and price for organic products over conventional counterparts.  Organic farmers should not be penalized for farming organically if they suffer losses that should be covered at cost of production by USDA crop insurance.  OTA recognizes that RMA has recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with AMS to create a pilot program to collect price data for part of the organic sector, and this project, with an expansion, can help lead to the creation of products for organic farmers.

 

Finally, international impediments to export and import are also important factors in organic trade.  A lack of data also impedes farmer incentives for providing domestic organic product in competition with imported product.  Some products will be impossible to produce in sufficient quantities in the United States and relief should be granted for imports so that products can achieve 100% or 95% organic content to meet consumer demand.

 

Make Marketing Orders Relevant

 

Description

Agency/Program

Delete requirement that a farm has to be “100% organic” in order to be exempt from market order payments as required by §10607 of the 2002 Farm Bill

AMS

Create and maintain whole-sector organic promotion program

  OR –

Require that federal and state marketing orders include generic promotion of organic product in proportion to the organic production of that commodity

AMS

Segregate organic product as a commodity when reporting data from promotion and marketing orders

AMS

 

Eliminate Small Farm Impediments

 

Description

Agency/Program

Authorize and fund organic-specific direct marketing program, through farmers markets, farm stands, direct-to-retail, farm-to-school, senior programs and others

FNS

Maintain public access to non-GMO and heirloom foundation seeds

ARS

Authorize and fund promotion of organic products in institutional food service

AMS

Fund mobile slaughter facility development

RBS

Fund FSIS to provide inspectors for mobile slaughter facilities

FSIS

 

Create Parity in Risk Management Programs for Organic Sector/Crop Insurance

 

Description

Agency/Program

Broaden organic pricing and production data collection on which to base crop loss measurements

RMA

Create organic indemnity programs

RMA

Create indemnity program for contamination of organic plant and livestock products

RMA

Provide risk assessments for organic production

RMA

Pay organic farmers organic prices for organic crop losses

RMA

Pay organic farmers organic prices for disaster payments

FSA

 

Create National Organic Policy

 

Description

Agency/Program

Define policy and program gaps in supporting organic

·        Report on producers and handlers of organic agricultural products [(Section 7409(1) in 2002 farm bill)].

·        Include identification of policy barriers to growing organic sector.

·        Recommend and implement comprehensive USDA organic policy.

AMS/NOP

 

Enhance International Provisions

 

Description

Agency/Program

Develop, study and maintain department-wide organic export policy and strategy

FAS

Change customs classification for organic and collect and provide import/export data for organic products

Department of

Commerce /FAS

Increase Market Access Program (MAP) to enhance U.S. organic exports, and work to achieve export targets

FAS

Study impediments to some domestic organic production and study possibility of organic preferences for import quotas and tariffs

FAS

 

3. INITIATE AND FUND ORGANIC AGRICULTURE & ECONOMIC RESEARCH

 

The United States Government and USDA have been renowned for developing the basic and applied research to underpin not only U.S. agricultural development, but global agricultural research as well.  It is time for the USDA Research, Education and Economic (REE) mission area to devote resources to examining fundamental research problems and to solving problems on a practical basis for organic agriculture in a similar manner to the extensive efforts contributed by the Congress and USDA to conventional and genetically modified research.  There is much to be discovered and reported about the fundamentals of organic production and privately funded research can only accomplish so much. In many cases organic is not receiving a share congruent with the growing place organic occupies in U.S. agriculture.


General Research Provisions

Description

Agency/Program

Continue and increase National Program 207 (Integrated Agricultural Systems) funding specifically for organic agriculture and production

ARS

Fund report of comprehensive USDA strategy for organic policy research, including contrasts and comparisons of developments in Codex Alimentarius, EU, Canadian, Japanese, and other public policies and sector development strategies, and continuously update such reports

Secretary

Fund study of intersection of organic agriculture and conservation and environmental outcomes by crop, and by region, state, and watershed, and continuously update such studies

ARS

Fund examinations of nutritional profiles of organically produced food, concentrating on most produced commodities first

ARS

 

Economic Research

 

Description

Agency/Program

Study and perform periodic updates on the effects of organic identity standards on consumers

ERS

Study and perform periodic updates on the effects of organic identity standards on marketing

AMS

 

Agronomic Research

 

Description

Agency/Program

Fund report of organic agronomic research

ARS

Fund Integrated Organic Program/Combine ORG & OREI authorizations

CSREES

Authorize and provide funding for a new Organic Agriculture Institute (or regional centers)

ARS

Authorize and provide funding for grants and fellowships for organic food, agricultural sciences, and policy education

ARS

Authorize and provide funding for research money for seeds and breeds especially suited for organic agriculture

ARS

Fund research on risk management regarding GMO and pesticide drift/other contamination routes

RMA

 

 4. MAINTAIN AND ENHANCE CURRENT AGENCY ORGANIC PROGRAMS

 

The United States is fortunate to have a strong law and rule to govern the national and international production and distribution of organic products.  The USDA Organic label is the signal to consumers that strict organic production and environmental standards are behind every labeled product.

 

The National Organic Program (NOP) within the Agriculture Marketing Service is made up of a growing group of professionals dedicated to ensuring that the USDA Organic label is meaningful.  They also accredit certifiers and work with them on new developments in the organic sector, as well as with the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to solve evolving issues for the organic sector by developing guidance and rulemaking.  As the organic sector grows, it is important for the funding and staffing at NOP to keep pace.  Credibility of enforcement of the organic standard is very critical to organic farmers, handlers and all others in the organic trade. That credibility will be enhanced or short circuited by the actions of the NOP, and influenced by the resources granted to NOP and other parts of AMS, and USDA as a whole. 

 

There are several other USDA agencies where work is currently underway and mission areas that work more on organic trade issues.  Enhancing their coordination within USDA is critical to the success of organic.




Description

Agency/Program

Fully fund operations of the National Organic Program (NOP)

·        For standards development

·        For international standards recognition and conformity

·        Audit and review

AMS/NOP

Fund operation of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB)

AMS/NOP

Strengthen accreditation program for USDA organic certifying agents

·        Fund adequately for continuing ISO 61 compliance

·        Fund American National Standards Institute (ANSI) sub-contracting for annual internal audits compliance

·        Authorize and provide funding for accredited certifying agent training

·        Fund ISO 65 training for accredited certifying agents

AMS/NOP

Fund federal and state investigation and enforcement programs, including a portion of the budget for State Organic Programs

AMS/NOP

Establish an organic office within a USDA mission area

·        To facilitate the coordination of the work of all USDA programs involved in organic production, handling and trade

·        To act as a Liaison to AMS (and NOP), ARS, CSREES, ERS, FAS, NAL, NASS, NRCS, RMA

·        To be responsible for inter-departmental coordination (EPA, HHS/FDA, etc.)

Secretary

Enhance Nutrition and Related Programs

·        Create and fund an organic pilot program to work with Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program and Promotion Program

·        Mandate that state WIC programs include the option of buying organic food, especially milk, soy and baby foods

·        Fund school districts’ organic food programs

·        Fund organic options in seniors’ nutrition programs

FNS

Fund creation of a shared online Organic Portal for information inside USDA, and maintain it

ARS/NAL

Fund an international organic research collaboration (§7408)

ARS

 

 

The Organic Trade Association presents these numbers to give a realistic picture of what it will take to begin building a sustainable infrastructure for organic agriculture and trade in the United States. The recommended authorizations and allocations represented here reflect well over two years of thinking, listening, and debating organic agriculture needs. If fully funded at approximately $149.2 million a year, this would represent well under one percent of the current USDA budget. It is interesting to note that the U.S. biotechnology industry received $150 million during 2006 for research alone.

 

With the inclusion of these items in the 2007 Farm Bill, the organic system would be well on its way to parity of treatment by Congress and USDA, and the United States would be receiving both the benefits of the environmental improvements and consumption of organic food, fiber and personal care products.  OTA urges adoption of these proposals to help advance organic agriculture.

 
 
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