Integrating Organic Agriculture
throughout the 2002 Farm Bill
How does the federal government currently deal with organic agriculture?
Title XXI of the 1990 Farm Bill, known as the Organic Foods Production Act, created the National Organic Standards Board and the National Organic Program. OTA is considering the benefits of restructuring federal support for organic production. There are various ways this could happen: 1) Integrate organic considerations into all aspects of the Farm Bill. Organic agriculture shouldn’t be relegated to a program which separates it from opportunities open to conventional agriculture, such as inclusion in extension programs. 2) Create legislation declaring organic products a commodity or a commodity group. This would allow organic marketing orders, making organic products eligible for promotion through an agency similar to the Milk Council or Cotton, Inc.
Why the current approach is insufficient
At about 20% growth per year, and an estimated five billion dollars in sales for 1998, the organic industry deserves access to the same programs offered to conventional agriculture. Also, organic agriculture has some concerns which are different from conventional agriculture, such as maintaining the health of the biological activity in the soil. These aspects are good for the environment and deserve to be supported as such in addition to programs geared to conventional agriculture.
The Research, Extension, and Education Title
So far, there has not been a great deal of public investment in research in organic production. At a time when demand for organic products is rising and small farms are failing, farmers need ready access to information which could help them make an informed choice about making the transition to organic production. Universities are expanding programs in integrated pest management and other programs which recognize the ecological nature of agriculture. This should be expanded to include support for organic farmers, whose work improves soil quality while avoiding adding pesticides and inorganic fertilizers to their ecosystems. Specifically, agricultural colleges should receive funding for research and education in organic farming.
Funding and training is necessary to assist agricultural extension offices in becoming equipped to help both existing organic farmers and conventional farmers who are considering making the transition to organic agriculture. As conventional farming becomes more capital intensive, organic production can be an attractive alternative.
Using the Credit Title for funding transition and certification costs
The three-year conversion to organic agriculture is very demanding on farmers. It often takes another year beyond that for yields to compare with conventional agriculture. Since organic farming is environmentally friendly, which is good for the local community, conversion should be supported. These costs could be covered under a section of the Credit Title.
The Agricultural Promotion Title
Simply put, organic agriculture should have its own dedicated program under this title.
Further actions: Protections from genetic trespass
Selling crops which contain only residual amounts of GMOs is increasingly difficult due to the amount of GMO pollen in the air. If an organic crop is contaminated with GMOs it must be sold as conventional, which decreases its value significantly. Some people claim that this contamination amounts not only to genetic trespass but to the taking of their property.
Please notify your congressional officials to expect further communications on these issues.