OTA’s Congressional Education Day 2001
Issue: Farm Program Reform
Background for Congress
Position: Support funding for organic production throughout the Farm Bill
OTA and its farmer members support:
- Senator Harkin’s Conservation Security Act, not commodity-based legislation;
- funding research on organic production;
- market research for organic products;
- tax credits and incentives for organic farmers;
- incentive payments for conservation practices;
- technical but not financial assistance for farms making the transition to organic; and
- cost-sharing for certification expenses.
Organic producers must be treated fairly. Now that the U.S. has a national organic standard, there are various ways to strengthen funding for organic production. For instance, all programs within USDA could better meet U.S. environmental goals if Congress funds organic producers fairly. At the least, all USDA programs should devote a proportion of their program funds to benefit organic production. Beyond that, new programs specific to organic production could be created, just as programs specific to biotechnology have been created.
Support incentive payments for conservation practices
OTA supports Senator Harkin’s Conservation Security Act, which provides three levels of support to farmers engaged in various conservation practices. OTA is working with Senator Harkin to make it easier for organic farmers to gain financial support for their conservation work.
Fund basic research
OTA strongly supports funding for the collection of basic statistics about the economic impact of organic production. This research would be done by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). This data could then be analyzed by the USDA’s Economic Research Service. Congressional staff should work with NASS to develop a long-term plan for funding the collection of appropriate statistics on organic food and fiber systems.
Fund research on the market for organic products
USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) provides a wealth of market data for conventional agricultural products. OTA would like ERS to separate out data for organic products, as the market for organically produced products may be significantly different from the market for the corresponding conventionally produced products.
Support tax credits or incentives for organic farmers
Environmentally sound farming practices are generally not rewarded financially. Relying on a high market price for organic products is risky when the general economic environment for agricultural production is difficult. Currently, the environmental costs of conventional farming are not figured into the price of conventional products, nor are organic farmers adequately compensated for the benefits they provide. OTA supports efforts to address these twin problems.
Fund technical assistance for farms making the transition to organic
Although financial support to farms considering making the transition to organic production would support conventional farmers without giving organic farmers similar support, funding technical assistance would allow conventional farmers to make an informed choice about adopting organic practices. Thus, OTA and its farmer members support giving conventional farmers the technical information they need to make an informed decision concerning transitioning to organic.
Support certification cost-sharing
Organic farmers must meet many requirements before they are eligible for certification. Congress should provide assistance to organic farmers for two major reasons.
First, organic farming is inherently good for the environment and helps advance U.S. environmental initiatives. Organic farmers must create and follow a farm plan that provides for the ecologically sound production of organic products. These practices include managing nutrients to avoid fertilizer run-off and eliminating persistent, toxic pesticides. These practices avoid creating pollution downstream from the farm.
Second, now that certification is mandatory at the federal level, some organic farmers will have to adapt their practices to meet the new National Organic Program rule. Because organic farmers are already required to work hard to improve the environment by meeting strict requirements, the cost burden of any mandatory certification program should be mitigated to a reasonable extent, as exemplified by Senator Leahy’s pilot program.
OTA also supports several of the points developed by the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture. These include germplasm development for organic; funding for the Agricultural Research Service and Cooperative Extension to develop organic programs; the Agricultural Community Revitalization Act; the Conservation Security Act; and training in organic production for USDA staff. See http://www.sustainableagriculture.net/ for details.