Farm Bill Hearings Begin

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Two weeks ago, the House Agriculture Committee kicked off its Farm Bill discussion with a hearing to review the economic challenges facing rural farmers. While much of the discussion focused on low farm commodity prices and declining net farm income for conventional agriculture, both Congressman John Faso (R-NY) and Congressman Rodney Davis (R-IL) mentioned organic farming, with Mr. Faso pointing out the strong market for organic dairy.  While testifying before the committee, Dr. Johansson, the USDA Chief Economist, highlighted the strong economic opportunities for domestic organic producers. 

Last week, the Senate Agriculture Committee took their show on the road with Farm Bill hearings in Manhattan and Kansas. Many of the farmers testifying at the hearings discussed the state of the farm economy, pointing to the importance of crop insurance as part of a safety net for farmers. 

Although there was no mention of organic agriculture at the hearing, Senator Stabenow, the top Democrat on the Senate panel, warned against arbitrary cuts in the agriculture budget. “We, in fact, created savings in the last Farm Bill,” Stabenow said. “We were the only ones that offered up savings – $23 billion in cuts in our own areas on the committee.” The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that the current Farm Bill will save more than initially expected and would lower budget deficits by $16.6 billion over a 10-year period.

Along with the Farm Bill hearings, the annual budget and appropriations cycle is starting up in Washington, D.C., even as Congress awaits the President’s budget outline for the upcoming 2018 fiscal year. The appropriations process, which deals with discretionary funding, is separate from the Farm Bill process.

To begin examining funding and USDA programs, the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee held a hearing with the USDA Office of the Inspector General, and another hearing on farm credit lending programs and conservation. During one of the hearings, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME) highlighted the huge demand for organic products and the challenges that American farmers are facing in meeting that demand.

Investment in organic research is key to supporting organic farmers in meeting the increasing demand for organic products. OFRF will continue meet with the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, USDA, and Congressional staff to ensure that vital organic research programs are part of the next appropriations cycle and the upcoming Farm Bill.