OFRF Testimony to the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee

Testimony Submitted by Jane E. Shey
, Policy Associate, Organic Farming Research Foundation to the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee March 23, 2015 

Chairman Aderholt, Ranking Member Farr, and Members of the Subcommittee:

I am submitting this testimony on behalf of the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) to detail our fiscal year 2016 funding requests for USDA programs of importance to the organic farming sector.

USDA/ National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) 

Organic Transitions Program

Request: $5 million 

The Organic Transition Program is a critical research grant program that helps farmers address some of the challenges of organic production and marketing. The demand for research on organic agriculture is outpacing the available funds in this program. According to NIFA, only 38% of the applicants to this program receive funding. USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) has identified a number of organic research priorities that cannot be funded due to a lack of resources. An increase in the Organic Transition Program would allow the NOSB to address some of the research issues that limit the growth of the organic industry. And given the innovative nature of organic agriculture, many of these research projects benefit all farmers, not just those in the organic sector.

The Organic Transition Program was funded at $5 million in fiscal year 2010, and about $4 million for Fiscal Years 2011 through 2015. We are seeking $5 million to restore the program to its FY 2010 level to in order to address the current low funding rate for this program.

USDA/ Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) 

National Organic Program

Request: $9.2 million 

Due to the growth of organic agriculture, 
organic agriculture is one of the fastest growing sectors of agriculture, fueled by strong consumer demand organically produced goods continue to show double-digit growth, providing market incentives for U.S. farmers across a broad range of products. Organic products are now available in nearly 20,000 natural food stores and nearly 3 out of 4 conventional grocery stores with organic sales accounting for over 4 percent of total U.S. food sales.
The USDA organic label is administered by the National Organic Program (NOP). NOP was funded at about $9.1 million for FY 2015. We are requesting $9.2 million for NOP, consistent with the Administration’s FY 2016 budget request. This slight funding increase will allow NOP to meet the growing consumer demand for organically produced goods and to expand market access for organic farms and businesses.

USDA (AMS, NASS, ERS)

Organic Data Initiative

Request: AMS, Organic Data Initiative $309,000

Request: NASS, Organic Data Initiative - $250,000.

Request: Report language for AMS- Continue and Expand Organic Price Reporting

Request: Report language for NASS- Continue and Expand Organic Data Collection

Request: Report language for ERS- Continue and Expand Organic Data Analysis Work

The Organic Production and Marketing Data Initiative is charged with collecting data on the production and marketing of organic agricultural products as a part of the overall baseline of data regarding agricultural production and marketing. While this program is funded at a mandatory level, the 2014 Farm Bill authorizes $5 million annually in discretionary funding for this work.

We support an additional $309,000 for the AMS Organic Data Initiative with report language urging strong intra-agency cooperation on continued and expanded organic price reporting and data collection. We support an additional $250,000 for the NASS Organic Data Initiative with report language to continue and expand organic data collection. We also support report language for the ERS to expand their organic data collection within its base activities.

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Request:

Report language on public cultivar development 

Request: Report language on organic research 

Organic and sustainable farmers need access to germ-plasm that is unique to their cropping systems and to our changing climate. Unfortunately, in recent years, there has been less resources available to public research and cultivar development with the growth of the biotechnology industry.

While Congress has stressed the need for “conventional plant and animal breeding for AFRI research grants, USDA has been slow to implement this congressional intent. We ask the Appropriations Committee to stress again that AFRI needs to place a high priority on classical breeding and public cultivar development within their research program.

As we have stated earlier, the demand for organic research outstrips the funding available. Therefore, we also request report language urging NIFA to increase funding for organic research through AFRI.

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) 

Request: $30 million 

The SARE program is another valuable research program with a focus on environmentally sound practices and systems, with organic production research as one of the beneficiaries. Consistent with the increased demand for organic research, as well as the challenges presented by a changing climate, we are requesting $30 million for the SARE Program to assist farmers as they try to improve and adjust their growing practices.

Food Safety Outreach Program

Request: $5 million 

With the changes mandated by the Food Safety and Modernization Act of 2010, it is critical for small and mid-size farms and small processing facilities to receive the training necessary to comply with new food safety regulations. The request $5 million for the training program which coincides with the President’s budget requests for FY 2016. We are also requesting report language stating that local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) should be in eligible to work with local farmers in food safety training programs.

USDA/Rural Business Cooperative Service 

Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA) 

Request: $2.5 million 

ATTRA, a national sustainable agriculture information service, is an important source of information and technical assistance for for farmers, ranchers, Extension agents, and educators on sustainable agriculture. We request $2.5 million for FY 2016 for ATTRA.

Thank you for your consideration of this testimony.