Fall Bill Seeds Beginning to Sprout…

Mark Keating's picture

Driven by strong bipartisan support, the U.S. Senate on Monday night approved its version of the 2013 Farm Bill by a vote of 66 to 27.  The bill renews Washington’s commitment to organic agriculture by reauthorizing three key programs – the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP) and Organic Data Initiative (ODI) – which were allowed to lapse under the current Farm Bill extension.  The funding for these programs is limited - $16 million annually for OREI, $11.5 annually for NOCCSP and $5 million for ODI over the bill’s five year lifespan – but these are essential investments in the future of organic agriculture.  Similarly, the Senate’s Farm Bill offers modest but meaningful support for a number of vital beginning farmer, conservation and direct marketing initiatives and reforms which stalled during the extension.  The good news overall is that the Senate stepped up to the plate and passed a Farm Bill which validates organic production as an important part of American agriculture’s future.

All eyes now turn to the U.S. House of Representatives which has tentatively committed to floor debate on its version of the Farm Bill during the week beginning June 17. There are pronounced weaknesses in the current version of the House Farm Bill, most significantly the absence of funding for NOCCSP and ODI.  Defunding these measures means pulling the rug out from beneath organic farmers, especially the smaller producers, who have overcome the historic lack of government support – both technical and financial – to build our movement.  The annual ceiling on organic cost-share - $750 per production and/or handling operation – would hardly register on a DC lobbyist’s expense account, but there is no question that it keeps smaller and new-entry farmers in certification.  The ODI serves a different function by funding market research and analysis including special projects, such as the 2011 Certified Organic Production Survey which provide a unique understanding of  organic agriculture’s growth.

Hot button issues worth billions of appropriated dollars, such as supplemental food assistance and crop insurance subsidies, will surely dominate the impending House Farm Bill debate and subsequent Conference Committee, should the House pass legislation.  We shouldn’t let those important debates take our eye off the prize of guaranteeing a bright future for organic farmers.  We’ll keep you current with major developments and especially ways in which you can make your voice heard in Washington.

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