Action Alert - Farm Bill: Organic Victories Tempered by More of the Same Industrial Ag

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By Mark Keating, OFRF Policy Advisor

UPDATE 1/29/14 : Victory for Organic Farmers:  House passes new Farm Bill; Senate vote expected within days.

House and Senate negotiators have agreed upon on a new five year Farm Bill which significantly increases support for key organic initiatives including the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP), Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) and the Organic Data Initiative (ODI).  The bill, which must still pass the House and Senate, also contains $5 million to modernize the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) and increases funding for local, beginning and sustainable agriculture programs including $150 million over five years for the Farmers Market Promotion Program.  The bill also authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to consider the establishment of a dedicated Organic Research and Promotion Program, should the community elect to pursue one.  These groundbreaking victories, however, must be weighed against the billions of dollars which this proposal commits to the failed industrial agriculture model.

On balance, OFRF supports passage of the current Farm Bill proposal because, after two and half years of legislative bottlenecks, we simply cannot wait any longer to restore essential services and resources to American farmers.  For example, the proposal funds NOCCSP at an historic level of $11.5 million annually for five years,: a 161% increase. The OREI program, which funds peer review-level research and requires the participation of organic stakeholders including farmers, would receive $20 million annually (a 28% increase over the 2008 Farm Bill). The proposal also contains a one-time appropriation of $5 million for ODI which will enable USDA to increase the organic market analysis and price reporting it provides.

These victories would not have been possible without sustained advocacy from the grassroots organic community, including OFRF, NSAC, and others, yet we should not lose sight of how much hard work lies ahead.  The current proposal disproportionately rewards industrial agriculture and undermines many bipartisan and cost-effective measures which could have made this Farm Bill an historic turning point in American agriculture.  For example, the proposal drops commodity payment and crop insurance reforms supported by majorities in both the House and Senate which would make the agricultural support programs far more equitable and accountable. As regrettable as this and other shortcomings in the commodity, crop insurance and conservation titles may be, OFRF believes that the significantly expanded support for organic, local and beginning farmers makes this Farm Bill worth passing.  The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the Farm Bill as soon as tomorrow, and the Senate vote is anticipated shortly after, before going to the President for his signature. We urge our members and supporters to contact their Senators and Representatives and ask them to vote "yes" on the Farm Bill.


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