The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 became law last month and allocates at least $20 million to organic research and certification.
"The 2002 Farm Bill contains several initiatives that will provide great benefits to organic agriculture as we move rapidly towards implementation of the National Organic Program," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and conferee for the new farm bill.
Leahy said he's seen tremendous growth in the organics industry since 1990, when work began on the Organic Foods Production Act in the farm bill. "This market expansion means that more farmers will use ecological and sustainable production methods, that the organic industry also provides sustainability to the profession of farming and that more farmers will be able to make a decent living doing what they love," he said.
The bill's Organic Research Initiative provides $15 million over five years to fund organic research, including on-farm research and development for working organic farms, determination of desirable traits for organic commodities and identification of marketing and policy constraints on organic agriculture expansion.
Bob Scowcroft, executive director and co-founder, Organic Farming Research Foundation, Santa Cruz, Calif., said mandatory funding is a first. "Organic farmers deserve their fair share of America's research dollar."
Katherine DiMatteo, executive director, Organic Trade Association, Greenfield, Mass., said this research funding will help educate conventional farmers about organic agriculture. "Finally, we will begin to get data on the organic industry that's been lacking, as well as more research to help advance farmers' use and understanding of effective organic practices," DiMatteo said.
The bill also features the International Organic Research Collaboration provision, which requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture to collect and disseminate international organic research to U.S. organic farmers. Scowcroft said a lot of research has been conducted overseas, but not made available here.
Another highlight of the farm bill is the Organic Certification Cost Share provision, a $5 million allocation to help agricultural producers and handlers obtain NOP certification.
The bill also provides the industry an Organic Marketing Order Check-Off Program to exempt farmers who produce only 100 percent organic products from paying fees to mandatory commodity promotion programs.
"This is a major victory for organic farmers who have often felt disenfranchised because the dollars they pay into such programs generally are not used to promote their products," DiMatteo said. These farmers now have the opportunity to promote their own organic products or keep their profits.
For more on the Farm Bill's organic provisions, visit www.ofrf.org.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 6/p. 7