The House Agriculture Committee is holding public hearings on the 2012 Farm Bill, which will succeed the current 2008 bill. The committee also is taking comments on its website.
The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee has not yet begun its hearings.
The 2008 Farm Bill contained funding for several organic provisions, including $78 million for organic agricultural research, $22 million for costs to transition to organic farming and $5 million for organic data collection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The bill also expanded the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to include conservation practices related to organic production.
The Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Organic Farming Research Foundation and the Washington, D.C.-based Organic Trade Association are monitoring the hearings and plan to meet with legislators to advocate for organic provisions in the bill. The OFRF has sent a board member who also is an organic farmer to one of the hearings.
OFRF Policy Program Organizer Tracy Lerman said the foundation is analyzing results of a survey of organic and transitioning farms asking for input on the bill. The survey results will help determine the foundation’s policy platform on the farm bill.
Lerman said the gains made for organic in the 2008 Farm Bill, “especially the research money, were a strong down payment in support of organic farmers and ranchers. But organic farmers still only receive a tiny fraction of federal resources … significantly less than their share of the domestic retail food market.”
According to the OTA, organic fruits and vegetables represented 11.4 percent of all U.S. produce sales in 2009. Yet organics received less than 1 percent of the $289 billion budgeted for the 2008 Farm Bill.
OTA Chief of Policy and External Relations Laura Batcha said the association’s top priorities for the 2012 Farm Bill are:
Support for public education about what organic delivers
Support for organic research
Protection of cost-share reimbursement for farmers and handlers
Support for organic transition through the EQIP program
“Protecting and advancing the significant gains for organic in the 2008 Farm Bill in the current economic and political climate will require a focused and coordinated effort from the industry: farmers, processors, distributors and retailers,” Batcha said.