On April 18, key players in the organic sector testified before the Agricultural Committee's Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture, calling for more financial resources to support organic farming research, education and infrastructure domestically.
Mark Lipson, policy program director for the Organic Farming Research Foundation, highlighted the disparity between the growth of the organic sector versus the federal funds and programs supporting organics.
"The benchmark we are using to create our overall funding target is the current growth rate of organics domestically," Lipson said. "Making up 2 [percent] to 3 percent of the market today, by the end of the next Farm Bill in 2012, organics could be 10 percent of the market. Currently, only about 1 percent of Farm Bill funds go towards organics and we are proposing an average of about 6 percent of the funds for organics over the next five years."
Lipson said that if dedicated funds and programs for organic research and education are not made available, domestic market demand could soon outstrip production capacity.
Increased funding would support university extension programs, which are crucial for delivering techniques, resources and support to new or converting organic farmers, as well as make more funds available for competitive grants through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service.
Caren Wilcox, executive director of the Organic Trade Association also called for more resources to build out the organic sector's infrastructure to allow continued sector growth on par with demand.
"By creating infrastructure, we mean increasing technical assistance to farmers looking to explore conversion to organics, more access to funding for economic and agronomic research and efforts to sufficiently support the National Organic Program so that we can maintain the integrity of the organic seal and accreditation process," Wilcox said.
Wilcox also said the issue of insurance premiums for organic farmers needs to be addressed. Currently, organic farmers pay a 5 percent premium on crop insurance but are only compensated at conventional rates in the event of a loss.
Testimony to the subcommittee will be entered into the House and Senate Farm Bill drafts and ultimately wind up in a conference report, or merged bill, to be voted on by Congress mid—fall.
"I think we are getting a lot of good attention," Wilcox said. "The chairmen of both the Senate and House Agricultural Committees have indicated their high interest in finding some solutions for organics. We don't have a commitment from either of them around dollars yet, but they are certainly making the right statements in terms of their concern and their understanding of the need to help build this segment of the market."