Natural Foods Merchandiser

Proposed Farm Bill not enough, organic advocates say

On Friday, Feb. 2, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its proposals for the 2007 Farm Bill. If passed, the bill would supersede the previous farm bill, passed in 2002. The new bill, which must still navigate Congress during the 2007 legislative session before it goes into effect, contains some notable shifts in policy compared to the 2002 bill, as well as a $10 billion dollar decrease in spending compared to the previous five-year period.

In its Farm Bill Fact Sheet, USDA points to $5.2 billion dollars in proposed spending to support fruit and vegetable producers, $1.6 billion in spending for ethanol, alternative fuels and renewable energy, $7.8 billion in increases to conservation programs, and proposed reforms in commodity payment programs as some of the key changes in the new bill.

The organic-related proposals in the farm bill include investing an additional $10 million in mandatory funding for organic research. In a bill whose proposals total well over $200 billion dollars over five years, only $61 million is currently earmarked specifically for organic support.

Given that organics now constitutes 2.5 percent of total food production in the U.S., and is the fastest-growing market segment, many organic advocates said the proposed spending on organics falls short of what is needed.

"The Bush administration farm bill is only half the loaf; drilling through the Bush budget to see what is actually allocated is the other half," said Bob Scowcroft, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation, based in Santa Cruz, Calif. "This farm bill, based on what we've read early on, has relatively new initiatives and new priorities. However, relative to our overall corner of the agricultural landscape, organics still hasn't remotely received its fair share of resources and attention."

Scowcroft pointed out that the new bill proposes $2 million a year for organic research, a significant reduction over the current spending of $3.9 million.

"USDA's proposed spending of $61 million certainly falls far short of what organic farmers need and what the organic sector needs," said Barbara Haumann, spokeswoman for the Organic Trade Association, based in Greenfield, Mass.

OTA has called for USDA to spend closer to $60 million per year, rather than over a five-year span, on programs directly related to organic agriculture. "While organic farmers and the rest of the organic business community certainly appreciate being mentioned in the proposal, organic farmers need a Farm Bill that reflects a farm-to-table strategy," Caren Wilcox, the organization's executive director, said in an OTA press release.

OTA's proposals, which the group hopes could still be implemented in a final farm bill, include more support for fostering transition to organic agriculture, and providing organic farmers with more market data, such as USDA currently provides to conventional farmers.

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