When Bob Scowcroft, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation, speaks you get that infectious vibe that comes from being near someone who devotes his life to the greater good. And so it was last week when he paid a visit to the New Hope offices and infused the staff here with a sense of hope and the reality that we have our work cut out for us.
When talking about the new administration in Washington, his excitement was palpable. “I have seen more positive outreach and relationship building in the past 100 days than in my entire lifetime,” Scowcroft said. With Kathleen Merrigan and Tom Vilsack leading the agricultural office, issues like labeling, nanotechnology and GMOs will be in capable hands, he said. Scowcroft suggested keeping an eye out for new legislation reworking the Childhood Nutrition Act, which dictates what children eat via school lunch programs.
Scowcroft’s enthusiasm for the Environmental Quality Incentive Program also infected the room. Opened to organic farmers by the USDA on May 5, this program, previously available to large agribusiness “to clean up sludge,” gives up to $50 million to organic farmers—and those in the process of converting to organic farming—to receive technical and financial assistance for core conservation practices, such as crop rotation, pest and nutrient management and rotational grazing.
On the not so positive side, Scowcroft discussed seed fragments showing up on farms where they should not be due to drift. “They’re leaping into the rice supply and we don’t know what they are and can’t determine what they are because they are patented and therefore private,” he said. This can result in organic crops with adulterated seeds. Retailers may want to consider selling heirloom seeds and asking manufacturers who sell “non-GM” products for the paperwork proving the claims, Scowcroft suggested.
Later that day I had the opportunity to do a video interview with Scowcroft, which will soon be posted here.