Ag Committee Discusses Opportunities in Organic

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On July 13th, the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry held a hearing on “Opportunities in Global and Local Markets, Specialty Crops, and Organics: Perspectives for the 2018 Farm Bill.” This is not the first time a Senate Farm Bill hearing has focused on organic and local foods, but it is worth noting that these topics have become an expected part of the committee’s business. The committee heard from Dr. Ken Dallmier, the President and Chief Operating Officer of Clarkson Grain Company, Inc., an organic grain company located in Cerro Gordo, Illinois; and Theo Crisantes, an organic farmer and Vice President of Operations at Wholesum Harvest, a grower and shipper of organic produce in Amado, Arizona.

Senator Debbie Stabenow, the Ranking Member of the committee, laid out the opportunities and benefits of organic farming in her opening remarks. “We’re seeing incredible growth in organics and the local food economy that connect our farmers to new opportunities. U.S. retail sales for organic products have skyrocketed in the last decade, growing from $13 billion in 2005 to more than $43 billion today.” Senator Stabenow also touched on the importance of organic research in the Farm Bill. “Through targeted organic research, assistance for farmers transitioning into organic agriculture, and enforcement of organic standards, the Farm Bill is a critical tool to ensure consumers have choices in the grocery aisle and confidence in the organic products they purchase.”

Other senators echoed the importance of organic research. “Organic agriculture provides opportunities for young farmers, but without the much needed research and extension in organics, we are not able to provide our farmers with the tools for success,” said Senator Chuck Grassley.

Chairman Pat Roberts also discussed organic agriculture, stating that in reference to fraudulent organic imports, “some changes need to be made to ensure that our organic producers are competing on that level playing field…”  One of the ways we can ensure that our organic producers are competing on a level playing field is to increase investment in organic research.

Theo Crisantes summed up the issue well when asked about the importance of organic research. Highlighting the fact that he does not have access to reliable organic seed, Crisantes pointed out that conventional seeds often do not have the traits that organic farmers are looking for, and this puts them at a disadvantage. Dr. Dallmier called on the members of Congress to promote and support organic and transitioning organic farmers at the level conventional agriculture is promoted.

OFRF is committed to working with organic champions and policy makers to increase support for research that helps farmers overcome barriers to transition.  OFRF is advocating for passage of the Organic Agriculture Research Act, which would raise funding for USDA’s Organic Research Extension Initiative (OREI) from $20 million to $50 million annually. The increase would help provide the tools and knowledge to support farmers as they seek to meet the growing demand for organic products.

We urge you to call your Representatives and ask them to co-sponsor the Organic Agriculture Research Act (HR 2436).  For more information please contact OFRF’s policy team at policy@ofrf.org.