Hearings Provide Opportunity to Weigh in on Upcoming Farm Bill

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While August is a busy time for many farmers around the country, it is also the time when things slowdown in Washington, D.C. as members of Congress head back home. This August, however, members of the House Agriculture Committee have been crisscrossing the country to hear about a broad array of concerns over the Farm Bill.

With the intention of crafting the Farm Bill later this year, the House Agriculture Committee held listening sessions in Texas, Minnesota, and California. Listening sessions allow lawmakers to hear directly from their constituents on a variety of issues. Each speaker has a couple of minutes to make a statement and the lawmakers generally do not ask questions. This format, which is less formal than an official hearing, gives more people a chance to share their concerns directly with members of Congress.

Organic farmers around the country are showing up to call for increased support for organic agriculture. On top of the list for most was the need for increasing organic research and extension. Grower Phil Foster of Pinnacle Ranch in Hollister, California (pictured right) stood up to say how he has used USDA-funded organic research and that much more is still needed.

Representing OFRF was Mark Lipson, Senior Policy and Program Specialist. “USDA’s flagship program for organic science, the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), now has a very solid track record of delivering quality research and education about organic systems. The results of OREI-funded research have had impacts well beyond the organic community in areas such as soil health and seed breeding. The program cannot fund most of the quality proposals it receives, and it has to grow.”

Lipson and others pointed to H.R. 2436 – The Organic Agriculture Research Act, which would increase funding for OREI and make it part of the permanent Farm Bill budget (aka “the baseline”).

In Minnesota, farmer Jerry Matzner urged Congress to provide critical support for the USDA's National Organic Program (NOP), which regulates the industry. The NOP’s budget allocation from Congress has not kept up with the oversight needs that go along with double digit growth of the organic marketplace.

Organic farmers and consumers spoke to the need for tighter enforcement by the NOP to stop fraudulent imported grain from dragging down U.S. organic farmers. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said he was concerned about the enforcement of organic standards. "To me, that should not have to go on long. It's a simple fix in my view. Test it and if it doesn't meet the test and if it happens twice, don't let it in for a while."

The House Agriculture Committee Chairman, Michael Conaway (R-TX) and Ranking Member, Collin Peterson (D-MN) deserve great credit for holding these “Conversations in the Field” and simply spending so much time and travel to hear folks’ concerns. The beautiful thing about these two-minute testimonies is the sheer diversity of the commenters, their topics, and the personal nature of many remarks. From the life-changing aspects of nutrition support for families, to the cutting edges of agricultural science, all of it was part of the discussion.

Thanks to outreach by OFRF and other groups, organic agriculture has been an important theme in comments delivered at the sessions. The legislators acknowledged hearing the support for organics and the specific requests for Congressional action. Thanks to all those who showed up!

Written comments can still be submitted via email to the Committee at houseaglistens@mail.house.gov

Photo L-R: Grant Brians, Brians Ranch, Hollister, CA.; Laura Batcha, CEO, Organic Trade Association; Melody Meyer, Vice President of Policy and Industry Relations for UNFI; Sam Farr, Former U.S. Representative; Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture; Mark Lipson, Senior Policy and Program Specialist, OFRF.