Looking on the Bright Side

Mark Keating's picture

There was no Farm Bill at this time a year ago, as Congressional dysfunction led to the legislation’s expiration.  Congress rallied in December 2012 and extended the Farm Bill for nine months, minus nearly $500 million in crucial funding for organic, local and beginning farmers.  The recent budget impasse in Washington shutdown all USDA farm credit and conservation compliance activities and forced the Department to cancel the National Organic Standards Board meeting scheduled for Louisville, KY.

With this history of achievement, it takes a healthy streak of optimism to get fired up about this week’s Congressional negotiations to renew the Farm Bill and pass a 2014 budget.  OFRF and its national network of partner organizations  will stay in the thick of those deliberations, though I personally look forward to a more relaxed atmosphere inspecting organic farms across Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska.

Farming is perhaps the most optimistic of all professions.  Farmers have seen everything imaginable and a few things completely inexplicable foil their best efforts, yet they return to the soil as long as their creditors allow them.  Given the timing of my trip, I decided to explore how the twenty organic farmers I’ll be working with view the Farm Bill and budget proceedings in Washington.

Truth be told, these farmers are not familiar with the latest developments in the Organic Research and Extension Initiative, or the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program. Not that they are disinterested or unappreciative – they participate in the cost share and are extremely gratified that the organic practices they have pioneered in the field are being validated on land grant research farms across the country.

Time is what constrains these farmers from engaging in Washington policy debates– the time they need, for example, to harvest the soybeans, disc those fields and get winter wheat in the ground.  Or the time to feed, milk and maintain a dairy herd while working an off-farm job.  Or the time to seek out and secure the price premiums for their certified products which reward their knowledge and sacrifice.

You can expect OFRF action alerts in coming weeks asking you to take time to make your voice count as Washington policymakers debate the future of American agriculture.  Have no doubt that your voice, in unison with others conveying a clear and consistent message, has the power to affect change.  Also consider that finding the time to be heard means speaking on behalf of organic farmers who may be too busy putting food on our tables to say it themselves.  

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