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 Farm Bill Moves Organic Agriculture Forward but Lacks Real Reform

U.S. Capitol. Wikipedia photo.
February 4, 2014, Unity, Maine - The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) said the farm bill approved by the U.S. Senate today confirms Congressional interest in continuing to support organic agriculture by renewing funding for key programs left stranded by last year's farm bill extension. However, the bill failed to achieve significant reform for farm commodity and crop insurance subsidies and made deep cuts in conservation programs that are crucial to encouraging sustainable agricultural practices.

Dave Colson, MOFGA's agricultural services director, said, "We are making real progress in building broad backing for essential organic programs. It is encouraging that Congressional support for the organic farming community includes money for organic research, marketing and certification cost share."

But Colson said the Congress missed an opportunity to embrace a truly sustainable approach to agriculture when it failed to reform commodity and crop insurance subsidies. These subsidies are often criticized for encouraging overproduction of commodities such as corn and soybeans and because regulatory loopholes make limiting payments extremely difficult.

"The need to update and align the farm bill with the changing face and focus of agriculture is long overdue. Given the importance of renewing funding for the most innovative programs for the future of agriculture, we support moving forward with this measure, but we will continue to support the real reform this bill lacks," said Colson.

The bill, which was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives last week, reinstates funding for organic certification cost share to all 50 states, which means certified organic food processors in Maine will once again be able to participate in the program. The action helps make organic certification more affordable for everyone.

Additionally, the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), USDA's flagship competitive research and extension grant program dedicated to organic agriculture, provides $20 million for research and extension projects to help meet the production, marketing and policy needs of the growing organic industry.

Strong consumer demand has fueled the growth in organic agriculture, helping farmers stay in business even through one of the worst economic downturns in U.S. history. Nationwide, the organic sector has become a $35 billion industry with more than 17,750 certified organic family farms and other businesses. Maine is home to more than 400 of those certified farms. Currently, domestic demand for organic food and beverages exceeds domestic production. With this modest investment in USDA research, marketing and farmer assistance programs will support the U.S. organic sector and expand this critical jobs base.

In addition to showing strong support for organic agriculture, the new bill renews critical investments in important programs for beginning farmers, local food systems and healthy food access. It also links conservation requirements to receipt of crop insurance premium subsidies, a way to encourage farmers to implement conservation practices on their land.

On the negative side, the bill jettisons the long overdue payment limitation reforms targeting farm subsidy payments to commodity producers. It also drops a provision passed twice by the Senate that would have modestly reduced insurance subsidies to millionaires. The measure cuts billions from conservation programs that help farmers address production challenges and protect natural resources and the environment, and reduces benefits for a portion of SNAP (food stamp) participants.

MOFGA works with the National Organic Coalition and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to monitor and comment on developments in federal farm policy and regulation.

The farm bill now moves to the White House for the President's signature.


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