SANTA CRUZ, Calif., May 27 America's tenthousand organic farmers have won a strong commitment to organic systemsresearch, according to the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF). "Withthe override of the President's veto and final passage of the 2008 Farm Bill,Congress has made a substantial down payment toward a fair share of federalfunding for organic agriculture," said Steve Ela, an organic tree fruit growerfrom Colorado and President of OFRF.
OFRF led the fight for increased organic research, education and extensionfunding, which proved to be the biggest win for organic farming in thelegislation. The 2008 Farm Bill provides $78 million for organic agricultureresearch and education, an historic five-fold increase from the $15 millionallocated in the expiring 2002 legislation. These funds will dramaticallyexpand competitive grants for the development and sharing of organic farmingsystems information through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's IntegratedOrganic Program. Such an expansion is urgently needed to ensure that organicfarmers and ranchers can continue to meet the growing demand for organicproducts and be successful stewards of their land.
While this increase is another major landmark for U.S. organicagriculture, it is still not a "fair share" of public investment in this area,according to OFRF. The new funding represents approximately 1% of USDA'sresearch budget -- well behind organic products' nearly 4% share of the U.S.retail food market.
"U.S. producers need far greater science-based information resources thanthey currently have, in order to support the nation's desire for healthierfood and farming systems," noted OFRF Executive Director Bob Scowcroft. "Withthis bill, Congress has made progress toward fulfilling organic agriculture'spotential to provide broad environmental and economic benefits along with thesustained harvests needed to feed us all. Matching federal resources to theorganic share of the marketplace is the next step, and we will continueworking towards that."
Congressional support for organic research was led by Senator Tom Harkin(D-Iowa), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition andForestry. Iowa dairy farmer and OFRF board member Francis Thicke said,"Chairman Harkin was a true champion for organic agriculture in this bill, andwe owe him great thanks. He has seen first-hand what organic farming has meantto family farmers in Iowa, and it is part of his vision for U.S. agriculture."
Another key leader on the bill was California Representative DennisCardoza (D-Merced). As chair of the newly created House AgricultureSubcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture, Cardoza was crucial toformulating the initial organic provisions in the bill and preserving thesegains through its final passage. OFRF board member John Teixeira, an organicgrower in Rep. Cardoza's district, noted that "Dennis has a lot of organicfarmers in his district, and he helped make sure we were heard and respectedin the process."
Other champions for organic agriculture in the Farm Bill process includedSenator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), New York Representative Kirsten Gillibrand(D-Saratoga Springs) and Wisconsin Representative Steve Kagen (D-Green Bay).Congress's two certified organic farmers, California Representative MikeThompson (D-St. Helena) and Senator John Tester (D-MT), do not serve on theAgriculture Committees but played helpful supporting roles.
In addition, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and New Jersey RepresentativeRush Holt (D-West Windsor) successfully led the opposition to a harmfulprovision that could have limited the USDA's ability to reward the use oforganic farming systems for conservation goals.
Key Role of Farmers
Organic family farmers played a direct role in advocating for changes infederal farm policy thanks to OFRF's Org