It’s been nearly 37 years since I was first introduced to organic foods at a co-op in Iowa. Up until then, I’d lived almost exclusively on packaged foods and sodas. This was something new, something meaningful and something I wanted to be a part of.
Back then, the burgeoning years of the organic movement held great promise and excitement. We were creating a movement, possibly changing the world. I became a passionate advocate for eating organic food and easing the chemical burden our soils and streams were enduring from conventional agriculture. Continue reading
In 2012, the size of the U.S. organic sector reached 35 billion dollars a year, with an estimated 10% growth rate. According to OTA’s 2013 Organic Industry Survey, the industry has grown from 9 billion dollars a year in 2002 when the USDA National Organic Program was established. (Farm-gate sales of organic crops reached 3.53 billion dollars in 2011 from 3.6 million certified acres (according to USDA’s NASS 2011 Certified Organic Production Survey). Eighty-one percent of U.S. families now report buying some organic products at least occasionally (according to OTA’s 2013 U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes and Beliefs Study). While the sector has experienced healthy growth, a number of critical factors create the need for investment in public education and promotion as well as research. Continue reading
I was privileged to be in Washington D.C. this week when both the House and Senate agriculture committee passed separate versions of the Farm Bill. Included in each bill were measures that will designate the organic industry to be considered as one commodity group. This language takes the first step to allow the industry to establish an organic check off program. Also known as a Research and Promotions Program of which you are likely aware of in slogans like “Got Milk” or “Beef It’s For Dinner” by the Dairy and Beef check-offs. If passed Organic will be promoted and celebrated in on a national scale. Both the House and Senate committees passed similar measures with bipartisan support heralding a major victory in political attention and public awareness of organic products. Continue reading
The Senate version of the farm bill was marked up in the agricultural committee on Tuesday. This first pass must now go to the full Senate floor for approval which is expected to happen as early as today. Tuesday’s three and a half hour debate of the bill, formally named the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013, passed out of committee on a vote of 15-5. Four Republicans [Roberts, Thune, Johanns, McConnell] and one Democrat [Gillibrand] voted against it.
“Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich is the champion in negotiating this bill through at record speed and in securing priorities for the organic agenda. Here are some of the organic highlights of this first pass:
- Authorizes $16 million in funding for each of FY 2014-2018 for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative.
- Authorizes $5 million in mandatory funding for each of FY 2014-2018 for the Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives. Includes reference to completing organic price elections in the Risk Management Agency’s portfolio of responsibilities.
- Authorizes $15 million in funding for each of FY 2014-2018 for the National Organic Program (NOP). Also authorizes $5 million in funding for the NOP to carry out a modernization and technology upgrade.
- Grants NOP enforcement tools it needs to maintain the integrity of the seal, while maintaining due process protections for organic certificate-holders.
- Requires organic price elections for crop insurance to be completed no later than the 2015 reinsurance year.
- Merges the Agricultural Management Assistance and National Organic Certification Cost Share programs, and funds it at $23 million for each of FY 2014-2018.
- Requires Secretary to ensure that outreach and technical assistance are available, and program specifications are appropriate to enable organic producers to participate in the Conservation Stewardship program. Also requires Secretary to establish a transparent means by which producers may initiate organic certification while participating in the program.
- Requires Secretary to give priority when making or guaranteeing loans under the Conservation Loan and Loan Guarantee program to those who would use the loans to convert to organic production.
The House will mark up their version in committee today at 10:00 am and we expect philosophical and regional splits among Republicans and Democrats over our priorities. Please take the time to contact your Representative and tell them to fully fund the organic agenda. I will be on the Hill in person doing just that! http://agriculture.house.gov/about/membership
May Day is an ancient spring festival celebrated in the northern hemisphere as a rite of spring. Baskets of flowers or small gifts and dancing around maypoles were the tradition when I was a wee sprite. It is also associated with the labor movement and worker’s rights. As we welcome in this month of May we should expect work to be the focus in Washington D.C. as Congress labors at several pieces of crucial legislation. It’s important that stakeholders in the Organic Community be aware of this work, follow the issues closely and advocate for the funding of organic programs and priorities. Continue reading