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.
The sea change of non-partisan organic support was evident as we passed through congressional offices. Many took time to listen to our story of job growth and rural prosperity. In previous years staffers took our meetings and nodded with resignation, now the actual congressional leaders were eager to be in attendance, take notes and discuss our priorities. It is evident that the cache of organics has risen on Capitol Hill. Our day has come!
These measures do not create an Organic Research and Promotions Program. They simply pave the way for one to be possible. They create an exemption for organic farmers to opt out of conventional check off programs and pay into the organic one if they choose. It also classifies organic as a distinct commodity group such as avocadoes or eggs. This distinction has great strength. If the organic industry wishes to join together is has great economic might. Together we are a larger sales entity than rice and peanuts combined! United we are strong and fragmented we are weak.
These amendments will have many hurdles before they become actual law. The measures have to survive passage on the floors of the House and Senate and then again when the two come together to agree on one final Farm Bill in conference. Typically this process is fraught with contentious trading and compromise so that the final language somewhat satisfies everyone’s priorities. During the process small victories like these can get struck in order for larger priorities to remain. It will be vitally important for the industry to stay aware of the process and urge Congress to keep the language intact.
The Senate bill will go to “the floor” of the full Senate for debate next week. The House bill is purported to be “marked up” sometime in June. Since the current Farm Bill expires in September it is critical that Congress come together in conference and pass a final 2013 Farm Bill. Urge your congressional leaders to keep these amendments intact. Urge them to fully fund all organic priorities. We must be vigilant in our communication in these next few months.