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Published September 27, 2011, 02:29 PM

Organic Farming Research Foundation rallies for greater investment in industry

WASHINGTON — Congress should increase mandatory spending on organic farming in the next farm bill to $185 million over five years to encourage the already-expanding industry, the Organic Farming Research Foundation said in Washington recently.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

WASHINGTON — Congress should increase mandatory spending on organic farming in the next farm bill to $185 million over five years to encourage the already-expanding industry, the Organic Farming Research Foundation said in Washington recently.

The 2008 farm bill included $105 million in mandatory spending on organics, but Congress should increase the amount to $185 million to improve research, data collection and certification, Ariane Lotti, director of the foundation’s Washington office, said at a Sept. 19 news conference.

Organic agriculture deserves a larger share of USDA funding because it is the fastest- growing segment in agriculture, said Maureen Wilmot, executive director of the foundation, which is based in Santa Cruz, Calif.

“To date, only modest public resources have been directed toward funding and support of programs for organic farming,” Wilmot said. “We would like to see that change immediately.”

Wilmot and Lotti said USDA does not provide the organic industry the same level of data collection services that it provides conventional agriculture and more research on organic agriculture and that growers still face costs and other barriers to becoming certified.

Growing sector

The organic food and textile sector is a $29 billion industry, according to the Organic Trade Association 2011 Organic industry Survey, Wilmot said. The organic industry grew 20 percent a year for 20 years and grew 8 percent in 2010 in the midst of a recession, she added. About 14,500 organic farmers have been certified, but the industry estimates that there will need to be 42,000 organic farmers to fulfill market demand by 2015.

Organic farming advocates from 10 key states — Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Dakota and Ohio — traveled to Washington recently to participate in training, lobby Congress and participate in a day-long USDA Organic Listening Session, Wilmot said.

In its farm bill proposal, the foundation did not mention the Agriculture Department’s decision earlier this year to allow the planting of biotech alfalfa and to allow biotech crops up to the edge of fields, but Lotti said the organic growers had been disappointed by those decisions because they put all the responsibility for making sure that biotech crops do not infiltrate their fields up to the organic growers.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has appointed a biotechnology committee to consider a compensation scheme for organic growers.

The foundation also released a letter that a wide range of organic groups sent Vilsack on Sept. 16 asking that USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service issue regulations on genetically engineered crops under the 2000 Plant Protection Act.

The groups said APHIS has been working on the regulations since 2004, but has not issued them. In the letter, the groups asked that APHIS regulate all genetically engineered crops, interpret its “noxious weed” authority broadly, require permits for both field trials and commercial cultivation, tighten up its policy of allowing “a low-level presence” of genetically engineered crop material, prohibit the cultivation of pharmaceutical and industrial genetically engineered crops and use science that the organic groups consider “sound.”

A USDA spokesperson said the agency “received a lot of input from the public and stakeholders on its proposed revisions to the regulations, and it is all under review as we determine a path forward.”

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