Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published May 16, 2013, 11:32 AM

Better crop insurance for organic growers

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the Organic Trade Organization that new crop insurance pricing options will be available to organic producers who grow crops under guaranteed contracts beginning with the 2014 crop year.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — The organic food industry appears headed for better crop insurance and a check-off program to promote organic products.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on May 14 announced that new crop insurance pricing options will be available to organic producers who grow crops under guaranteed contracts beginning with the 2014 crop year.

“Organic is not the ‘same as.’ It is its own separate commodity and needs to be treated as such. I’m committed to that,” Vilsack told the Organic Trade Association in a speech.

While those remarks were popular with the audience, Vilsack also told the organic producers that he is for all types of agriculture, including genetic modification, and urged support for the panel he has assembled to try to find ways for organic and conventional production to co-exist.

Vilsack noted that, as secretary, he does not have “the luxury” to prefer one type of agriculture.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture explained in a news release that the contract price option allows organic producers who receive a contract price for their crop to get a crop insurance guarantee that is more reflective of actual value.

Vilsack also said that RMA will remove the current 5 percent organic rate surcharges on all future crop insurance policies beginning in 2014 and provide new guidance to all USDA agencies, directing them to recognize the distinct nature of USDA-certified organic production and organic goods, and to take into account the documentation and inspection required for organic certification when considering eligibility for USDA programs and policies, OTA noted in a news release.

Organic ag in farm bills

The farm bills passed by the Senate and House Agriculture committees both contain provisions that would allow USDA to consult with the industry on a promotion program under which organic producers would make payments into a check-off fund that would be used for organic products.

The measure was not controversial in the Senate, the House committee passed it over the objections of House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla. The House measure was sponsored by Rep. Kirk Schrader, D-Ore. The Senate version of the farm bill contains a similar measure.

The vote was 29 to 17. It occurred after spirited debate in which Lucas said he opposed the measure because it would be on a process, not a product.

Former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, also opposed it. Conaway said organic producers disparage conventional production. Schrader said trade groups can criticize other products but check-offs cannot. Goodlatte said production standards vary on organic products and consumers cannot be sure of what they are getting.

But other Republicans joined the Democratic members of the committee to support it.

Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., said “I am always struck by people on our side of the aisle who have issues with organic. This is something we ought to be applauding, not condemning.”

Ribble described himself as “a huge supporter of conventional” production, but said organic producers are entrepreneurs who are producing differentiated food that consumers should have the choice to buy.

Lucas asked Ribble how organic producers could promote organic pork without disparaging nonorganic pork, but Ribble said “they talk about how they grow it.”

Schrader estimated that organic food producers would pay $22 million in check-off fees. Schrader also said organic producers of products that already have check-offs would have a choice of paying into the conventional check-off fund or the organic fund. Certified organic producers are already exempt from participating in existing check-offs.