Organic Farming Comes of Age in the 2014 Farm Bill
Organic farmers have a lot to cheer about in the Agricultural Act of 2014. Reflecting sustained growth of the sector over the past decade and continued high consumer demand, the Farm Bill makes serious commitment to organic research and provides immediate practical support for farmers.
What is changing?
USDA certified organic farmers have always had to go through expensive annual certification. To persuade more farmers and ranchers to take advantage of the label, USDA contributed to the expense incurred with third party certification agencies. This cost-share funding expired at the end of FY 2012.
In the new bill, producers still must be certified annually to be able to market their products as “organic,” but a newly allocated $57.5 million over the next five years will reduce the organic certification burden for producers and handlers through the National Organic Cost-Share Program. USDA will now reimburse producers for up to $750 per year for the certification through state departments of agriculture. What’s more, the process is simple, often just a one-page form easily accessible on state ag department websites.
Why is this important?
Organic farming advocates argue that producers using organic methods should get USDA organic certified annually so that the sector’s true size can be measured and supported with valuable research, programs, and practical improvements to assist its continued growth.
The Farm Bill also increases funding for the National Organic Program (NOP) and gives it more authority to enforce and protect the integrity of USDA’s organic label. This is crucial to maintaining consumer confidence and the higher prices organic products can command.
Another practical improvement is better crop insurance policies for organic farmers. In the past, it was seldom worthwhile for organic farmers to buy crop insurance because even if they suffered a cataclysmic crop loss, they would only be reimbursed based on the conventional price for the lost crops, often a small fraction of their actual market loss. Starting next year, organic farmers will be able to buy coverage on their crops that will pay them the true market prices for organic products should they have a loss.
Finally, organic farmers and those transitioning to organic production can receive payments and some technical assistance for their good practices through the Environmental Quality Incentive Program run by USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). Beginning, socially disadvantaged, and military veteran farmers may receive advance payments for the conservation improvements. USDA can now also direct a larger portion of the funding to these groups.
In addition to the above immediate, practical supports for farmers, the Agriculture Act of 2014 invests more funding for research on organic agriculture than ever before. This represents a real coming of age for organic agriculture, reflecting not only the sustained growth of the sector but also an interest from more tradition-bound land-grant universities and a new generation of researchers eager to jump into serious scientific work to support organic agriculture’s future.
To learn more about the Farm Bill’s support for organic agriculture, check out the USDA’s website for an overview of the various organic provisions the Department will be working on over the next five years
Read previous blogs in this Farm Bill series, including: