- The Organic Trade Association is lauding organic provisions in the Farm Bill reported out by conference committee and passed Tuesday by the Senate. The $867 billion proposal now heads for a House vote, where, according to The Washington Post, it is also expected to pass. President Trump indicated support for the bill on Tuesday, the Post reported.
- The OTA said the Farm Bill establishes permanent funding for organic research and "makes significant strides to improve the oversight of global organic trade and safeguard the integrity of organic."
- "This Farm Bill marks a key milestone for organic with $50 million in annual funding for the flagship Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) program by 2023, more than double the current funding level," Laura Batcha, OTA's CEO and executive director, said in a release. "This will ensure stable, baseline mandatory funding for the program, and will enable organic farmers to meet the unique challenges they face."
Since several funding measures the OTA had supported and lobbied for since 2016 are included in the Farm Bill, it's understandable why the group's members are happy right now.
Top OTA priorities included in the bill are tools and funding for improved trade oversight to make sure organic integrity is protected throughout the global supply chain, annual increases in OREI funding from $20 million to $50 million by 2023, money to help small and beginning farmers transition to organic certification, and full funds for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Organic Data Initiative to provide accurate market and production information for the organic industry.
These provisions are expected to help the organic space in a number of concrete ways, OTA members said. The expanded OREI support and global oversight were singled out for praise by Britt Lundgren, director of organic and sustainable agriculture for Stonyfield Farm.
"Organic farmers face special challenges, and the critical increase in funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative will help ensure adequate funding in research needed to address those challenges," she said in a release. "America’s organic farmers also deserve an even playing field in the global organic market, and this Farm Bill makes significant steps in improving the oversight of global organic trade and in making sure everyone in the global supply chain is playing by the rules."
Batcha noted federal research on organic production methods and organic ingredients, pest control, and weed management are aspects critical to the survival of organic farms. This funding is permanent, baseline funding, she added, so the $50 million per year might have a chance to keep pace with growth in the almost $50-billion organic industry.
Consumer demand is pushing the industry's growth. According to the latest OTA industry survey, sales of organic food grew 6.4% last year to a record $45.2 billion, and organic products made up 5.5% of the total retail food market in the U.S. While that increase was less than the 9% growth rate in 2016, OTA noted it outpaced the 1.1% growth posted last year by the total U.S. food market.
While the OTA didn't mention any policy priorities it wasn't able to get included in the Farm Bill, it's likely the group's efforts will continue on a voluntary checkoff-like program for the organic sector. It has embarked on a six-month initiative ending April 30 to gather ideas on the best ways to design and implement a "GRO Organic" program, which stands for Generate Results and Opportunity for Organic.
It's also likely work on the next Farm Bill will need to start sooner rather than later. The OTA will also want to track whatever it's able to accomplish with these latest wins to make its arguments even more effective in the next congressional go-round.