USDA could pour funds into organic research

By staff reporter

- Last updated on GMT

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) could more than double
funding for its organic research program next year, a move that
highlights the growing importance of the organic industry.

Funds for the Organic Transitions research program could be increased from $1.8m to $5m for the next fiscal year, after the House of Representatives last month passed an amendment to its 2007 Agriculture Appropriations Bill.

The move follows a surge in growth of the nation's organics market, as consumers increasingly opt for the higher quality, more nutritious foods represented by this category.

"It should come as no surprise that the demand for organic, pesticide-free foods has skyrocketed in recent years,"​ said Congressman Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat.

"This amendment is good for farmers and good for consumers,"​ he added.

The Organic Transitions program provides grant funding to research, education and extension projects that help farmers address the challenges of modern organic production and marketing.

"We must take steps to help this industry improve and allow these competitive grants to assist in the process,"​ said Representative Jim Leach, a Republican from Iowa's second district.

According to the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), which promotes organic farming practices, this proposed increase in funding is particularly significant as it comes at a time when the House is working to cut nearly $100 million dollars from 2006 spending levels for agriculture programs.

"The broad support for the amendment was likely a result of so many members of Congress hearing directly from constituents about the importance of this program,"​ said Brise Tencer, legislative coordinator for the OFRF.

The Bill is now due to be considered by the Senate, before passing to the President.

The latest figures from the industry body Organic Trade Association, unveiled at the All Things Organic (ATO) trade show in Chicago last month, reveal that the organic market has grown 28 percent since 2003 to reach a total value of $14bn in 2005, and is expected to reach $16bn by the end of 2006.

And according to a recent report by market researcher Packaged Facts, together with natural foods and beverages, organic goods have become the "hottest area"​ in the food industry, and show no sign of slowing.

Published last month, the report reveals that sales in this category are expected to exceed $46bn by 2010, an increase of around 63 percent.

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