Sens. Bob Casey, D-Penn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced earlier this month the Organic Agricultural Research Act of 2018 to reauthorize and incrementally increase funding for the US Department of Agriculture’s Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative from $20 million in 2019 to $50 million in fiscal year 2023.
The increase would bring the funding for OREI back to “baseline status” for the initiative and would make it a permanent part of the Farm Bill’s Research Title.
The current level of funding, which is set to expire at the end of the 2014 Farm Bill cycle has not kept pace with the strong growth of the organic industry, sales for which now are almost $50 billion annually and expected to continue to grow in coming years as more consumers choose organic.
“OREI was created over 15 years ago when the organic industry looked very different,” Kanika Gandhi, policy specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said in a release. “The organic industry has experienced massive growth over the last few years, and all signs indicate that consumer interest in organics will only continue to increase. Yet, despite its growth, domestic organic production continues to lag far behind demand for organic products. It is high time that our national investment in organic agriculture research is increased to catalyze the advancement of domestic product.”
Sen. Collins’ office agrees, and explains in a statement that this legislation will help amend this “disconnect.”
“Over the past five years, Main’s organic agriculture industry has grown by more than 75% with the support form USDA’s successful Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative,” Collins notes in the release. “Our bill would bolster federal investments in this important research program to help ensure farmers in Maine and across the country are equipped with the data, skills, and resources necessary to meet the increasing consumer demand for organic food.”
Edward Jaenicke, an agriculture economist at Penn State University agreed in a statement from the Organic Trade Association that OREI “is particularly valuable in incentivizing researchers to undertake more practical projects that have strong potential impacts for farmers and ranchers.”
For example, OREI research “has enabled new organic crop varieties, breakthroughs in pest and weed control, crop rotation and the development of effective and compliant farm inputs,” Jessica Shade, director of science program at The Organic Center, added in the OTA statement.
Overall, since OREI was created it has funded 179 projects worth almost $170 million. These projects have not benefited only organic farmers. Rather, Collins stresses, “the program helps organic and non-organic farmers alike by funding applied research projects that help growers improve their crop and livestock management skills, protect their produce from pests and disease, ensure safe handling of fresh value-added products and promote locally-grown options.”
House legislation calls for more funding
The legislation acts as a companion bill to the House’s Organic Agriculture Research Act of 2017 (HR 2436) that was introduced last May by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, Dan Newhouse, R-Wash, and Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif. That bill calls for $250 million in total funding over the next five years.
Both bills will be considered for inclusion in the upcoming 2018 Farm Bill by the House and Senate Agriculture Committees.