The draft – which has a long way to go still before the President signs it into law – proposes increasing funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) from $20 million to $40 million annually over the next two years with a long-term goal of $50 million annually by 2022.
This “historic investment in organic agriculture … ensures that organic farmers can continue to meet the unique challenges they face,” according to the Organic Trade Association, which brought more than 140 members to the nation’s capitol last month to lobby Congress for the increase.
“With increased funding, OREI can continue to lead the way in cutting-edge research, education and extension for American farmers,” adds the Organic Farming Research Foundation, a non-profit that recently took a deep dive into the impact of OREI on industry.
In its report, Taking Stock: Analyzing and Reporting Organic Research Investments, 2002-2014, OFRF recommends that OREI increase research in underfunded and emerging priority areas, including support for public crop cultivar development for organic systems, farmer-participatory plant breeding and organic seed production networks.
It also encouraged OREI to fund proposals for “new and improved” livestock breeds for pasture-based organic production, soil health, weed management and “under-represented” commodities, such as beef, pork, turkey, rice, tree nuts, herbs and others.
Encouraging organic farming
The bill also would make it easier for farmers deterred by the high costs associated with transitioning to organic farming to make the switch by allocating $11.5 million annually to organic certification cost share programs.
Currently farmers interested in becoming certified organic must first follow organic techniques for three years, during which time they often see yield declines but do not yet qualify for the premium prices that organic demands on the market.
Combined, these “important measures … will enable the organic sector to continue advancing” at a time when it is experiencing double-digit growth, according to OTA.
The bill also takes direct aim at the recent discovery of fraud in the organic sector by allotting funds for robust enforcement and trade oversight, as well as data collection that could make it easier to detect fraud.
For example, the bill would allocate $5 million to modernize trade tracking and data collection systems so that it is easier to detect imported product fraudulently labeled as organic, and it would close loopholes that facilitate fraud.
As for improving data collection, it would direct $5 million to fund the Organic Data Initiative, which allows USDA to collect accurate market and production information for the organic industry.