WASHINGTON — Just as congressional debate on the 2012 Farm Bill heats up, a Santa Cruz-based organization has announced the country’s first comprehensive, data-driven report on the social, economic and environmental benefits of organic farming.
“This backs up what we’ve known anecdotally,” said Maureen Wilmot, executive director of the Santa Cruz-based Organic Farming Research Foundation, which introduced the report, Organic Farming for Health and Prosperity, on Monday at the National Press Club in Washington. It is, she said, a review of the American scientific literature concerning organic farming in the United States.
“This has been a long anticipated document in the organic community,” Wilmot said.
The nonprofit organization also announced a nationwide advocacy drive, which involves hiring and training advocates to support the cause in key legislative states.
“We need to be meeting our consumer demand for organics in this country,” Wilmot said.
That means more federally funded research to help organic farmers grow their businesses.
Studies compiled in the report support the economic benefits of organic farming.
- The organic industry has grown from $3.6 billion in 1997 to $29 billion in 2010, with an annual growth rate of 19 percent from 1997-2008. In 2010, sales grew 8 percent
- Organic farms hired an average of 61 year-round employees compared with 28 year-round employees hired on conventional farms, according to a survey of organic and conventional farmers in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi.
- Organic farms also hire more seasonal workers than do conventional farms.
- Increasing market demand will call for, 42,000 certified organic farmers –almost triple the number of organic farmers existing in the U.S. today. There are 233 organic farms in Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey counties.
Although leaders in many industries have acquiesced to painful budget cuts due to the recession, in this report, the organic agricultural community is asking for more funding saying this is one sector that it has managed to grow during the recent recession.
The last farm bill of 2008 provided the U.S. organic community with about $78 million for four years. The Organic Farming Research Foundation report recommends Congress approve $30 million annually for organic agriculture research in the next few years. Wilmot called the funding request “peanuts” compared to the money devoted to conventional farming each year.
“This is really just starting to level the playing field,” Wilmot said. “We realize what’s happening in D.C. in the national budget debate and we still say, Right, let’s invest where the growth of the country’s economy will benefit. It is a challenge and we all know that. Here in D.C., every program is a challenge, but we’re still going to go out there and make the case. Even in hard times, you still invest in things that are growing and benefit the country.”
In the report, the Organic Farming Research Foundation makes five recommendations:
- Expanding funding for organic research, education and extension activities at the U.S. Department of Agriculture agencies.
- Ensuring fair and appropriate risk management tools, such as appropriate crop insurance and raising the annual income limit; insurance payouts and disaster assistance payments based on organic prices for organic products rather than on conventional prices and coverage for contamination from genetically modified organisms and pesticide drift damage to organic farms. Increased regulations for pesticide use and genetically modified organisms.
- Meeting market demand and enabling access to organic food by lifting prohibitions on the purchase of organic food in the Woman, Infants and Children program, enabling Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients to buy organic at farmers’ markets and elsewhere, allowing government procurement of organic food in military, school and Indian food service and assistance programs. The report also recommends ensuring funding for the National Organic Program to perform oversight, enforcement and regulatory functions.
- Creating a strong organic transition assistance program that provides business guidance, education and planning assistance as well as appropriate annual payments, research funding and data collection on transitioning farmers.
- Supporting reward programs that provide environmental benefits.
“It’s really important that we get the voice of the American family farmer to D.C.” Wilmot said. “This is really the future of this country.”
The Senate and House agriculture committees are holding hearings to provide recommendations to a 12-member congressional deficit reduction committee next month and prepare for the 2012 farm bill vote. The committees already have recommended $742 million to $1 billion in cuts to the farm bill which is set to expire in about a year.
This article appeared here.