We Need Reliable Resources for Farmers Transitioning to Organic
Over the last two decades, the organic sector has grown almost twelve-fold – from $3.7 billion in sales in 1997 to over $43 billion in sales in 2015. Even though organics is the fastest growing sector in the food industry, production of organic foods has consistently fallen behind consumer demand, with stores selling out of organic foods faster than they can re-stock them.
Despite this, Congress has failed to take appropriate steps to address problems with the current farm subsidy system and alleviate some of the barriers to farmers who want to transition to organic. This has left us in a situation where we are importing more and more organic products – in 2014 we imported roughly $1.2 billion worth.
There are many financial and planning hurdles for farmers who want to obtain organic certification. According to a March 2017 study, one of the most common challenges farmers face when trying to make the jump to organic is the cost of organic certification. The costs can be close to $2,000 or more for every farm that wants to become certified. Farmers must also hire an organic certification agent that can help with the planning process, required inspections and licensing.
Additionally, the National Organic Program requires that organic crops be grown on land that has been free from certain pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers for at least three years before growth of new crops can begin. All of this adds up to be a relatively costly endeavor – even with the high price premiums on organic products.
Fair Farms has discussed the problems with our subsidy system in the past and how it largely benefits industrial agriculture. While White Supremacist Richard Spencer receives millions in subsidies for his cotton farm in Louisiana, countless organic farmers across the country are going it alone.
2018 Farm Bill
The 2018 Farm Bill presents an exciting opportunity for Congress to fix our broken subsidy system and reduce some of the obstacles facing farmers who want to transition to organic.
The Environmental Working Group recently released a report providing some recommendations for the 2018 Farm Bill that will help farmers make the transition. The report had three major recommendations that primarily focus on embedding incentives and assistance for farmers who want to transition to organic into existing conservation programs. These include the Conservation Stewardship Program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program Organic Initiative, and the Conservation Reserve Program. The report also recommended re-vamping tax incentives, small business grants, and existing loan programs to better assist transitioning farmers.
These reforms would certainly encourage farmers who are considering making the transition to organic.
In addition to these Farm Bill recommendations, the government could play a role in helping farmers with production and marketing resource assistance. Farmers reportedly need more information in areas like market development for organic products, effective organic crop rotations specific to a region, trends, opportunities, and pricing, soil health management practices, and organic pest, disease and weed management.
Fair Farms plans to keep consumers informed on the development of the 2018 Farm Bill and will advocate for changes that prioritize assistance for organic farmers and those who want to transition. There are so many environmental and financial benefits of the organic market that we think it’s past time for the federal government to provide greater assistance.