Stop-gap Farm Bill Threatens Organic Farming Research and Farmers
LANSING, Mich. – Organic farmers could find it harder to compete under a stopgap farm bill approved late last year, which left out funding for two popular programs.
When federal lawmakers approved an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, they left out funding for the National Organic Certification Cost Share and the Organic Agriculture Research Extension Initiative. The Organic Cost Share reimburses farmers up to $750 to pay for annual organic certification.
Emily Freeh manages Giving Tree Farm in Lansing. She says farmers who forgo organic certification may have a hard time selling their products.
"I think it's going to depend on where the farmer's biggest market is,” she adds. “If they're wholesaling to a grocery store they're going to have more of an interest in staying organic and paying that price. But for market farmers they're probably just going to convey to their customers, 'This didn't pass, and so we're paying a thousand extra dollars and that's why we're not certified.' "
The Organic Research Extension Initiative (OREI) has been used in Michigan to research organic farming's economic, nutritional and environmental implications.
Michigan State University researcher Vicki Merrone says a lot of questions about organic foods will be left unanswered without federal funding.
"People make claims, speculations of organic is healthier, organic is better for the soil, organic will allow a country to feed itself,” she says. “Unless we have the data we can't prove any of that. With programs like OREI we can have the opportunity to prove that."
Supporters of the program say efforts to expand organic farming would be seriously hurt if funding is not reinstated. The 2008 Farm Bill extension expires September 30.