COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Some Ohio farmers are anxiously awaiting a new federal rule designed to get tough on fraudulent organic imports. The Strengthening Organic Enforcement rule is expected to enhance federal oversight of organic accreditation and certification.
Angela Schriver, an organic grain farmer in Lorain County, said too many suspect products labeled 'organic' are coming into the country and undercutting domestic growers. She noted that the certified organic label comes at a higher price for both the grower and consumer, because it has higher standards.
"It's that integrity that keeps us going, and we know we're working for something that's larger than us, and more important on the grand scheme of things," she said. "And then, when you allow this counterfeit to come in and play the same game you're playing, it's extremely disheartening."
In the Black Sea region alone, the National Organic Program has decertified more than 275 operations after unannounced inspections.
Schriver said her products are selling for less than they were before bogus 'organic' grains became a problem. The difference," she said, "is about $8,000 less for a field of beans and $14,000 less for a field of corn.
"That is a large amount of money for people like us," she said. "It is being able to repair our tractor, and if you want to take your kids school-clothes shopping, you don't have to worry about things like that. That's kind of what it is for us. And those numbers were only on 20 acres."
The proposed rule has been under review by the Office of Management and Budget since November and will be open for a 60-day public comment period once it is published.
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William Peace University is teaming up with Produce Purpose, a nonprofit organization, to install a hydroponic farming operation on campus.
The new program aims to provide purposeful employment for individuals with special needs, promote sustainable and pesticide-free agriculture, and encourage healthy eating habits at the university.
Matthew Harvey, founder of Produce Purpose, said the program, inspired by his special needs brother, is not only to promote interactive learning but to address a real problem happening among young people.
"The age demographic between the ages of 18 and 29 is seeing the most weight gain in a person's lifetime," Harvey pointed out. "The freshman 15 slogan holds more truth than people really want to admit."
To bring the hydroponic farming operation to life on campus, Produce Purpose will also be partnering with Freight Farms, a hydroponic technology company based in Boston. Plans for the fully automated hydroponic farm are already underway, and the first crop is set to become available for harvest this fall.
The collaboration goes beyond merely providing fresh produce to students; it also creates multidisciplinary educational opportunities for them. Harvey highlighted the program will be accessible to students studying subjects such as biology, interactive design, psychology and special education.
"For example, if you are a physics student and you want to learn more about how different colored light waves can affect the growth of plants, you can see that in the red and blue light wave tech that the container farm has developed and perfected," Harvey explained.
Harvey added the program will hire about three special-needs farmers.
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Georgia farmers are watching a bill that is being reintroduced in Congress for ways to help their farms become more sustainable and less likely to contribute to the warming climate. The Agriculture Resilience Act is making a comeback this year after languishing in Congress since 2019. Its goal is to make agriculture a 'net-zero emissions' industry by 2040. Farming now contributes about 8.5% of U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions.
Lotanna Obodozie, Climate Campaign director with National Young Farmers Coalition, said her group hopes the bill gives farmers more access to the resources they need to increase sustainability.
"Farmers are experiencing a lot of barriers when trying to use or apply for USDA programs, and so I think that is a challenge that farmers could face," she said.
Agriculture is a $70 billion part of Georgia's economy. The bill focuses on assisting farmers in adopting eco-friendly practices, and would fund research into cutting-edge farming methods. The Agriculture Resilience Act has just been reintroduced. Previous bills had no co-sponsors from the Georgia delegation.
The legislation also includes measures to address social-justice issues in farming communities. It outlines ways to support minority-owned farms and promote equitable access to resources like land and water. Obodozie said this focus is needed to bridge gaps in agriculture across the nation.
"One thing that's really important is just how can we make sure that these programs are accessible for all farmers - not just large farmers, but also small farmers, beginning farmers, farmers of color, and other historically disadvantaged farmers," she said.
Some people have suggested adding this legislation to the 2023 Farm Bill, which Congress is scheduled to begin debating in September. In Georgia, over 42,000 farms span more than 10 million acres, according to the USDA.
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Congress has been holding hearings on the next Farm Bill, which has major implications for the nation's food system. It also shapes conservation programs, and Wisconsin producers hope a key funding source is not left behind.
The Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative helps farmers carry out managed grazing, where animals are rotated on and off parcels of land for foraging, allowing other sections of the property to recover. Ag experts said it makes the land and animals healthier.
Mary Anderson, council president of the River Country Resource Conservation and Development Council and a farmer from Western Wisconsin, said the initiative's technical assistance is vital.
"We're able to avoid pitfalls, and it helps make our operations more successful," Anderson explained.
Much like hiring a professional to suggest home renovations, a grazing specialist helps a farmer find ways to make their land work for managed grazing. Supporters of the initiative not only want reauthorization in the Farm Bill, but also seek stable funding at $50 million annually.
The bill is passed every five years, and could again become mired in debate over Republican calls for cuts to SNAP benefits.
In addition to technical assistance, the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative provides funding for outreach such as conferences and webinars. Anderson pointed out there is a lot of demand, but not enough funding, and not rising to the challenge could hurt the movement.
"So, it's very important that farmers get not only technical assistance, but education," Anderson emphasized. "Then of course, research dollars too, that will guide us to do a better job."
The River Country Resource Conservation and Development Council helps property owners navigate issues as they look to make their land more sustainable. In the most recent fiscal year, the council was revived with a $14 million subsidy, after funding had been cut for more than a decade.
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