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Organic Farmers Ask to 'Level the Field' for Crop Insurance

June 7, 2012

LANSING, Mich. - In the Farm Bill debate in Congress, perhaps no one is watching more closely than organic farmers - in Michigan and across the country. They are seeing the scales tip more toward crop insurance than subsidies to growers, but crop insurance treats organic producers differently from traditional farmers.

Organic farmers hope that will change. That's because organic farmers pay a 5-percent surcharge for crop insurance, yet if they incur a loss, it is paid at conventional rates instead of the higher market value of their organic crop.

Grassroots organizer Lindsey Scalera with Michigan Voices for Good Food Policy says this inequity is an unnecessary barrier in an otherwise booming segment of the state's ag industry.

"It's a safety net like any other safety net, and organic agriculture is part of the diversity of crops and it's providing jobs. Paying attention to this issue will help us improve our economy."

Ariane Lotti, assistant policy director, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, says the insurance prices and payout differences are based on a common assumption that organic farming is somehow riskier than conventional farming - a belief she says is turning out to be incorrect.

"As the scientific literature expands on organic farming, we're actually seeing that organic farming systems are more resilient in the face of extreme weather, such as droughts and flooding. So, one could argue that organic farming is less risky than conventional farming, in certain respects."

Crop insurance is a big part of the new farm safety net outlined in the Farm Bill. An amendment being offered by Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley would direct the U.S. Agriculture Department to refigure its crop price policies and include fair organic payouts when losses are incurred.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - MI