Advocates trade tips on how to 'defend the gains we have made'
By STEVE BROWN
PORTLAND -- Empowered and enthused by gains it made in the 2008 Farm Bill, the organic sector of agriculture aims to increase its impact on the 2012 Farm Bill.
Producers, processors, consumers and activists gathered in Portland Feb. 10-12 for their annual Organicology conference, discussing issues around seeds, plant breeding and politics. More than 700 people were in attendance, most of them from the Pacific Northwest but others from the Midwest, the East Coast, Mexico and Canada.
A day-long conversation about policy also covered climate change and genetically modified crops.
Michael Sligh, of the Rural Advancement Foundation International, said the upcoming farm bill is the perfect place to address organic concerns, since it determines the direction of food and farm policy.
"What we reward, we get more of. What we penalize, we get less of," he said. "We have to defend the gains we have made.
"We can create a fair and accessible marketplace," said Sligh, a retired farmer who converted to organic production in the 1970s.
One of the gains to be defended is the USDA's certification cost-share program. Liana Hoodes, with the National Organic Coalition, said when it comes to defending the cost-share in Congress, "We point out how efficient and successful this program is."
She said her organization's top priority is for mandatory funding of $30 million over the five-year life of the 2012 Farm Bill. Also it will seek to increase the maximum annual 75 percent funding eligibility from $750 to $1,000 per certified entity.
Laura Batcha, from the Organic Trade Association, called for a decrease in subsidies for conventional agriculture and increased public education about the benefits of organic production.
Funding for the USDA's National Organic Program -- which had a budget of $3 million in 2010 -- "must grow with the industry," she said. Oversight of the industry is critical to the integrity of the organic label and consumer confidence.
Batcha said there is a direct correlation between the NOP budget and overall organic sales.
Eliav Bitan, representing the National Wildlife Federation, said funding for the USDA's Environmental Quality Incentives Program should shift from manure lagoons to cover crops and conservation tillage.
Hoodes said one of the best ways to communicate with Congress is through website-based online response forms.
"E-mails are OK, but there's no personal link to the congressmen," she said. Phone calls works best when sending concerns to the president.
"Don't send hand-written letters," Hoodes said. Security issues often keep them from their destination.
Andrew Kimbrell, with the Center for Food Safety, said organic growers should team up with animal rights groups to add clout to their concerns.
"Midsize organics can feed the world," he said. "It's about growing food. There are many myths around organics. We need to educate lawmakers about reality."
The Rural Advancement Foundation International: www.rafiusa.org
National Organic Coalition: www.nationalorganiccoalition.org
Organic Trade Association: www.ota.com
National Wildlife Federation: www.nwf.org
Center for Food Safety: www.centerforfoodsafety.org