Farmers support new program, but funding is in doubt
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- A new organic program approved by the Legislature will allow the Idaho State Department of Agriculture to certify that materials used in crop and livestock inputs meet the requirements of the federal organic certification program.
But adequate funding is in question after the Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee struck a sliding fee scale from the new state rule.
The ISDA is approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to certify products as organic, but organic farmers in the Gem State currently have to turn to groups in other states to ensure the inputs they purchase meet national standards.
A new rule approved by the Idaho Legislature this week creates a voluntary program that allows the ISDA to certify that inputs used in organic production meet federal standards.
If products meet the standards, the department would provide the manufacturer a certificate it could present to Idaho producers confirming that. The department would also create a materials review list with inputs approved for use in organic production.
While the House Agricultural Affairs Committee approved all of the new rule, senators balked at a sliding fee scale that was based on total sales of a product and could have been as much as $5,000 annually.
The Senate also struck a $500 registration fee for inputs being registered for the first time by any certifying agency. A straight registration fee of $200 per product was approved.
The department wasn't going to collect the fees under the sliding scale during the first year of the program, so the ISDA "can operate under this (fee structure), for the first year at least," said ISDA Deputy Director Brian Oakey.
Oakey said the department will look for a solution to the funding question.
Farmers pushed for the new program because they said other certifying agencies are too slow and too expensive and they have to do a lot of work to ensure the products they use are certified for organic production. They believe the new program will create a one-stop shop to do that work for them.
Organic farmer Lee Rice said the service could also lead to more manufacturers of organic inputs locating in Idaho, which would reduce shipping costs for Idaho producers.
"Overall, they're going to provide a real good service for organic agriculture ... in the state," he told House lawmakers.
Tonya Holten, who works for an Idaho-based company called Ida-Ore Mining that produces a mineral known as zeolite used in many organic products, testified in favor of the new program.
Holten said the company currently has to have its product certified by groups in Washington or Oregon and her company would prefer to be certified by the ISDA.
The company wants to ensure Idaho producers their product is healthy, of high quality and produced without synthetic inputs, she added. "An Idaho certification will validate this claim."