Funding for organic programs a farm bill priority, advocates say
By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI
Restoring organic programs that were zeroed out in funding will be a top priority for industry advocates in upcoming negotiations over the 2013 Farm Bill.
Early this year, the previous 2008 Farm Bill was extended for nine months but numerous organic programs lost funding because they didn't have baseline funding and weren't included in budget projections, experts say.
At a time when Congress is looking to reduce spending, it's going to be tough to reinstate programs that may be perceived as new expenditures, said Brise Tencer, policy director for the California Certified Organic Farmers certifying agency.
"We have a climate of shrinkage rather than expansion," Tencer said. "You really have to make the case all over again.
Leaders in the House and Senate agriculture committees, who draft the farm bill, will hopefully understand that organic programs lost funding for technical reasons but were established under previous legislation, said Marni Karlin, associate director of legislative and legal affairs for the Organic Trade Association, an industry group.
"We think that's a completely credible argument," Karlin said.
New programs are generally among the first to be chopped by Congress, so organic advocates will need to develop alliances in the agriculture committees to win support, said Ariane Lotti, assistant policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
Farm bill negotiations have become more contentious in recent years, especially with less available money for various programs, Lotti said. "We are up against a really tough economic climate."
Part of the reason Congress failed to pass a farm bill last year was to avoid politically sensitive discussions about food stamps right before the 2012 election, but in 2013 that likely won't be as big of an impediment, said Karlin.
"The fact it's not an election year may help," she said.
California Certified Organic Farmers, the Organic Trade Association and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition recently discussed their policy goals during the Organicology conference in Portland, Ore.
One of the main programs the groups hope to reinstate is the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, which funds grant projects aimed at weed control, seed development and other issues.
Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives, under which USDA collects data about the industry, were also zeroed out in funding but are seen as crucial for establishing industry trends and providing information needed for crop insurance compensation.
Organic advocates also hope to restore the Certification Cost Share Program, which reimburses organic growers for a portion of their certification costs to make it feasible to obtain approval for organic labeling.
Apart from funding issues, the groups want to eliminate a 5 percent surcharge on federal crop insurance premiums that organic growers must pay due to the perceived riskiness of their operations.
"We believe the 5 percent surcharge is not supported by data," said Karlin.