AB104 would provide for a maximum of $250 in assistance per farm each year

By WES SANDER

Capital Press

SACRAMENTO -- A bill to help conventional growers switch to organic production has gone to the governor's desk.

AB1401, by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, passed the Assembly on a 62-14 vote.

The bill would establish the California Transition to Organics Act of 2009. It would create in the state treasury the Transition to Organics Fund, which would be fed from federal programs and donations from industry and individuals.

The act would help growers absorb the cost of the three-year process of achieving third-party certification of organic production. During that time, the producer invests in higher-cost organic inputs while selling commodities at the lower prices of conventional markets.

Ma's bill would provide for a maximum of $250 in assistance per farm, and $1,000 per farmer, each year. It would supplement USDA's National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, which awards growers 75 percent of transition costs up to $750.

Although no formal opposition was registered, some in the organics industry oppose the bill. California Certified Organic Farmers, the state's leading certifier, has remained neutral.

Amigo Cantisano, an organic grower in Nevada County, says helping with the organic-transition investment would contribute to a troubling trend.

While the assistance is small compared to the cost of certification, it opens organic markets to the potentially disruptive effects of public subsidy, Cantisano says.

While it still represents a tiny fraction of agriculture, the organic industry has seen double-digit expansion in recent years.

"We have a very robust market that's been growing steadily," Cantisano said. "What I'm worried about is creating more product without creating more market."

Staff writer Wes Sander is based in Sacramento. E-mail: wsander@capitalpress.com.

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