Proposed Increase for Organic Research FundingMay 19th, 2017
Cornucopia’s Take: Rep. Pingree, a Maine Democrat and organic farmer, has introduced legislation along with some of her colleagues seeking increased funding for research on organic issues. Nearly all in the organic community are in agreement that the USDA needs to support more organic research.
Congresswoman Pingree leads bipartisan bill to support continued growth in organic agriculture industry
Rep. Chellie Pingree
Reps. Pingree, Newhouse, and Panetta introduce legislation to increase funding for USDA’s flagship organic research program
[On May 16] Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Dan Newhouse (R-WA), and Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) will introduced the Organic Agriculture Research Act to support the continued growth of the nation’s booming organic agriculture industry.
The legislation increases funding for USDA’s flagship organic research program, the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), from $20 million to $50 million annually. The program funds applied research projects across the country that help organic farmers improve their operations and meet the growing consumer demand for organic food.
“Over the last 10 years, sales of organic food in the United States have doubled, which has benefited rural economies and raised the income of many farmers. There’s still a lot of room for growth—it’s just a question of getting farmers what they need to keep up with consumer demand,” said Congresswoman Pingree. “Organic Research and Extension Initiative funding has been critical in solving problems and developing ways for farmers to increase productivity, prevent loss, and streamline their operations. But insufficient funding has led to many unmet research needs and missed opportunities. The Organic Agriculture Research Act would increase funding to reflect the industry’s growth in the market and maintain its momentum.”
“Our country’s organic industry is a dynamic and growing market, but more must be done to ensure that producers are equipped with the most effective tools available. My district on the central coast of California is the fifth largest organics producing district in the country, home to over 400 organic producers. To remain competitive, these operations depend on innovations in research, particularly when it comes to improvements in soil health and pest management,” said Congressman Panetta. “The Organic Agriculture Research Act will provide economic opportunity for our producers and increase accessibility to consumers through science-based advancements.”
This bill is supported by: Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Organic Trade Association, National Farmers Union, Union of Concerned Scientists, Organic Valley, Stonyfield, Organic Farming Research Foundation, National Organic Coalition, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Organic Seed Alliance, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, Oregon Tilth, and Florida Organic Growers.
“A strong commitment to organic research benefits our farmers, our health, the environment and local economies,” said Ted Quaday, Executive Director, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. “The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association applauds Congresswoman Pingree for leading the effort to answer this crucial agricultural need.”
Organic industry booming—a boon for farmers
U.S. organic product sales currently exceed $43 billion per year, up from less than $19 billion in 2007 and $3.5 billion in 1997. Almost 13 percent of the produce sold in the U.S. is now organic.
Organic farms are 35 percent more profitable than the average farm. Premiums paid to organic farmers can range from 29 to 32 percent above non-organic prices. The difference in on-farm net income in many cases is what makes staying on the farm possible.
Production can’t keep up with demand—research gaps are a reason why
Unfortunately, domestic production is not keeping up with consumer demand for organic products—a missed opportunity for American farmers. One problem is that the dramatic increase in consumer demand has not been met with an increase in public investment in organic research. Funding for OREI has remained around the same level since 2010.
In 2016, 18 projects totaling $17,640,143 were funded through OREI. The same year, 43 additional projects totaling $40,282,461 were recommended for funding but could not be funded for lack of resources.
In Maine, the program has funded approximately $3.5 million in research at the University of Maine since 2005. Research projects have included:
• Innovative sowing, cultivation, and rotation strategies to address weed, fertility, and disease challenges in organic food and feed grains
• Enhancing farmers’ capacity to produce high quality organic bread wheat; and
• Optimizing organic crop production by enhancing soil and plant health to suppress plant diseases and pests
Additional funding would address organic research gaps. The 2016 National Organic Research Agenda identified three topics where organic farmers’ research needs are still unmet: soil health, weed control, and fertility methods. Organic and non-organic farmers alike benefit from this research. For example, cover cropping is standard practice on organic farms but has been widely adopted by non-organic farms as well.