What Organic Farmers Want (and Need)

More than 60 small family farmers and ranchers from 24 states traveled to Washington DC this week to meet with over 100 legislators.  

They are urging Congress to restore critical funding for  sustainable agriculture programs and pass a farm bill that advances the sustainability of agriculture, rural communities, food systems, and natural resources.

Faced with an expiring farm bill last year, on New Year’s Eve Congress passed a short-term measure that extends parts of the bill through September 2013 – but this last-minute extension left dozens of sustainable agriculture programs stranded without funding.

This can be fixed through the Continuing Resolution – a version of this just passed the House but it doesn’t address these issues.

For example, Elmwood Stock Farm in Georgetown, Kentucky, has been an organic farm for 30 years, producing certified organic beef, poultry, lamb, eggs, and produce on 300 acres.

"A little bit of investment has spurred so much growth of our business," says owner Mac Stone.

He’s referring to programs like the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program, where farmers get help in paying the annual cost of organic certification. 

Other important programs currently stranded are:

  • Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which invests in young farmers and ranchers by funding programs and improving policies that support beginners, and removing barriers that deter entry into farming.
  • Investments in the development and growth of local and regional food systems increase economic opportunities for farmers, food businesses, and rural communities.
  • Conservation Stewardship Program, Conservation Reserve Program, and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program improves natural resource protection by rewarding farmers for good land stewardship.
  • Targeting commodity and crop insurance subsidies to working farmers and tying subsidies to basic stewardship practices would bring fiscal responsibility and transparency to farm policy.

"The Farm Bill extension included in the fiscal cliff package is a disgrace. For half a year, the Senate and House debated versions of a new Farm Bill that would have made some progress toward eliminating subsidies for Big Ag and shifting incentives to healthy food and smart, sustainable farming practices. But Republican leadership copped out at the last second. Support for healthy farms became agricultural runoff, while massive commodity subsidies remain in place," says Justin Tatham, senior Washington representative for Union of Concerned Scientist’s Food & Environment Program.

"Incentives for fruit and vegetable production and much-needed programs that protect our air, water, and soil will now lose funding. The Farm Bill extension is a blow to farmers who want to grow healthy foods and the consumers who want to buy them," he says.

There are two big culprits when it comes to agriculture’s impact on the world around us: the fossil fuels that go into supporting the "industrialized, meat-heavy" US food system and fertilizers that contain nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is roughly 298 times more potent than carbon dioxide over the course of 100 years.

The Farm Bill ignores these factors and actually encourages global warming by continuing to focus the bulk of its financial support on monoculture commodity crops that are the biggest offenders: wheat, rice, soybeans, cotton and (the really big one) corn. It also leaves crops vulnerable to drought and insect infestations.

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