To meet skyrocketing demand for organic products, nation’s farmers need a better toolkit
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Agriculture is an inherently risky industry.  From market fluctuations to weather extremes, farmers must exhibit an incredible sense of responsiveness to the changing conditions in which they operate. The ability of farmers to adapt depends greatly on the quality of tools they have available to them. Without the most advanced seeds, technology, or best management practices, farmers can do little to respond to forces beyond their control. 
 
Public investments in agricultural research support the development of tools like these that greatly benefit American farmers. These efforts are largely thanks to the crucial support of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the cutting-edge research at universities across the country, and the extension services that help farmers apply innovative tools and practices on the ground.  
 
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Farmers who choose to engage in organic production must rely on a different toolkit—one that has not had enough rigorous research and development. The USDA only began specifically supporting organic agricultural research in 2002 when Congress established its flagship organic research program, the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI). Though focused on organic practices, OREI’s research has proven beneficial to conventional farmers as well.
 
While the establishment of this program was a vital step forward in support of organic production, the OREI program has not received a funding increase in the past decade. Yet, during that time frame, the number of certified organic operations has grown in every state to over 14,000 across the country. That growth has tracked an incredible rise in U.S. organic sales, more than doubling in that time period to $7.6 billion. 
 
We have witnessed this rapid growth of the organic market in our own districts in Maine, Washington, and California. Unfortunately, our farmers are unable to keep up with the market demand and distributors are increasingly turning to international imports. This is a lost opportunity for our farmers, our communities, and our country to supply American consumers with products grown here at home. 
 
To help farmers better capitalize on this opportunity, we introduced the Organic Agriculture Research Act (H.R. 2436), a bipartisan bill to ensure that organic research and extension programs around the country have the funding necessary to support all farmers with sound science, outreach, and education programs. 
 
Specifically, this bill reauthorizes the OREI program and increases the annual funding from $20 million to $50 million. Given the dramatic growth of the organic industry, this overdue increase in funding will be instrumental in providing the research and extension support that American farmers need to succeed in one of the fastest growing agriculture sectors in the country. 
 
Strong public support for this research is critical not only for organic farmers, but also for the rural communities depending on their success. Due to the strong demand for organic products, young and beginning farmers are seeking to transition to organic to capitalize on a strong market and to support a food system in which they truly believe. By expanding their toolbox, we can work to connect prospective organic farmers with economic opportunities to benefit themselves and their communities. 
 
The Organic Agriculture Research Act would do just that. 
 
Pingree represents Maine's 1st District and is a member of the House Organic Caucus; Newhouse represents Washington's 4th District and is a member of the House Organic Caucus; and Panetta represents California's 20th District and is a member of the Agriculture Committee.