Congress should support organic farming to help the farm economy
© Getty Images

We are at a critical moment in the farm bill, as the Senate and Congress are negotiating a final package in conference. Many farmers and rural communities are struggling in the face of low commodity prices and trade wars. It’s urgently important to remember that organic agriculture is leading to more profitable American farms and rural communities, and can offer diversification to depressed conventional markets. Strong funding for organic research and technical support will help expand the success and resilience of the nation’s agriculture economy.

Penn State University research shows that when there is a density of organic operations, annual median household income increases by more than $2,000. Additionally, researchers at Washington State University examined 40 years of studies to analyze the comparative financial performance of organic and conventional agriculture, and found that organic crop production is 22 percent-35 percent more profitable than its conventional crop counterpart.

ADVERTISEMENT

While organic represents a fantastic opportunity for U.S. farmers, organic acreage hovers at just 1 percent of overall U.S. production. Meanwhile consumer purchases have grown to nearly $50 billion a year, with a 10-year average growth rate in double digits. This disparity between domestic organic acreage and organic demand creates an unfortunate situation where U.S. food companies are importing crops like organic soy and corn that could be grown domestically. The importation of organic crops such as these is a lost opportunity for American farmers. U.S. farmers interested in the process of transitioning or interested in transitioning to organic report the need for more research and technical assistance in transition. They are simply underserved.

Companies like Puris and Clif Bar, along with many of our colleagues in the Organic Trade Association, invest in the success of American farmers by spending millions of dollars on private research as well as public endowments and grants to land grant universities to support organic research. The government can and must be a partner to the private sector. We need competitive grant programs like the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) to leverage private sectors dollars and improve the efficiency and competitiveness of organic producers.

Both the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill increase funding for OREI, but only the Senate bill grants OREI permanent baseline funding of $50 million by 2022. We ask Congress, as they work through differences in the bills in conference negotiations, to create this allocation for permanent, mandatory baseline funding of OREI to ensure the program’s long-term stability.

Each day, researchers and agricultural extension professionals are working to serve an expanding base of organic producers - they need this stability in funding for these programs. Moreover, these investments have been shown to pay excellent returns for farmers and tax-payers alike. We strongly encourage the Senate and House to work in conference for a quick resolution to the farm bill, providing adequate funding for organic research and addressing the needs of all American farmers and consumers.

Kevin Cleary is CEO for Clif Bar & Company. Tyler Lorenzen is President of Puris.