Monday, October 6, 2008

Farm Bill Offers Incentive to Go Organic

The new farm bill could help feed America's appetite for organic food by enticing more farmers to switch from conventional agriculture, according to a news story from the Jackson Sun.

The legislation, which passed earlier this year, offers farmers as much as $20,000 a year to cover the cost of converting their farms to organic agriculture. There also is money to offset certification costs and new funding for organic research.

"It's definitely the nudge that has been missing" to get conventional farmers to switch to organic, said organic farmer Bill Horner, president and chief executive of Naturally Iowa, a dairy based in Clarinda.

The provisions make the legislation the most organic-friendly farm bill since the 1990 version required the Department of Agriculture to establish a program for standardizing and certifying organic products. As a result of that bill, organic foods now bear a familiar green and white "USDA" seal.

The latest farm bill means that organic agriculture will be a permanent fixture among farm programs, said Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the Washington-based Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

But extra money won't always be enough to get conventional farmers to convert to organic or to get organic growers to expand.

Mike Albers, who grows organic corn, wheat, oats and hay on 200 of his farm's 900 acres near Waverly, Iowa, is reconsidering plans to convert another 100 acres of the farm to organic production. Prices for organic corn and soybeans are at least double the price of conventional versions - organic corn has been going for $11 a bushel; organic soybeans are worth about $25 a bushel.

But Albers struggled to control weeds in his organic fields after this spring's torrential rains.
Conventional farmers can arrange for fields to be doused with herbicide.

For organic farmers, controlling weeds often means keeping rows cultivated - which can be hard to do when the fields are too soggy for a tractor - or torching the weeds with a propane burner. At one point this summer, Albers hired 30 people to cut weeds.

Among the farm bill provisions regarding organic agriculture:
Organic farmers will be eligible to receive up to $20,000 a year, or a maximum of $80,000 during a six-year period, to cover the cost of transitioning from conventional to organic agriculture. The payments would come through the Agriculture Department's Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which offsets the cost of measures that prevent pollution and conserve water and soil.

Farms lose money while moving to organic agriculture. Crop yields drop, and growers can't sell their crops as organic - and get organic prices for them - for three years. Farmers also have to start rotating corn and soybeans with lower-value crops such as wheat, oats and hay to help with soil fertility and pest control.

The government can pay up to 75 percent of a farm's certification fees, up to a maximum of $750. Both private companies and state agencies run certification programs, and fees can vary. In one example, The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship charges fees averaging about $600 to $700 per farm, said Maury Wills, who oversees the state certification program.

The bill requires spending $78 million on organic research from 2009 through 2012. Additional funding of $25 million is authorized but not required. The bill also authorizes higher budgets for the Agriculture Department's organic standards program and the department's price-tracking service for organic crops.

1 comment:

VendingMachinesforGyms said...

The more organic, the better!