historic $80 million over five years for this important initiative. In the 2002 bill,
it was funded at $3 million.
Price and yield analysis is also needed in organic agriculture. That is why
the Farm Bill currently moving through Congress provides $5 million over five
years for organic production and market data initiatives. These funds will go to
the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), the Economic Research Service
(ERS), and the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), to fund com-
“There are too few
resources to help
farmers to transition into organic agriculture. Tell us more about this program and how it can support the
growth of organic and help create
more sustainable farming practices.
farmers to transition to
use of renewable sources
prehensive reporting of prices relating to organically produced agricultural
products and to expand and publish organic census analysis. This lack of basic
information has also contributed to the lack of adequate crop insurance products for organic farmers. The organic industry has grown large enough that
USDA needs to provide comprehensive, national data for this industry.
OP: Speaking of which, organic farmers currently have to pay an additional 5
percent surcharge for crop insurance, presenting yet another financial barrier
for organic farmers. How does the Farm Bill address this issue?
Harkin: The surcharge for organic crop insurance policies was implemented
by USDA regulations under their general authority to establish premium rates
for the program. As I understand it, the surcharge was established based on
the blanket assumption that since producers growing organic crops, by definition, do not have access to pesticides and other chemical plant protection
products, they would fare worse and generate more losses under adverse
weather or pest pressure than would comparable crops grown using conventional practices. USDA did not make an effort to determine whether this
assumption is in fact valid on a crop by crop basis.
I believe that the 5 percent surcharge as currently assessed is completely
arbitrary with no data to back up why it is needed. That’s why the Senate Farm
Bill prohibits the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation from charging a surcharge on premiums paid to insure organic crops. It allows surcharges to be
required only when consistent evidence of greater loss variability is validated
on a crop by crop basis. As mentioned before, it’s also important to note that
the increase in funds to organic price and yield information will also help
improve crop insurance for organic producers.
Harkin: Organic farmers can contribute greatly to sound conservation
practices, yet for too long I have felt
that conservation programs have not
been user friendly to organic producers. I created the Conservation
Security Program (CSP) in the 2002
Farm Bill to pay farmers for incorporating conservation practices on working lands. We expanded that program
substantially in the new Senate Farm
Bill and we intend to improve CSP’s
usefulness for organic farmers.
It’s important to note that some
producers in the country are using
EQIP to transition into organic agriculture, but EQIP is not available in
all states for organic practices. The
Senate farm bill outlines national standards that the Natural Resources
Conservation Service (NRCS) can use
to administer this conservation program for organic producers. Farmers
will be allowed to use up to $20,000
per year, but no more than $80,000
over a three or four year period, to
transition to organic agriculture.
OP: How do you see these added
measures for organic in the Farm Bill
affecting processors and ultimately the
OP: You have mentioned that you want to make the Environmental Quality
Incentives Program (EQIP), which provides incentive payments and cost
shares to implement conservation practices, more universally available for
Harkin: The goal of the Senate Farm
Bill with respect to organics is simple:
give organic agricultural producers
the tools they need to transition into
this burgeoning market so that they
may grow more organic products right
here in the United States. If processors can meet demand and reduce
transportation costs, they could pass
cost savings onto consumers while
boosting the availability, variety and
quality of organics in the marketplace.