Organic agriculture serves as an engine for rural development, representing a $35 billion industry in the United States alone. USDA is committed to protecting the integrity of organic products, and ensuring that all of our agencies work together to help the organic sector continue to grow.
Members of the organic community are important partners in these efforts. As Administrator of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which includes the National Organic Program, I have had the privilege of getting to know our organic stakeholders – visiting their farms and talking to them about their priorities – and I have been very impressed. Thanks to the recently passed Agricultural Act of 2014 (Farm Bill), USDA is now even better equipped to support the success of organic operations.
Just this week, USDA hosted a stakeholder listening session on the organic provisions of the Farm Bill. The session gave us the opportunity to hear from stakeholders about their priorities during the implementation process and the impact that the new provisions will have on their communities. We had a great turnout with over 80 participants, ranging from researchers to consumers.
At the listening session, representatives from ERS, NASS, RMA, FSA, NRCS, NIFA, and AMS, as well as the Office of the Secretary, gave an overview of the new provisions and our implementation plans before opening the session to participants. We got some great feedback with a common theme – the importance of communication, outreach, and strategic partnerships. Stakeholders also noted the benefits of interagency coordination and urged USDA to continue supporting the Organic Working Group which is led by Mark Lipson.
Many stakeholders were excited about the Farm Bill’s expanded funding for the Organic Certification Cost-Share Programs, which help organic producers and handlers cover the cost of organic certification, making organic certification more accessible to small producers. Listening session participants also emphasized that for the program to be successful, USDA needs to educate the organic community about the opportunity for assistance and partner with stakeholders to get the word out – we couldn’t agree more!
We also heard from stakeholders about the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI). They were thrilled that the Farm Bill provides additional research grant funds to address issues that affect organic production, and they again asked that we conduct outreach and training on this program.
This exciting Farm Bill provision will allow USDA to expand and improve on our economic and market data about organic agriculture. Some participants asked that we conduct more organic production surveys. USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) reported that more frequent production data is in the works, and that the agency hopes to provide annual updates thanks to a partnership with USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). Stakeholders were especially appreciative of the collaboration between AMS, ERS, NASS, and the Risk Management Agency to provide additional price elections that will improve crop insurance options available to organic growers.
As we work to efficiently and effectively implement all of the new programs and policies, we will keep reaching out to our stakeholders and encouraging partnerships. In the cases where we need to do notice and public comment, I hope you’ll all pay close attention and give us your constructive thoughts on how we can all work together to support organic agriculture.