Organic agriculture won backing in the House version of the food and farm bill, though not at the level the organic lobby was pushing for. I'd call it a solid double rather than a home run. Here's the break down, as reported by the Organic Farming Research Foundation:
- The organic research and extension initiative got $5 million a year, plus $25 million in discretionary funding (that portion will only appear if money can be found). The money will fund much-needed research on organic methods and USDA extension agents who can advise farmers on organic agriculture. OFRF comment: "While the mandatory funding is an increase of $2 million per year from the 2002 Farm Bill, it falls short of the $15 million per year in mandatory funding which OFRF recommends."
- An organic data initiative to collect information on production and marketing got $3 million over five years.
- The Organic Conversion Assistance Program was allocated $50 million, providing technical and educational assistance to farmers who are transitioning to organic production, a three-year process. Transitioning farmers can receive up to $10,000 per farmer per year for three years. OFRF comment: This was "significantly less than the $50 million per year in mandatory funding recommended by OFRF." But it would be the first time money was set aside to help farmers through the financially difficult transition period.
- The National Organic Certification Cost Share Program, which helps defray the cost of organic certification, was reauthorized with mandatory funding of $22 million, up $5 million from the 2002 farm bill. Under the program, farmers can receive up to 75 percent of their certification costs, to a maximum of $750. This was less than the $25 million that OFRF had sought.
The action will now switch to the Senate, which writes its own version of the bill. The differences eventually will be resolved in conference. For more on the ins-and-outs of the farm bill action last week, especially on farm payment limits (or lack thereof), check out Mulchblog, Blog for Rural America and FarmPolicy.com.