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House Bill Would More Than Double Funding For Flagship USDA Organic Research Program

Three US House members this week introduced legislation that would increase funding for USDA’s flagship organic research program, the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), from $20 million to $50 million annually.

The Organic Agriculture Research Act was introduced by US Reps. Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Jimmy Panetta (D-CA).

The OREI seeks to solve critical organic agriculture issues, priorities, or problems through the integration of research, education, and extension activities.

The program’s purpose is to fund projects that will enhance the ability of producers and processors who have already adopted organic standards to grow and market high quality organic agricultural products.

Priority concerns include biological, physical, and social sciences, including economics.

Total organic product sales reached a record $43.3 billion in 2015, up 11 percent from the previous year’s record level, according to the Organic Trade Association, which supports the Organic Agriculture Research Act.

However, domestic production is not keeping up with consumer demand for some organic products, the bill’s sponsors noted.

One problem is that the increase in consumer demand for organic products has not been met with an increase in public investment in organic research, sponsors said. Funding for OREI has remained around the same level since 2010.

Last year, 18 projects totaling $17.6 million were funded through OREI. An additional 43 projects totaling over $40 million were recommended for funding but could not be funded due to lack of resources, the bill’s sponsors said.

In addition to the OTA, the Organic Agriculture Research Act is supported by, among others, Organic Valley, Stonyfield, National Farmers Union, National Organic Coalition, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES), Organic Farming Research Foundation, Oregon Tilth, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

“Organic Valley strongly supports this bill which focuses resources on organic agriculture research,” Organic Valley said in a statement of support. “In working with 2,000 farmers across the country, from Maine to Washington, we can testify to the unique production challenge farmers face, be it the type of crops and livestock they raise or variability seen across regions.

“The dedicated resources in the bill can help farmers tackle those challenges and become more efficient, boosting on-farm productivity and creating economic progress and stability; that is good for organic farmers, good for rural communities and good for our nation,” Organic Valley added.

“Research is critical for advancing the productivity and sustainability of organic agriculture, but for far too long organic research has been under-funded compared with the rest of agriculture,” said Britt Lundgren, director of organic and sustainable agriculture, Stonyfield. The Organic Agriculture Research Act “will ensure that organic agriculture receives a fair portion of federal agriculture research funding. This will better position US farmers to take advantage of the rapidly growing demand for organic food and fiber.”

“Robust funding for agriculture research is critical for the advancement of organic,” said Laura Batcha, the OTA’s executive director and CEO. “The Organic Research Act of 2017 invests in the future of organic farming by ensuring that the research keeps up with the burgeoning industry.”

“As the organic industry continues to grow at an extraordinary pace, we’ve seen a lag in sufficient research on organic farming systems,” said Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union. NFU “fully supports this increase in funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative to provide producers with the research and innovation they need to optimize their farming practices.”

“The agricultural research supported by the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative ensures that our nation’s organic farmers have trustworthy and tested solutions for the issues they face every day in the field,” said Greg Fogel, policy director, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “As the organic market continues to grow, America will need to scale up both production and research investment in order to ensure that family farmers can meet consumer demand.”