2012 was almost a historic year in federal organic, as well as conventional, agriculture policy in the United States. With the 2008 Farm Bill set to expire on Sept. 30, 2012, both the Senate and House Agriculture Committees drafted new Farm Bills for passage before the onset of 2013, which would have directed U.S. agriculture and nutrition policy for the next five years.
The Senate was even able to pass their bill entirely, and awaited the House to vote on the bill. Moreover, and due in no small part to the efforts of organic farmer advocates across the country, both versions of the new bill included significant support for organic farming programs, in some cases even tackling significant challenges that organic farmers faced in previous farm bills. Indeed, the path was clear for a bill to be passed and for organic agriculture to continue to enjoy increased—if terribly modest—support from Congress.
But that never happened. The House majority leadership kept the bill from being debated on the floor of the House due to their unwillingness to address some of the bill’s more controversial issues during the election season. Therefore, the House never passed comprehensive farm legislation.
On Dec. 31, 2012, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden reached their own deal, which is blatantly anti-farmer and anti-reform. Their version of the 2008 Farm Bill extension was signed by President Obama, and is in effect until September 2013. The extension deal contains no funding for organic agriculture or organic research, no commodity subsidy reform, no disaster assistance, and no extension of funding for farmers markets, value-added agriculture, rural microenterprise assistance, beginning farmers, minority farmers, renewable energy, and specialty crop research. It also failed to include disaster assistance for livestock and fruit producers, and failed to correct a previous congressional mistake that is curtailing the Conservation Stewardship Program sign-up this year.
Funding organic research is a benefit to all farmers, providing technical know-how, fostering innovation and enterprise development, and sustaining organic integrity. The impact of no funding for organic research is beginning to be felt. Last week, speaking to organic researchers attending the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Services (MOSES) conference in La Crosse, Wis., it became clear that the uncertainty of funding sources is of great concern. Researchers will be looking more to private foundations as sources of funding. While this will keep the work going, private sources of funding cannot make up for the amount of funding that was available from USDA.