In addition to the fact that the numbers just don't add up, Lotti says, "it’s a very small drop in a very large bucket in terms of spending cuts." The USDA devotes a paltry 1 percent of its budget to organic agriculture, and the cost-sharing program doles out an average of about $300 a year per farm. On the flip side, some of the nation's largest nonorganic, chemical-based farms received $2 million in 2009 alone for subsidies on commodity crops such as corn, cotton, soy and wheat, according to data compiled by the Environmental Working Group (in 2009, the federal government doled out a total of $7 billion in subsidies to farmers growing corn just for polluting and fuel-economy-killing ethanol). And, Lotti adds, funds from the crop-sharing program are usually the only federal funds organic farmers receive.
Both Lotti and Hoodes agree that besides any economic impact, proposed cuts such as this signify a growing hostility towards organic agriculture in Congress, and particularly among those who sit on the influential House agriculture committee. "This program has been up for cuts four or five times now, and we expect it to continue because the Republicans really don't like it," Hoodes says, adding that lawmakers often view the program as supporting "hobby farmers." And, Lotti adds, "part of their logic, apart from just strong support for the status quo in agriculture, is essentially that organic farmers bring these regulations upon themselves, and we shouldn't help them offset those regulations—despite all the benefits for rural communities and the environment, and despite the fact that more and more consumers are choosing organic every day."
"The demand for organic produce backed by the USDA Organic label is growing, and we need to support America's farmers' ability to provide that for us," says Mark Smallwood, executive director at The Rodale Institute.
This bill may not pass, but it's likely the cost-sharing program could wind up on the chopping block in the next Farm Bill, our sources told us. So now is the time to speak up!
• Call your congressmen. "If you're a farmer, tell them what the program means to you, and if you're a consumer, why organic is important to you," says Hoodes. She recommends paying particular attention members of the House Committee on Agriculture, who are listed here.
• Stay alert(ed). Both the National Organic Coalition and the Organic Farming Research Foundation will be voicing concerns on behalf of farmers and consumers as the next Farm Bill gets drafted, which will begin later this year. You can sign up for alerts on their respective websites: www.nationalorganiccoalition.org and ofrf.org. And subscribe to Rodale.com's daily news updates, so we can bring you more stories about organic food and organic farming.
Published on: January 25, 2011