Urban Ag and Food Waste Bills considered in Congress

This past September, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, who serves on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, introduced a bill that would make urban farms of all types eligible for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs and would set up an office of urban agriculture within the agency. The Urban Agriculture Act of 2016, as envisioned by Senator Stabenow, would help create new economic opportunities, giving urban families greater access to healthy food and creating a healthier environment in cities and towns across the country.

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Shaping the next farm bill from the ground up

As the new Administration and Congress take on their responsibilities, it is fitting to start framing policy advocacy toward building the next farm bill—a five-year omnibus bill that sets policy for commodity support and risk management, publicly funded ag research, rural development, conservation and nutritional support programs like SNAP—with the current bill set to expire in September 2018. This will be the first time that a farm bill has been written under an entirely Republican House, Senate, and Administration since 1954.

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Organic News and Trends

The booming U.S. organic industry posted new records in 2015, with total organic product sales hitting $43.3 billion, up a robust 11 percent from the previous year’s record level and far outstripping the overall food market’s growth rate of 3 percent, according to the Organic Trade Association’s 2016 Organic Industry Survey.

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Farmers Advisory Council helps bring policy reforms for farmers

Designed to convene organic farmers from across the nation and across sectors, OTA’s Farmers Advisory Council (FAC) provides a forum for elevating the issues facing the farmers who create the foundation of the entire organic industry. This is no easy task, as the organic farming industry encompasses widely different geographic regions, crops, and political districts. However, when farmers come together, share their ideas, and advise OTA on its policy agenda, the results at a national level can be swift and profound, as illustrated by recently announced significant policy reforms in Risk Management Agency’s (RMA) crop insurance available to organic farmers.

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Organic Roots are spreading in Washington

From the East Wing of the White House to the Halls of Congress, organic is spreading its roots in the nation’s capital. Today’s crop of organic influencers is making a difference in agricultural policy, federal legislation, international affairs, food and health guidelines, public research approaches, and environmental issues. The number of organic advocates in Washington has probably never been greater, including individuals with genuine down-to-earth roots in certified organic agriculture. In this edition, we are profiling a handful of these folks who are making their voices heard. These hard-working and committed individuals show how organic truly is seeding changes—in the food we eat, the way we think, and the future of our world.

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Report outlines economic barriers to transitioning to organic

CCOF recently released a report on economic barriers to organic transition that synthesizes discussions from two focus groups in June 2015. CCOF hosted the focus groups under a contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) through its Sound and Sensible Initiative, an effort to make organic certification accessible, attainable, and affordable.

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OTA continues to work to strengthen livestock requirements

Developing any federal regulation takes a considerable amount of time and energy. The organic sector has an additional layer to this process, as most new organic regulations originate as recommendations from the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) and undergo an arduous journey of public scrutiny and rulemaking. The long-awaited ‘Origin of Livestock’ proposed rule released this summer illustrates the deliberate and transparent steps that must occur for an organic production concept to become codified in the federal regulations.

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Organic agriculture keeps farmworkers & their families safe

One of the most important ways that we can protect our farmworkers is by supporting organic agriculture. Because organic certified farming operations are prohibited from using most synthetic pesticides, organic farms ensure that farm workers, their families, and their communities are safe from the negative effects of toxic pesticide exposure.

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An organic researcher perspective on organic check-off funds

As organic researchers, we are very excited about the prospect of organic check-off funds going towards supporting research to help us address U.S. organic farmers’ most pressing needs to increase production of organic food, feed and fiber. For years, we have fought the federal government and our state universities for every organic research dollar. Traditionally, organic research has been woefully underfunded.

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Research successes in organic plant breeding

Over the past half century, most plant breeding programs, both public and private, have been developed in response to the needs of large-scale industrial agriculture with a focus on yield improvement, the ability to stand up to storage and transport, and appearance. However, not only do breeding programs for conventional crops often use techniques banned under organic standards, they also can result in the loss of traits critical for the success of crops managed without the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.

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Conferences focus on organic research

In February, the Organic Seed Alliance will hold the 8th Organic Seed Growers Conference for two days of presentations and networking focused on organic seed. Conference attendees receive hands-on instruction, results from cutting-edge research, updates on seed policy and advocacy efforts, and inspiring stories from the field. The theme will be “Cultivating Resilience,” a current assessment and road-map for building organic seed systems that are ecologically, socially, and economically resilient. The conference Feb. 4–6, 2016, will take place at Oregon State University, which will co-host with Washington State University and eOrganic.

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Investing in the next generation

Visionaries in the organic sector are investing in efforts to groom the next generation of organic researchers. Clif Bar Family Foundation’s Seed Matters™ initiative to fund four fellowships totaling $500,000 for four Ph.D. students studying plant breeding in North Carolina, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin is designed not only to improve seed for today’s organic farmers, but is seen as investing in leaders for the future.

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Organic Research: Innovations and investments key to sector’s bright outlook

Organic lettuce that can fight mildew and aphids, organic strawberry nursery stock with the potential to transform the organic berry sector, new varieties of organic food-grade barley able to be grown in the Pacific Northwest, an organic open-pollinated sweet corn whose seed can be saved for the following year, and educational grants and endowments to invest in organic’s future. These are just a few examples of organic research innovations that are shaping today’s organic industry and ensuring a solid and healthy future for tomorrow.

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Spotlight on OTA's Farmers Advisory Council

OTA's Farmers Advisory Council (FAC) provides input from small- and medium-sized organic farmers, ranchers and growers to the Organic Trade Association on matters pertinent to the advancement of organic agriculture, with a specific focus on OTA’s policy agenda. Established in 2013, FAC is designed to formalize and improve communication between OTA and organic producers. It gives organic farmers a voice to directly influence OTA’s policy, and enables OTA to better represent the diversity of organic producers in its policy and advocacy.

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An Organic Check-Off: It sounds good but what about...?

An organic check-off would be unlike any other check-off program in American agriculture. Nothing like it has ever been tried, so the idea has understandably raised some questions. OTA has talked to lots of organic stakeholders over the past three years, and has found there’s a core group of concerns that keep coming up. We’ve also found that most of these concerns are based on perceptions of older check-offs, and we’ve addressed these issues.

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Celebrate the International Year of Soils

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations Council has declared 2015 as the International Year of Soils. Soils have been receiving a lot of attention lately, because they are the basis for our food systems, fuel and fiber production, many essential environmental functions, and climate change mitigation. Unfortunately, soil health is under threat: the large-scale use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in conventional farming has been damaging soils and decreasing their natural ability to provide ecosystem services.

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Farmland LP creatively strategizes to meet organic demand

The challenge is clear and only intensifying with the rising demand for organic products: more organic farmers and more organic land are needed. At the same time, older farmers are selling farmland, fueling a farmland real estate market that continues to grow. For investors, this has averaged a return rate of 12 percent the last 20 years, according to the National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries.

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