Research—on–farm and at land-grant universities—could help solve some of the most pressing production-related issues that keep existing organic farmers from expanding and optimizing production, and pose a barrier for conventional farmers looking to convert their acreage to organic production. For this, the GRO Organic check-off proposal now before USDA could play a key role in funding research vital to addressing those issues.
Technical research findings could include new tools for weed control, more sophisticated crop nutrient and pest management, livestock health management, and seed breeding initiatives, for example. Research specifically focusing on organic agricultural practice is currently inadequate, thus resulting in significant barriers to new entry into organic production.
Moreover, extension efforts to communicate findings of organic-based research studies must be farmer friendly, easily disseminated, and regionally appropriate. Currently, land-grant universities are not using their extension services in a way that provides organic farmers with adequate support as they transition and convert to organic production. In addition, dedicated organic specialists at the Natural Resources Conservation Service can ensure that research findings, case studies, and tools for transitional producers are made available to farmers who need this information when making the decision to transition their farms to organic.
Currently, U.S. consumer demand for organic foods exceeds domestic supply. As a result, manufacturers and retailers are increasingly looking overseas to find organic ingredients.
Meanwhile, U.S. conventional farmers do not have any support for the three-year transition period required for achieving organic certification. Check-off dollars, however, could help to provide information and technical assistance to help minimize their risk of transitioning. These funds could incentivize and help train conventional farmers to become organic farmers and support existing organic farmers in transitioning additional acres.
In fact, under the proposed GRO Organic check-off, organic research, information, and promotion programs would each receive at least 25% of the estimated annual $30-million pool—an expected $7.5 million every year— and be eligible for an additional $7.5 million from discretionary funds to be allocated based on the needs of the sector.
One of the explicit objectives of the proposed organic check-off is to grow domestic production, with dedicated funds allocated to help bring new farmers into organic production through information and technical assistance.
USDA is currently reviewing the sector’s formal application for the GRO Organic check-off program, and a proposal for public comment is expected this summer.
You can make this vision for organic a reality. Join the thousands of organic stakeholders who support the idea, and the many hundreds who have publicly endorsed GRO Organic, by signing up online at GROorganic.net. //