Washington, D.C. – Over the course of the last two decades, U.S. demand for organic products has surged. Unfortunately, a lengthy certification process and complex regulations have prevented many American farmers from making the transition to organic farms - forcing U.S. food companies to turn to overseas suppliers. In an effort to make this transition easier and help grow the U.S. production of organic products, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced The Homegrown Organic Act of 2017. This legislation would make minor changes to existing agriculture conservation programs that assist producers in making the transition.
“There’s no reason food companies should look overseas when the best farmers in the world are right here in Pennsylvania,” said Senator Casey. “As demand for organic products grows, we must do all we can to help American farmers and ranchers meet this demand.
“When Applegate started selling natural and organic meat 30 years ago, organic food was a niche market, and now it’s a $47 billion industry, far outpacing the conventional food channel in terms of growth,” said Steve Lykken, president of Applegate, the nation’s leading natural and organic meat company. “Organic is truly a model for growing all parts of the economy, from farm to retailer. With more farmers converting to organic, we can produce more organic food, bringing more jobs to plants and distribution warehouses, like Applegate’s in Allentown, Pennsylvania. We’re grateful for Senator Casey’s support of the Homegrown Organic Act, which will help not only farmers, but consumers and the environment.”
“Pennsylvania Certified Organic supports Senator Casey’s Homegrown Organic Act of 2017,” said Kyla Smith, Certification Director of PCO. “The simple changes called for in this bill will level the playing field for organic and non-organic farmers, expand opportunities for farmers seeking to transition to organic farming and provide valuable technical and financial assistance throughout their transition period.”
Specifically, The Homegrown Organic Act of 2017 would:
- Modify the Conservation Stewardship Program by directing the Secretary of Agriculture to create “suites” of conservation practices specific to producers wishing to transition to organic. While the USDA’s Natural Resources Conversation Service currently provides bundles to organic producers, it does not offer any bundles specifically designed for transitioning producers. This would provide producers with valuable conservation technical and financial assistance throughout their transition period.
- Modify the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) by eliminating the separate payment limit in place for EQIP Organic Initiative. Currently, payments received by producers through general EQIP contracts may not exceed $450,000 for all EQIP contracts entered between 2014 and 2018. Payments under EQIP Organic Initiative are limited to $20,000 per fiscal year and $80,000 during any six-year period.
- Modify the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to expand opportunities for producers interested in transitioning to organic farming or ranching under a separate CRP Transition Incentives Program (TIP). TIP provides retired or retiring landowners or operators with two additional annual rental payments on land enrolled in expiring CRP contracts, on the condition they sell or rent this land to a covered farmer or rancher. This legislation would establish a TIP program for anyone interested in transitioning to organic farming or ranching, making more land available to producers wanting to farm organically.