Organic Farmers Association Submits Comments to NIFA

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) solicited public input on the emerging needs and opportunities in food and agricultural research, education, and extension through the initiative, “NIFA Listens: Investing in Science to Transform Lives.” The Organic Farmers Association (OFA) submitted their comments on behalf of the nationwide organic farmers that the organization supports.

What is your top priority in food and agricultural research, extension or education that NIFA should address?

Organic agriculture is the future of American agriculture.  It is the fastest growing sector of U.S. agriculture—driven directly by U.S. consumer demand.  Organic family farmers are able to remain viable because organic farms are 35% more profitable than average farms, and organic agriculture helps maintain rural vitality and healthy drinking water, air, and soil-elements essential for our country’s future.

U.S. organic production lags far behind U.S. organic demand.  This market gap hurts U.S. farmers and it is crucial that we invest in organic research to support domestic production of organic crops.  U.S. farmers can compete with imported products—surely American farmers can replace the 70% imported organic soybeans and 40% imported organic corn with domestic product.  Organic agriculture has a prominent place in the future of U.S. agriculture and we need a larger investment in public organic agricultural research.

Funding organic research is a win-win for all U.S. farmers, as the basis of organic agriculture is soil health and alternative pest and disease management strategies—research in these areas benefit both organic and conventional farmers.  Unfortunately, over the past five years, while overall funding for agricultural research has grown significantly, funding for organic research has stagnated. For example, USDA’s own data shows that funding for organic in the flagship competitive grant research program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), has averaged about two-tenths of one percent (0.2 percent) annually. In addition, funding for USDA’s organic-specific research programs has been stagnant for years.

The bipartisan Organic Agriculture Research Act (H.R. 2436) has been introduced in the House to authorize $50 million in mandatory funding annually across all the relevant competitive grant research programs.  OFA strongly supports the Organic Agriculture Research Act as a means to address the many production challenges organic, and all, farmers face.  As the organic market grows at impressive speed, research must pick up the pace to meet the increasing research needs of U.S. farmers to be successful with organic production solving challenges of weed management, soil building and successful marketing. Conventional farmers are watching the organic market and ready to transition acres, but they need more research support to aid them in successful three-year organic land transitions while they try to understand how to follow organic standards but do not receive the organic price premiums on their products.

Within the organic research priorities, organic farmers strongly support research dollars for public research in seeds and breeds adapted to local and organic conditions.  The seeds and breeds developed with this public funding should remain in the public realm, not protected by private patents that restrict farmers saving the seed for future use.  Seed saving is an innovative strategy to further improve varieties for micro-local conditions—a practice in line with public funding for breed improvement.  Public varieties (no patents) also allow for breeders and researchers to share and further improve the cultivars or breeds—thus continuing improvement and refinement on varieties created with public dollars. We recommend an increased AFRI priority on public cultivar and breed development, through the establishment of a Public Plant Breeding and Cultivar priority area, with its own review panel and panel manager, within the AFRI Foundational RFA.  The priority area should be focused on public cultivar development and release and must remain in the public realm.

What are the most promising science opportunities for advancement of food and agricultural sciences?

Organic farmers have long known and been dedicated to the principle that healthy soil is the foundation of sustainable agriculture and results in healthy plants, animals, and humans.  In the past few years, conventional agriculture has begun to also acknowledge and explore the benefits of soil health and USDA NRCS has campaigned on the importance of soil health nationwide.  Soil is extremely complex and more science is needed to maintain, restore, and build soil health so that we can reduce soil inputs, reduce herbicides through better soil health and balance, and use the properties of healthy soil structure to clean water leaving farms.  More science on healthy soil will also enhance our understanding of how nutrient density enters food, so that we focus our agricultural production energy in producing the most nutritious food for our communities.


Organic Farmers Association Announces Policy Priorities

The Organic Farmers Association recently announced their 2017-2018 Policy Priorities, including policy positions on hot organic issues such as hydroponics, animal welfare, organic checkoff and the farm bill.

Last week, the Organic Farmers Association Steering Committee voted to approve the organization’s first policy positions, established as “urgent policy positions,” because they occurred outside their annual policy development process. Policy Committee members reviewed and approved submitting the positions to the OFA certified organic farm membership for a vote and comment. With high farmer support for all the proposed policies the Steering Committee voted to approve their use.

The policies are timely as the National Organic Standards Board meeting begins today, Tuesday, October 31 in Jacksonville, Florida and a highly contentious topic regarding whether hydroponic production will be allowed under the organic standards will be discussed. OFA farm members voted to follow the recommendations of the NOSB Crops Subcommittee and not allow hydroponics under the organic label.

Dave Chapman, OFA Policy Committee member says, “having Organic Farmers Association certified organic farmers vote to oppose organic hydroponics speaks volumes. We have seen a growing outcry from farmers over this issue for the past few years and farmers are adamant that healthy soil is the foundation of the organic label. We must keep the soil in organic.”

Other OFA policies address issues such as the organic checkoff, where 77% of OFA certified organic farmer members voted to oppose the proposed Organic Research and Promotion Program (ORPP) that would mandate organic farmers and handlers to pay an assessment on organic net sales each year. The membership also voted to urge the USDA to implement the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule (OLPP) without further delay, scheduled to go into effect November 14.

“We urge the USDA to act on behalf of America’s sustainable family farmers and listen to their needs by implementing the organic animal welfare act and discontinuing the organic checkoff proposal,” says Jim Riddle, OFA Steering Committee Chair and Minnesota organic farmer.

As the House and Senate Agriculture committees work to draft the 2018 farm bill, OFA now has its farm bill priorities clearly outlined and directed by their farm membership.

Michael Adsit, an organic farmer in Michigan and member of both the OFA Steering and Policy Committees commented, “as a member of OFA leadership, I am pleased we now have formal policy directive from organic farmers across the country that detail the USDA programs farmers need to be successful now and in the future. The future of agriculture is organic, and we must have a farm bill that helps fulfill this growing market demand with US supply.”

To view the full Organic Farmers Association Policy Priorities, visit OrganicFarmersAssociation.org/Policy-Position.

Organic Farmers Association will continue to engage their members in policy development and plan to begin their annual policy development process in the next few months. These policy positions will be ratified by the certified organic farm members before becoming permanent pieces of OFA policy platform.


Organic Farmers Association Announces Policy Leadership

Organic Farmers Association, a national membership organization for certified organic farmers, sponsored by Rodale Institute, has announced a new Policy Director and elected the first Policy Committee. This new leadership will facilitate Organic Farmers Association’s policy platform created by certified organic farmer members.

Mark Rokala will serve as Policy Director and lead policy work, under the direction of the newly elected policy committee and coordinating closely with the Organic Farmers Association Director Kate Mendenhall and Steering Committee Chair Jim Riddle. Mark will be leading work on the farm bill, helping identify Organic Farmers Association farmer members’ policy priorities, connecting members with Congressional leaders, and ensuring that our federal policies help support thriving independent organic farmers.

Mark Rokala has more than 28 years of experiences in agriculture policy, with twenty-three of those years working on state and federal agricultural policy. He worked for seven years as a congressional staffer on Capitol Hill and sixteen years as a lobbyist in D.C. focusing on agricultural and food policy.

“The Organic Farmers Association is excited to welcome Mark Rokala as our Policy Director,” said Jim Riddle. “Given the proven power of organic production to promote soil health, produce healthy food, and restore rural economic vitality, organic farmers must make our voices heard in D.C. Mark has a great deal of experience working on federal farm policy, and will help members of Congress and federal agencies understand the importance of investing in and protecting organic systems.”

The first elected Policy Committee is made up of 12 voting certified organic farmer members and six advisory organizational members. Committee members are regionally diverse and reflect the national diversity of organic farms. The Policy Committee will facilitate OFA’s policy platform, created by certified organic farmer members. From its start in the fall of 2016, Organic Farmers Association has been working to build and support a farmer-led national organic farmer movement with a strong voice advocating for organic farmers. This first Policy Committee will help guide this work forward from the ground up.

2017 Policy Committee includes:

California Region Farmer Representatives (Voting)
Kenneth Kimes, Greensward / New Natives, LLC, Aptos, CA
Mark McAfee, Organic Pastures, Fresno, CA

California Region Organization Representative (Advisory: Non-Voting)
David Runsten, Policy Director, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Davis, CA

Western Region Farmer Representatives (Voting)
Bob Quinn, Quinn Farm & Ranch, Big Sandy, MT
Pryor Garnett, Garnetts Red Prairie Farm, Sheridan, OR

Western Region Organization Representative (Advisory: Non-Voting)
Kristina Hubbard, Director of Advocacy, Organic Seed Alliance, Missoula, MT

North Central Region Farmer Representatives (Voting)
Francis Thicke, Radiance Dairy Fairfield, IA
Harriet Behar, Sweet Springs Farm, Gays Mills, WI

North Central Region Organization Representative (Advisory: Non-Voting)
Matthew Miller, Policy Committee Member, Iowa Organic Association, Ames, IA

Midwest Region Farmer Representatives (Voting)
Michael Adsit, Plymouth Orchards, Plymouth, MI
Hannah Smith-Brubaker, Village Acres Farm & FoodShed, Mifflintown, PA

Midwest Region Organization Representative (Advisory: Non-Voting)
Casey Trinkaus, Livestock & Poultry Specialist, The Fertrell Company, Bainbridge, PA

Southern Region Farmer Representatives (Voting)
Laura Freeman, Mt. Folly Farm, Winchester, KY
Jennifer Taylor, Lola’s Organic Farm, Glenwood, GA

Southern Region Organization Representative (Advisory: Non-Voting)
Michael Sligh, Program Director, Rural Advancement Foundation International, Pittsboro, NC

Northeast Region Farmer Representatives (Voting)
Rodney Graham, Oxbow Organic Farm, Hunt, NY
Dave Chapman Long Wind Farm, East Thetford, V

Northeast Region Organization Representative (Advisory: Non-Voting)
Edward Maltby Executive Director, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, Deerfield, MA


Organic Farmers Association Members Present at Farm Bill Meeting

On August 3, Organic Farmers Association Director, Kate Mendenhall, and Steering Committee Chair, Jim Riddle, presented testimonies at the Farm Bill Listening Session: Conversations in the Field in Morgan, Minnesota. Testimonies include the need for investing in organic for the 2018 Farm Bill.

For more than 30 years, Jim Riddle has been an organic farmer, gardener, inspector, educator, policy analyst, author and avid organic eater. Jim was founding chair of the Winona Farmers Market Association and the International Organic Inspectors Association, and co-author of the International Organic Inspection Manual. Jim served on the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Organic Advisory Task Force for many years and was instrumental in passage of Minnesota’s landmark organic certification cost-share program, which now is a Farm Bill program that provides 75% reimbursement for organic certification costs nationwide. Jim worked for the University of Minnesota as Organic Outreach Coordinator and as Organic Research Grants Coordinator for Ceres Trust. Jim owns and operates Blue Fruit Farm, where he and his wife grow blueberries, black currants, elderberries, aronia berries, honeyberries and more. Jim served on the Leadership Team for eOrganic, the national Extension Community of Practice for organic agriculture and on the Citizens Board of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Jim is former chair of the USDA National Organic Standards Board and is a leading voice for organic agriculture.

“Data complied by the National Organic Coalition shows that the US market for organic food has grown 80% over the last six years, while the amount of certified organic American cropland has only grown 12% during the same period. This situation has led to a massive increase in questionable imports, and points to several major opportunities for the next Farm Bill.” Click here to view Jim Riddle’s Farm Bill testimony.

Kate Mendenhall worked with Pesticide Action Network and CUESA at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco before traveling to the east to work for NOFA-NY for a decade, the last five years as their Executive Director. Now Kate lives in her hometown in Okoboji, Iowa working with the Iowa Organic Association and starting her own organic mixed livestock farm.

“Organic agriculture is the future of American agriculture. It is the fastest growing sector of U.S. agriculture. Organic family farmers are able to remain viable because organic farms are 35% more profitable than average farms, and organic agriculture helps to maintain rural vitality and healthy drinking water, air, and soil-elements essential for our country’s future.” Click here to view Kate Mendenhall’s Farm Bill testimony.