The Environmental Working Group released a new report yesterday requesting that Congress expand opportunities for American organic agriculture.
The report calls for the 2018 Farm Bill to include steps for reducing obstacles for farmers transitioning to organic agriculture methods. EWG’s proposed changes include reforms to the Conservation Stewardship Program to create “bundles” of conservation practices, to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to provide more support to organic and transitioning producers, and to the Conservation Reserve Program to provide incentives to use farmland exiting the program for organic agriculture.
“The organic food industry is now one of the fastest growing, most dynamic parts of the food sector, creating tens of thousands of jobs and producing in-demand foods for millions of Americans" said Colin O'Neil, EWG’s agriculture policy director and author of the report. "Members of Congress should take any simple steps they can to reduce barriers to transition and help expand the organic farm footprint here in the U.S.”
It is hoped that these changes will help increase the amount of American farmland dedicated to organic agriculture, to better meet the rapidly growing demand for organic food across the country. Currently, the gap between supply and demand means that many American companies have been forced to turn to foreign suppliers: approximately $1.2 billion worth of organic products were imported into the U.S. in 2014, according to data from the Organic Trade Association.
Organic farmland makes up 4.1 million acres of America's total, or less than one percent, with an average 2.5 percent annual growth. The organic market is currently valued at $43.3 billion, according to the Organic Trade Association’s 2016 Organic Industry Survey, with an average of ten percent annual growth over the past five years.
“This double-digit growth nearly every year makes the organic sector one of the fastest growing segments of the food industry,” reads the EWG report.
Recent industry attempts to close the gap between supply and demand have included the creation of a certified transitional label spearheaded by Kashi and certifying agent QAI in May of last year and a USDA certified transitional label in January. These labels create a greater incentive for farmers to begin the three-year process of transitioning to organic agriculture, allowing them to begin increasing their prices in accordance with the greater expense of organic production before becoming fully certified.
Other companies, such as Costco, have begun investing in organic farmland to expand American organic acreage, and General Mills, working in partnership with Organic Valley, has committed to adding an expected 3,000 acres of organic dairy production over the next three years.
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