Obama Nationalizes Organic Interest

President Obama expressed interest in the organic farming industry May 5 when he secured $50 million in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) funds for organic food production.

Funding is available to farmers in all 50 states as administered by USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program. To qualify, a producer must be in the process of transitioning to organic production or be certified with the National Organic Program (NOP), an organization that develops, implements, and administers national production, handling, and labeling standards for organic agricultural products.

Farmers must commit to furthering organic practices in conservation comprising crop rotation, cover crops, nutrient management, pest management, prescribed grazing and/or forage-harvest management to be eligible for funding. Financial allotment is $20,000 per producer. The application process ends May 29.

There is no doubt that organic farming is a huge growth industry, not only as a sector of agriculture, but also as a stand-alone business. The Obama’s have personally advocated organics by planting an organic garden on the White House’s South Lawn.

Multiple groups exist that champion the development and expansion of organic farming methods. The Organic Trade Association (OTA), a membership-based business association for the organic industry in North America, is one such group.

“OTA believes that this funding will further encourage farmers to use such practices and help increase the U.S. production of organic food to meet growing consumer demand,” said Christine Bushway, OTA executive director.

Other industry groups include the Organic Consumer’s Association, The New Farm, Acres USA, and the Northeast Organic Farming Association.

As proof of the farming segment’s increased growth, the USDA intends to create a division within the agency that is solely dedicated to organic agriculture.

Industry Stats (OTA)
• Organics have grown at a rate of nearly 20 percent per year for the past seven years
• Organic food sales grew in 2008 by 15.8 percent to reach $22.9 billion, accounting for 3.5 percent of all food-product sales in the U.S.
• Mass-market grocery stores represent the largest single distribution channel of organic products

Proponents of organic agriculture highlight that organic food products are healthier and less costly to both producers and the environment than food produced by conventional farming methods.

Organic opponents assert that organic products are more costly for food distributors and retailers and ultimately, restaurateurs and consumers. Some argue that organic farming is jeopardizing traditional agricultural in regards to agribusiness success and independent farmers utilizing technology.

Does organic farming warrant more or less federal money? Does it pose a threat to commercial farmers? What are the benefits and disadvantages of organic-agricultural methods?

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