Organic Farmers Request Farm Bill Change

Photo by Flickr user suzettesuzetteSACRAMENTO, Calif. - California farmers are asking Congress for an organic "boost." Last year's national Farm Bill extension failed to include funding for a program that helps organic farmers offset the cost of getting certified.

According to Tom Page, a farmer from Ramona who is vice president of the Pacific Southwest Chapter of California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), they need the certification to be able to sell to places like Whole Foods or local natural-food markets so, without the financial assistance cuts will have to be made.

"It might affect a little labor, a piece of equipment, where you get your seeds the next year, all kinds of things like that," Page said. "You know, $300 to $500 annually is a nice chunk that is tough to recoup for a small operation."

Brise Tencer, director of policy and programs for CCOF, said California leads the nation in the number of organic farms and organic sales.

"We've seen tremendous growth over the last decade, but we're still at a place where consumer demand for organic products still outpaces supply," she said.

Tencer said the additional cost of getting certified can be a disincentive for some farmers.

"The value of having their costs partially reimbursed is particularly critical for new or smaller farmers," she said. "So if you have a real small farmer whose certification costs may be $1,000 a year, for example, that may feel like a tremendous financial burden on them, and this helps them stay certified organic."

The National Organic Certification Cost Share Program pays up to 75 percent of a grower's annual certification costs, up to a maximum of $750 per year. The program was included in the last two Farm Bills, but not in the extension passed last New Year's Eve to avoid the "fiscal cliff." Both the Senate and House agriculture committees are at work on a new farm bill this week, and California legislators are planning to lead an effort to reinstate the program's funding in the House.

By Lori Abbott

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