Kuster Introduces Legislation to Boost Organic Agriculture Production
(Washington, DC) – This week, Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02) introduced the Homegrown Organic Act of 2017, a bill that will modify three existing conservation programs to incentivize farmers who wish to transition to organic agriculture. Organic agriculture is the fastest growing sector of the U.S. food industry, with demand for sales far exceeding the domestic supply. This legislation aims to boost American production of organic products by assisting farmers who are working towards USDA Organic Certification, a process that can take up to three years.
“In New Hampshire organic farming is an important driver of local economies and provides fresh quality food to thousands of consumers,” said Congresswoman Kuster. “Organic farms also play a role in preserving our environment and beautiful Granite State farm land. It’s my hope that we can expand organic farming in our state by encouraging more farmers to transition to organic.”
“I often joke that we had a wonderful company when we started Stonyfield, we just had no supply and no demand,” said Gary Hirshberg, chairman and former president and CEO of Stonyfield Farm, an organic yogurt company, based in Londonderry, New Hampshire. “Thankfully, consumers have embraced organic and the sector is now a $47 billion industry across the U.S. and growing. Sales of organic foods now make up about five percent of U.S. food sales. The problem our industry faces today is that demand for organic foods far outpaces domestic supply. I am grateful that Congresswoman Kuster has introduced the Homegrown Organic Act, which will better position America's farmers, dairymen and ranchers who want to transition to organic in order to meet the rising demand - a win for farmers, consumers and the environment.”
The Homegrown Organic Act would remove a separate payment limit for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program Organic Initiative(EQIP-OI), which provides financial assistance to implement environmentally friendly conservation practices for organic producers. Practices administered through EQIP-OI can help improve soil quality and enhance nutrient management, and this legislation would provide additional financial support to producers who wish to transition to organic.
Additionally, this bill would adjust the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) by directing the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a “bundle” of conservation practices that is dedicated to organic transition. Currently, CSP provides organic bundles to existing production, but does not offer any resources for transition. CSP is tailored for working lands, and requires producers to enroll acres into the program to strengthen existing conservation efforts.
Lastly, Congresswoman Kuster’s bill would modify the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to expand opportunities for producers who are interested in transitioning under the CRP Transition Incentives Program. This program provides retiring landowners with additional rental payments on land enrolled within CRP, on the condition that the land is sold to a covered farmer or rancher. This legislation maintains existing incentives to beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers, and would work to include farmers who will transition to organic farming or ranching.