Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson June 8, 2012

Funding for organics is up, but insurance overhaul is a work in progress

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to support sustainable agriculture by increasing funding for "the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program to help farmers afford the costs of compliance with national organic certification standards.” He also promised to reform federal crop insurance rates "so that they do not penalize organic farmers."

Being an organic farmer isn't cheap, and the most expensive part of the process is adopting the strict land and water conservation practices required to get the Agriculture Department seal of approval.

So Obama accomplished the first part of his promise.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture operates two organic certification cost-share programs through its National Organic Program. In a 2012 report to Congress USDA said it reimbursed organic farmers and handlers by more than $6 million through these programs in Fiscal Year 2011, up 20 percent over the previous year. The report said the program was promoted through advertising, direct mail and other methods to eligible organic operations.

Barbara Haumann, a spokesman for the Organic Trade Association, said her group sees this as sufficient to keep Obama"s promise.

The second half of the promise -- to adjust crop insurance rates for organic farmers -- has not yet been achieved, however.

Obama made the proposal because, without specific insurance to cover organics, many farmers have been loath to get into the business. Since early 2009, risk management experts at the USDA have been looking into how much it might cost to cover organic crops lost to drought, fire, flood and other natural disasters, according to the Agriculture Department.

However, the Organic Trade Association says that the progress so far has been limited.

"Provisions have been made for select crops, but it is still a work in progress,” Haumann said. "One of the Organic Trade Association"s ‘asks" for the 2012 Farm Bill is … ‘to direct the (Agriculture) Secretary to continue work on price elections for organic crops, remove premiums from crop insurance rates for organic farmers and create appropriate risk management tools that take into consideration the needs of the organic sector, including the diversity of organic farms.”

So Obama fulfilled the first part of his promise but has not yet completed the second part. On balance, we rate this a Compromise.

Molly Moorhead
By Molly Moorhead April 23, 2012

Organic projects keep growing

Each year since 2009, the federal Organic Initiative has continued to be funded, and participation has grown.

In 2012 for the first time, there were three application periods to apply for federal dollars in amounts of up to $20,000 per year or up to $80,000 over six years. The money assists farmers with efforts such as developing conservation plans, transitioning to organic production, improving soil quality while minimizing erosion, improving pest management, developing a grazing plan and composting.

According to the USDA, the program saw a 20 percent increase in participants over 2010 -- from 1,384 to 1,667. However, the average dollar value of the contracts dipped "resulting in a drop from just over $23.8 million funded into contracts in 2010 to just over $22.5 million funded in 2011.”

The USDA does not have a breakdown of funding specifically for the Organic Initative.

We did find overall funding figures for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, of which the Organic Initiative is a part. It's funded by the 2008 farm bill, which runs through Sept. 30, 2012. According to the USDA, the program got $1.2 billion in 2011, an estimated $1.4 billion in 2012 and a projected budget of $1.403 billion in 2013.

On the insurance side, the USDA began offering insurance in 2011 specific to organic production of corn, soybean, cotton and tomato crops. The policies weren't new; they just took into account the higher price of growing food organically. Now more than 350 organically produced commodities are covered. The program, however, has its critics who say the payouts still aren't high enough to reflect their higher costs, which inhibits farm development.

Still, there is substantial progress. With ongoing funding for farmers to grow crops organically or transition their farms to organic, and insurance policies tailored to organic practices now available, this pledge has been fulfilled. We rate it a Promise Kept.

Catharine Richert
By Catharine Richert July 6, 2009

Organics get a funding boost at USDA

During the campaign, Barack Obama promised to help organic farmers by spending more on the federal program that helps them certify the foods they grow and by making sure they aren't penalized by crop insurance rates.

On May 5, 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the 2009 Organic Initiative, which will provide funding to farmers who are interested in growing organic crops. The program will be paid for by revenue from a land conservation program.

"Assisting organic producers is a priority of the 2008 Farm Bill as well as for Secretary Vilsack and the Obama administration," said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan. "The objective of this initiative is to make organic food producers eligible to compete for EQIP financial assistance."
 
Being an organic farmer isn't cheap, and the most expensive part of the process is adopting the strict land and water conservation practices required to get the Agriculture Department seal of approval. Through the Organics Initiative, farmers will be able to apply for grants to help them pay for this transition. Farmers who are already growing organic crops but want to plant more can also apply for the money.

Without specific insurance to cover organics, many farmers have been loath to get into the business, so Obama also promised new insurance products. However, the Agriculture Department would have taken this step anyway because it was required as part of the new farm bill passed under the Bush administration. Since early 2009, risk management experts at the USDA have been looking into how much it might cost to cover organic crops lost to drought, fire, flood and other natural disasters, according to the Agriculture Department.
 
So Obama is largely fulfilled his pledge to help organic farmers get their food certified, but he hasn't quite fulfilled the insurance part. So for now, we rate this one In the Works.

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