Farm Bill Needs to Support Local and Organic Family Farms

For Immediate Release: Friday, October 28 2011

Contact: MacKenzie Bailey, Policy Coordinator, 614-421-2022 ext. 208, mackenzie@oeffa.org

COLUMBUS, OH – With the U. S. Senate and House Agriculture committees expected to submit draft language for the 2012 Farm Bill to the congressional deficit reduction committee (also known as the Super Committee) on Tues., Nov., 1, the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) is calling on congressional leadership to protect essential conservation funding, increase funding to programs supporting the growing organic sector, and close loopholes that allow big Ag to disproportionately absorb available funds.

“This is the fastest food and farm bill decision making process in history. While our representatives in Congress are hurrying to draft language, we hope the programs that contribute to the success of local and organic family farmers are protected,” explained MacKenzie Bailey, the policy coordinator at OEFFA, a 32-year-old statewide membership organization representing farmers, rural citizens, gardeners, and consumers looking to source local and organic food.

Earlier this year Congress cut $2 billion from conservation funding.  As a result, for example, funding has expired for the Wetlands Reserve Program, eliminating support for wetland restoration work that provides tremendous water quality and habitat benefits.

Local and organic farmers rely on essential programs funded through the farm bill, such as the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, which eases the financial burdens organic farmers annually incur to maintain certification while supplying safe and nutritious food to the local community.

“Organic certification is quite expensive. The certification cost-share program encourages us to continue farming in a way that builds the health of people and the environment,” said Ron Meyer from Strawberry Hill Farm in Coshocton County.

OEFFA’s Organic Certification Program certifies nearly 700 organic farmers in the Midwest. Of that 700, approximately 400 are Ohio-based.

Two of the most successful and utilized Farm Bill programs are the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), both of which provide assistance to farmers addressing natural resource concerns. The EQIP Organic Initiative provides cost-share funding targeting farmers who implement organic practices.

Christina Wieg and Rick Perkins from Sandy Rock Acres in Hocking County are one of many farmers that have benefited from the EQIP program, which provided them with funding and guidance on a number of conservation projects, including a fence installation that helps them to prevent water quality impacts from livestock.

“As a small family farmer we wouldn’t have been able to afford these conservation projects without the assistance of the EQIP program,” explained Christina Wieg, “it has allowed us to have a more efficient farm operation, increasing our income, while also protecting the environment.”

Conservation funding is critical to maintaining a growing sustainable agriculture sector. Despite economic turmoil, organic sales hit $42.8 million in 2008 with an average annual growth rate of approximately 7.5%. Maintaining 2008 Farm Bill investment levels in research and conservation programs is essential to the continued success in the organic sector.

Ohio local and organic farmers will be looking to Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Representatives Marcia Fudge (OH-11), Jean Schmidt (OH-2) and Bob Gibbs (OH-18) for leadership during the Farm Bill discussion.  Jean Schmidt chairs the House Nutrition and Horticulture Subcommittee, which takes the lead on organic initiatives. Monday Senator Sherrod Brown is expected to introduce the Local Farmers, Food and Jobs Bill intended for inclusion in the Farm Bill that will help to advance the development of local and regional food and farm systems. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) sits on the Super Committee, which is expecting to receive the draft Farm Bill language from the Ag Committees next Tuesday.

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The Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association (OEFFA) is a non-profit organization founded in 1979 by farmers, gardeners, and conscientious eaters who are committed to work together to create and promote a sustainable and healthful food and farming system. For more information go to www.oeffa.org.