More Promising Farm Bill News

June 13th, 2012 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on More Promising Farm Bill News

Last week I wrote about the 2012 Farm Bill, which is heading to the Senate Floor for debate. Specifically, I discussed the Tester Amendment, which aims to improve seed and breed choices for American farmers. Every year farmers are left with fewer choices of seeds that are not genetically engineered. This amendment would guarantee that non-GE crops get a fair share of the research funds. At least 5% of research funding would have to go toward something other than genetically engineered crops.

Yesterday, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) introduced another very important amendment on behalf of organic farmers. His amendment will do away with an industry standard five percent surcharge on insurance policies for organic farms. According to Merkley’s office the amendment would also level the playing field for farmers by requiring that insurers pay loses out at market value rather than commodity values which can be as much 50 percent lower than the actual value for organic products, given the growing demand for pesticide and hormone free foods.

The amendment would improve crop insurance for organic farmers to ensure that they’re adequately compensated when their harvest fails, their crops are damaged or prices plunge. Under federal law, organic producers must pay a 5 percent premium when purchasing insurance through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But if they file a claim, they’re only compensated for their losses based on the price of a non-organic product, which is often much lower.

“This is an issue of fundamental fairness to our organic farmers,” said Senator Merkley, in a telephone interview. “Organic farmers are producing higher value crops, and they need to be compensated accordingly when disaster strikes.”

Ariane Lotti, assistant policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, says the amendment from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) would create a significant change for organic farmers.

“The core of Senator Merkley’s amendment is really about making sure that, if an organic farmer participates in crop insurance and experiences a loss, he or she is paid back at the organic price instead of at the conventional price, which is often much lower.”

She says the current system sets up an unnecessary barrier for organic producers, and it affects their ability to get loans as well as disaster relief. She points out that the insurance prices and payout differences are based on a common assumption that organic farming is somehow riskier than conventional farming – a belief she says is turning out to be incorrect.

“As the scientific literature expands on organic farming, we’re actually seeing that organic farming systems are more resilient in the face of extreme weather, such as droughts and flooding. So, one could argue that organic farming is less risky than conventional farming in certain respects.”

The Farm Bill hits the Senate floor today for what could be a few weeks of debate and amendments. Lotti thinks there’s a good chance the Merkley amendment will be adopted.

“I absolutely do feel like it has a chance – because it’s a question of fairness. And it’s also a question of making sure that the core of our farm policy works for, not just one sector of agriculture, which is the conventional sector, but the full array of farmers in America.”

I’m certainly encouraged by Ariane’s optimism. I hope she’s right.