The Potential of the Farm Bill to Expand Organic Agriculture

A new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Swette Center at Arizona State University, and Californians for Pesticide Reform features over a dozen organic farmers and ranchers across the U.S. The report, Grow Organic: The Climate, Health, & Economic Case for Expanding Organic Agriculture, serves as a framework for lawmakers on the potential of organic agriculture in the 2023 Farm Bill.

“It’s time to unlock the potential of organic agriculture through our public policies, including the upcoming Farm Bill. Taxpayers are spending billions every year to prop up conventional farming practices that put people and the environment in danger. Investing in the transition to organic means climate-resilient farming, healthier food options, and more robust local economies.” – Allison Johnson, Senior Attorney, NRDC.

Conventional versus Organic Agriculture

The conventional agricultural system uses fossil fuel, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers “that harm human health through contamination of air, water, and food,” according to the report. Concentrated animal-feeding operations produce methane, a greenhouse gas with a warming potential of 80 times that of carbon. Agriculture accounts for around 11 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, which is larger than the total emissions from all but the 12 most polluting countries in the world. 

The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 created the National Organic Program which provides the framework and third-party certification system for organic agricultural products. Through the OFPA and NOP, organic farmers and ranchers build healthy soils through practices like composting, cover crops, and not using synthetic fertilizers. They use natural pest and disease control strategies instead of using pesticides. Organic farming and ranching reduce agriculture’s greenhouse gas footprint. Research shows that there are fewer nitrous oxide emissions with organic agriculture by avoiding chemical fertilizers and pesticides. 

The Farm Bill’s Potential to Incentivize Organic Agriculture

Congress revises and reauthorizes the farm bill around every five years. Since 1933, there have been 18 farm bills passed. The last farm bill passed was in 2018. There are 12 categories, known as titles, in the farm bill ranging from agricultural conservation and rural utilities to nutrition and crop insurance. The nutrition title receives 75 percent of the bill’s total funding, which goes towards programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Senate and House agriculture committee hearings for the 2023 update of the farm bill are already underway. The NRDC lists ways that Congress could incentivize organic agriculture:

  • Expansion of programs such as the Soil Health Demonstration Trial, a 2018 farm bill addition that tracks and compensates farmers who improve soils. 
  • Establish programs to help farmers and ranchers incorporate agroforestry into their operations. 
  • Provide funding to help ranchers transition away from the CAFO model while expanding local and regional meat processing. 
  • Include funding for BIPOC farmers and young farmers. 
  • Protect and strengthen the SNAP program. 

“The farm bill is very, very important for every environmental issue,” said Peter Lehner, a former NRDC executive director and now director of Earthjustice’s sustainable food and farming program “We have to start building the framework for change.”

Photo by Gabby Orcutt on Unsplash

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman, freelance writer/journalist/copyeditor Twitter: @gmcheeseman

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