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US: Organic farmers and major league baseball star visit Capitol Hill

Twenty organic farmers – including one major league baseball player – stepped up to the plate for thousands of organic farmers throughout the country when they came to Washington on Nov. 29 and 30 to participate in the Organic Trade Association’s first Farmers Advisory Council fly-in and to talk with lawmakers and policy officials about organic priorities in the 2018 Farm Bill.

The event was coordinated by the Organic Trade Association’s Farmers Advisory Council -- the largest coalition in the U.S. of organic farmers and organic farming organizations, representing over 8,000 certified organic farmers. It brought in farmers from states stretching from California to Montana to Georgia, from the Bluegrass farmland of Kentucky to the prairies of Kansas and Colorado. The diverse group included seasoned organic farmers and farmers just transitioning to organic, large organic grain farmers and the farmer of a five-acre urban organic garden in Atlanta, organic vegetable and fruit growers, dairy farmers and egg producers, the country’s largest organic rice grower…and to round things off, one major league baseball player, Jayson Werth, former Washington Nationals star player and owner of an organic farm in Illinois.

“The input of organic farmers in the next Farm Bill is absolutely critical to move organic forward,” said Perry Clutts, co-chairman of the Farmers Advisory Council and organic dairy farmer and owner of Pleasantview Farm in central Ohio. Clutts, who in the 1990s converted his great grandfather’s conventional grain farm to an organic grass-based dairy farm, noted, “It’s not easy for farmers to take time to leave their operations and come to Washington, so we really appreciated their commitment to sharing their day-to-day challenges and successes in organic farming with our elected officials and policymakers, and looking at the ways that the next Farm Bill can help benefit organic farmers and advance organic.”

“Organic agriculture needs more funding for research, robust oversight of organic imports and crop insurance programs that recognize organic prices,” said Doug Crabtree, co-chairman of the advisory council and organic farmer and co-owner of Vilicus Farm in northern Montana. Crabtree, who with his wife Anna owns and operates the diverse organic dryland crop farm that produces 12 to 15 crops a year, said, “The voices and real-life experiences of organic farmers carry a great deal of weight, and we were glad to bring those respected and trusted voices to Washington.”

Thirty congressional offices visited, meetings at federal agencies and more
The farmers visited the offices of 30-some lawmakers, meeting in person with several lawmakers including Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas and House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson of Minnesota. Moving off Capitol Hill for their second day in Washington, the organic advocates met with officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, and with other farmer and commodity associations. 

Tim Raile is a fourth-generation farmer in northwest Kansas and eastern Colorado. Raile and his son are systematically transitioning all of their 8,500 acres to organic, with the plan to have the farm fully organic by 2022. This was Raile’s first fly-in, and he said he felt that it was important to represent his home state of Kansas in the effort to “promote organic’s presence in the new Farm Bill.”

“My main messages were that organic is no longer a niche market, but now mainstream and deserves to have a level playing field in the new Farm Bill,” said Raile. “Also, that the inclusions that the Organic Trade Association is requesting in the Farm Bill are not just to help organic farmers, but are good for the 82 percent of the households that buy organic and good for the confidence and integrity in the USDA Organic label.”

Organic advocates met with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman, Senator Pat Roberts (KS). Pictured from left to right: William Baese, Adam Warthesen, Michael Schneider, Senator Roberts, Tim Raile, Jayson Werth, and Laura Batcha. Seated: Robyn Raile

Raile, Jayson Werth and other farmers met personally with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Roberts, and Raile said the meeting was significant because of the acknowledgment by Roberts to the group’s message.

It was also the first fly-in for Werth, who owns a 500-acre certified organic corn, soybean, and wheat farm in central Illinois, and it may not be his last. Werth told the Organic Trade Association at its 2017 Annual Policy Conference earlier this year that he’s excited about working to advance organic agriculture.

“As we look toward the future, we know how important it is for this industry to maintain and grow, and that we attack the challenges that currently face us,” Werth said. “I’m excited to be part of the growth in solutions that deliver to the organic community and ultimately to the organic consumer.”

Mac Stone and his family have been farming in the Bluegrass farmland of Kentucky for over six generations. For the last five years, the 550-acre diversified operation has been totally organic, growing and raising a wide variety of meats, eggs, fruits and vegetables that supports a 400-plus membership CSA and provides fresh organic products to restaurants throughout Kentucky and in Cincinnati. This was not Stone’s first fly-in experience on Capitol Hill. He said he keeps doing it because the direct contact makes a difference.

“It is still fascinating that you can walk right in and talk to the people who are making the decisions,” said Stone. “It’s heartening to see that with all that’s going on, the staffs now know as much as they do about organic. When I see staff I’ve met before, they remember I was there. We’re seeing the needle move a little all the time.”

A healthy organic marketplace, successful organic farmers, and more organic production
The Organic Trade Association established its Farmers Advisory Council in 2013 to create a stronger voice for organic farmers. The council’s member organizations were instrumental in pushing out a comprehensive farm bill survey conducted by the Organic Trade Association early in the year to their membership communities. The survey received over 500 responses from certified organic producers and handlers across 45 states, and has been critical in shaping the policies of the Organic Trade Association in the lead-up to the 2018 Farm Bill.

Based on the survey responses from its members, the Organic Trade Association has identified its three top priorities for the 2018 Farm Bill: that it contain policies to promote a healthy organic marketplace, to ensure that organic farmers continue to be successful and to expand organic production.

The Organic Trade Association’s Farm Bill platform calls for support and adequate funding for the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) to keep pace with industry growth, set uniform standards, and carry out compliance and enforcement actions in the U.S. and abroad. It advocates organic-focused research, risk management tools, data collection and direct dialog between industry and USDA that are critical to organic farmers’ success. It calls for improved access to land and capital, investment in distribution systems and infrastructure, and targeted technical assistance through the utilization of existing USDA conservation, rural development, and other programs to encourage orderly transition to organic.

“We have a good progressive agenda for organic that we’ve been working on for over a year now,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association. “Our work on the Hill has already led to several constructive pieces of legislation being introduced like the Organic Agriculture Research Act that focuses on increasing organic research and the Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act that improves the oversight of imports and levels the playing field for U.S. organic farmers. We aren’t done yet, and the hard work and commitment of farmers like the ones who participated in our fly-in make a big difference in advancing organic priorities.”

The member organizations of the Farmers Advisory Council who have endorsed the Organic Trade Association’s Farm Bill priorities include California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), Georgia Organics, Organic Egg Farmers of America, Montana Organic Association, Oregon Tilth Certified Organic, Organic Valley/CROPP Cooperative, Pennsylvania Certified Organic, and Tilth Alliance of Washington.

For more information:
Organic Trade Association
444 N. Capitol St. NW, Suite 445A
Washington D.C. 20001
T: 202-403-8520
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