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~FOG’s statement to U.S. House Agriculture Committee Farm Bill Listening Session~

Below is FOG’s statement to the U.S. House Agriculture Committee in Gainesville, FL on June 24, 2017.   

I’m Marty Mesh, ED of Florida Organic Growers, a non-profit that we established in 1987. I personally started growing organically in 1973. FOG provides outreach and education to farmers and consumers as well as operates an accredited certification program.  We collaborate in organic research projects and in other educational project work.  As the largest certifier on the eastern seaboard, we certify operations nationally and internationally in all scopes. FOG also operates a Statewide FINI funded project potentially benefiting all Florida direct market growers and SNAP users and has long been a leader in widely recognized food system improvement projects.

You should have heard the figures, the 75 billion dollar global marketplace, the fastest growing sector of ag since 1990, etc. The organic industry has provided a viable economic opportunity for many farmers who otherwise may have gone out of business amongst declining commodity prices and farm consolidations. Organic has also provided an entryway for many young and beginning farmers. For the State of Florida this has resulted in over 450 organic businesses. With real Federal investment that number could be a lot higher and the ROI on that investment would be impressive. The National Organic Certification Cost Share program is a vital program for many of those new entries and family scale operators to be able to participate in the organic marketplace.

Organic is a voluntary regulatory program that provides uniform, consistent standards in order to meet consumer expectations. We need adequate authority, accountability, and resources for the National Organic Program. This is necessary to keep pace with industry growth, to continue to set standards, and to carry out compliance and enforcement actions in the U.S. and abroad.

Increased funding for research on organic production methods is CRITICAL to the survival of organic farms and growth of the sector. Support for the flagship Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) program will ensure that organic farmers can continue to meet the unique challenges they face and farmers interested have good research to base decisions on.  UF has received over $4 million in funding to conduct organic research, including several grants funded through OREI that have been critical to the success of Florida organic farmers. This at a University who told me years ago that growing organic blueberries in Florida was just not possible.  Now a few miles from here, there are over 200 acres of organic blueberries. UF offers an organic degree program originating from a small SSARE grant that FOG wrote and implemented.

We also have an opportunity in this farm bill to facilitate transition to organic by improving access to land and capital; and investment in infrastructure, and targeted technical assistance. Existing USDA conservation, rural development, and other potential programs such as transitional certification can help encourage growers to check out a sector which presents an economic opportunity to deal with supply side shortages.  It is way past time to adequately invest resources in the fastest growing segment of agriculture providing multiple benefits.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide remarks today. The organic industry looks forward to working with the committee in developing the next farm bill.

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