A new report details the benefits of organic farming and outlines strategies to expand organic agriculture practices through the 2023 Farm Bill. The report is a product of the National Resources and Defense Council (NRDC), Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University (ASU) and Californians for Pesticide Reform (CPR).
Entitled “Grow Organic: The Climate, Health, and Economic Case for Expanding Organic Agriculture,” the report uplifts organic agriculture for its focus on ecological diversity, soil fertility, and natural systems over chemical interventions. The authors write that this approach “holds significant and largely untapped potential to address multiple crises facing our society, including climate change, health, and struggling rural economies.”
Research into the human and environmental benefits of organic agriculture, complemented by case studies of over a dozen farms, helps to highlight the potential of these farming practices. The report shows that organic farming can help to sequester carbon, boost soil health, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These techniques can also help to limit the spread of antibiotic resistance—a growing problem threatening human health—and reduce exposure to harmful agricultural chemicals.
“Expanding organic agriculture is an investment in our future, one that could ultimately produce significant returns. Today’s conventional system contains immense hidden costs subsidized by our tax dollars that we can no longer afford. When we account for the true costs of our current farming systems—including health, environmental, social, and economic impacts—the value of organic farming is undeniable,” says Dr. Kathleen Merrigan, Executive Director, Swette Center at Arizona State University and former U.S. Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
But “Grow Organic” notes that only 1 percent of agricultural land is managed organically. A report from the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) finds that producers often struggle with challenges including a reduction in yields during the three-year period required for the transition to organic, weed and pest management, and organic certification costs. OFRF also notes that these challenges disproportionately affect BIPOC growers.
To change this, the authors of “Grow Organic” provide 10 recommendations to help policymakers scale organic agriculture through the 2023 Farm Bill and beyond.
“More significant organic investments in the Farm Bill— together with a strong administrative commitment to organic and the continued advocacy of stakeholders—are necessary to ensure that everyone who wants to farm, ranch, manage land, and eat organically can do so,” the report states.
Suggestions include providing greater support to farmers during the transition period, increasing federal resources to support research into and technical assistance for organic agriculture, and reducing barriers to organic certification for BIPOC farmers. Using True Cost Accounting can also help stakeholders better understand the value of organic agriculture.
“The cash register receipt captures only part of the true cost of food,” Merrigan tells Food Tank. “The harm of synthetic chemicals on human health, biodiversity, and the environment are not accounted for, which is one of the many reasons why organic is always a best buy.”
The authors also call for greater consumer education around organic foods and better integration of organic programs into public institutions such as the USDA.
“It’s time to unlock the potential of organic agriculture through our public policies, including the upcoming Farm Bill,” says Allison Johnson, Senior Attorney at NRDC. “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.”
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