I grew up on a dairy farm, and watched how my dad struggled with fluctuations in milk prices.
When my wife and I took over the diary in 2004, we had the same struggles. And, five years later, we switched to organic dairy production to seek more stable prices. We have not been sorry — for nearly a decade we’ve enjoyed both the financial and conservation benefits that come with being organic.
For many farmers the organic option is an economic boon. And it’s making a difference to Iowa: the value of organic commodities produced in Iowa has increased dramatically, from $72 million in 2008 to $103 million in 2014.
Our congressional lawmakers have a key role in continuing support of this growing sector of Iowa’s agricultural economy, through both the upcoming Farm Bill and annual funding.
One of the barriers farmers face in accessing valuable organic markets is the cost of certification. Thankfully, previous farm bills provided Organic Certification Cost Share funding, which allows farmers to apply to USDA for support. I’ve found this program to be a big help, and other growers have as well. Lawmakers should ensure this is continued in the upcoming Farm Bill.
Working lands conservation programs through the USDA, such as the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), offer all farmers valuable opportunities to increase conservation. However, because organic farming practices are different in specific ways — for example, when only specific herbicides and pesticides are allowed — some conservation practices and plans are different. The Farm Bill should provide continued support for all conservation programs.
Our lawmakers can also support Iowa organic farmers and the economy through annual funding for USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), which manages the development, maintenance and enforcement of organic standards. I and other Iowa farmers rely on consumers’ trust in the “certified organic” label.
NOP also regulates import and export policies for organic products. This responsibility is more important than ever, as some imported products have not met organic standards.
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One way lawmakers could support Iowa organic farmers, and get a big bang for the taxpayer buck, is to reexamine the budget for NOP. That budget has stayed around $9 million for years, but the organic industry has grown from $8.6 billion in annual sales in 2002 to $50 billion in sales in 2016. Additional funds would better support and protect the integrity of the industry.
I’ve seen major benefits to my farm from transitioning to organic production. We have healthier soil, we’ve benefited from higher prices and, perhaps most importantly, it has allowed us to stay on our family farm. Many other organic farmers I know have seen the same benefits.
We are benefiting in this way because we live in a country where we have the freedom to choose, including the freedom to choose what food we eat. Our country and our lawmakers need to support the choice that many Iowans are making to both produce and purchase organic.
• Marvin and Kim Lynch farm near Cascade.