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Farm Bill: If You Aren’t at the Table, You are On the Menu

Georgia Organics stormed Capitol Hill on Nov. 28 – 29 to stress the vital importance of organic agriculture within the Farm Bill with Georgia’s Congressional representatives.

Organic agriculture can revitalize Georgia’s declining rural economies; Georgia should be producing its own organic food and not importing it from California or anyplace else; and growing Georgia’s organic infrastructure needs more support and nurturing.

These were the messages carried to three power Georgia elected officials in Washington, D.C., by board member Joe Reynolds, with Love is Love Farm at Gaia Gardens, and Director of Farmer Services Michael Wall, along with staff and other members of the Organic Trade Association.

Reynolds and Wall took their organic messages to Rep. Austin Scott, Rep. Rick Allen, and Sen. David Perdue, and also had productive meetings with top officials with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Farmer Service Agency and Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Left: Wall and Reynolds on Capitol Hill, Nov. 29, 2017.

“Participating in this fly-in and getting a chance to share the value of organic agriculture with our Georgia legislators was incredibly empowering.  Our message to plant and grow the organic industry’s support in the 2018 Farm Bill was pretty well received and all of the Georgia offices were really impressed with our growth in organic farms over the last two years,” said Reynolds. “Our farmers have important voices and I am encouraged to recommend they mobilize and meet with their representatives both in-region and in Washington, D.C.”

Read more about the importance of the Farm Bill here.

We also discussed with Congressmen and their staff:

·       The importance and need to keep funding the National Organic Certification Cost Share program, which provides reimbursements for organic certification costs up to 75 percent each year, through the FSA. The cost share is a frequent target. Removing this program from the Farm Bill would be a devastating blow to Georgia’s organic ag industry, and Reynolds and Wall made sure the Congressmen and their staff were aware of that fact.

·       The conservation programs run by the NRCS, such as EQIP, CSP, which cost share and provide loans for many upgrades and on-farm infrastructure improvements that protect or enhance natural resources.

·       The importance of and need for more organic research at Georgia’s great land grant universities. We mentioned that organic research benefits all farmers and, as an example, pointed out that Georgia is one of the top states for cover cropping on conventional farms thanks to the research that UGA has performed.

·       That organics is a $50 billion industry, and Georgia stands to be left behind if we don’t act now to support organic agriculture.

And although it’s not perfect, they stressed the importance of Beginning Farmer Rancher Development program, which has helped Georgia Organics, the University of Georgia, and many other institutions train hundreds of new and beginning farmers across the state.

For the most part, the reception to our message was very polite with well-meaning questions. Congressmen and their staffers asked Georgia Organics about the growth rate of organic farms in the state, the size and scale of organic ag in Georgia, and ways they could help support the growth of organic ag going forward.

The folks over in the U.S.D.A. were even more supportive. Lindsay Haines, NRCS’s National Organic Specialist was very familiar with Georgia Organics, our annual conference, and the 200 Organic Farms campaign. In a meeting with FSA’s Kathy Sayers, Georgia Organics shared some of the problems that our farmers encountered when the FSA took over the organic certification cost shares.

Left: Wall, Haines, and Reynolds, in the U.S. D.A. national headquarters in Washington, D.C., Nov. 30, 2017.

But perhaps the most educational meeting for us came early in the trip, when we and other organic farmers spoke with the vice chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Glen “G.T.” Thompson, R-Pa. Thompson, who has been very supportive of organic agriculture, and even offered Georgia Organics advice on persuading more Georgia Congressional representatives to support organic ag, reminded the group, “If you aren’t at the table, you might as well be on the menu.”

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