While consumer demand for organic and sustainably-produced foods is steadily rising, public funding for associated research and extension has been slowly eroding. For instance, the U.S. retail market share of organic foods was approaching 3.5 percent, at the same time that the USDA’s research and extension expenditure for organic agriculture was less than 1.5 percent of its total research budget. The total investment in sustainable agriculture and development is still a tiny fraction of the over $2.5 billion annual federal investment in food and agriculture research.
Thanks to an outpouring of grassroots pressure, the 2008 Farm Bill took a few important steps toward reversing this downward trend, making more resources available for important work on organic and sustainable agriculture research.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) worked closely with the Organic Farming Research Foundation and others to successfully win:
- a five-fold increase in mandatory funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative in the 2008 Farm Bill. With its new, larger Farm Bill resources, this organic research program is now equivalent in size to the ongoing Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, forming a powerful duo to build from for the future.
During the 2008 Farm Bill campaign NSAC and its partners also tried to create a National Program for Organic Agriculture within the Agriculture Research Service at USDA. It was not successful during the farm bill fight, but will keep the pressure in the upcoming farm bill debate.
Unfortunately, the significant gains made for organic research in the last farm bill have since halted, as the 2008 Farm Bill officially expired on October 1st, 2012, and Congress has yet to pass legislation to extend the programs contained in the farm bill. This means that programs like the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative are put on hold until Congress acts on passing a new farm bill. For more information on what the farm bill expiration means for organic research, click here.