The latest $300 billion reauthorization of the Farm Bill made history when it was passed into law on May 22, 2008, by nearly quadrupling government spending on organic agriculture, research, and certification programs. In total, more than $100 million will be dedicated to organics during the next five years, with research funding representing a $78 million piece of the pie. “We’ve made significant progress relative to where we were on the policy map before this bill,” says Mark Lipson, policy program director for the Organic Farming Research Foundation, a nonprofit based in Santa Cruz, California.

But passage of the bill also came with its share of controversy. With farm incomes at an all-time high and grain and corn prices still soaring, many argue that now is the time to downsize farm subsidy programs. “[We were disappointed by] the failure of Congress to rein in commodity payments,” says Aimee Witteman, outreach director for the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, a consortium of farmers and conservation organizations based in Washington, D.C. “The current commodity system contains loopholes that allow some farmers to collect millions of dollars, which contributes to driving small and medium-sized family farmers off of the land.” Still, both say the wins for organics and sustainable farming are sizeable. “Organic conversion and certification assistance, as well as organic research in the Farm Bill, will help more farmers grow organically,” says Witteman. And the more, the better.

Did you know?

  • Though we know it as the Farm Bill, the law also comprises nutrition programs such as food stamps and food banks.
  • Organic represents 3.5 percent of the U.S. retail market share but only 1 percent of the Farm Bill budget.

Also in the Farm Bill

  • A $1.1 billion increase of funds for the Conservation Stewardship Program will reward farmers that save energy, add wildlife habitat, and who protect the quality of their farms’ water, air, and soil.

–Katy Neusteter