OTA calls for more funding for organics

By Lorraine Heller and Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

The nation's organic industry has called for federal agencies to
boost spending on crop research and market development in an effort
to help farmers keep up with burgeoning demand.

Addressing the Senate Agriculture Committee this week, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) said that more resources are necessary to build the infrastructure and increase the market share of the organic industry. "US farmers are not keeping up with consumer demand for organic products,"​ said Lynn Clarkson, president of Clarkson Grain Company and OTA board member. "Today, US demand for organic grains and oilseeds could easily support a doubling of organic production acres. Organic prices generally double conventional prices and offer higher net farm incomes than those available to conventional farmers. Despite buyer preference for domestic organic production, it is the foreign farmer who seems to be responding to the US demand,"​ he said. Currently consumer demand for natural- and organic-based personal care products is one of the leading sources of growth in an otherwise relatively slow moving market in North America. In turn the demand for such products is putting pressure on farmers in much the same way demand for organic and natural foods is currently doing, although on a smaller scale. According to the OTA's 2006 Manufacturer Survey, organic products currently make up 2.5 percent of all retail sales of food. The overall food organic market grew 28 percent since 2003 to reach a total value of $14bn in 2005, and is expected to reach $16bn by the end of 2006. Yet despite the steady growth of the market in the past decade, one obstacle that still remains is the lack of adequate supply. The sectors hardest hit by supply shortages are the organic orange juice, meat and dairy sectors. OTA maintains that incorporating strong organic provisions in the 2007 Farm Bill would be the best way to address the supply issue. "OTA wants to enhance the ability of US farmers to provide as much organic food, fiber and other organic products as possible for our country. The Farm Bill is an opportunity to grow this segment,"​ Clarkson told the agriculture panel on Tuesday. The OTA Farm Bill plan focuses on four priorities: fostering conversion to organic agriculture and trade; eliminating hurdles to organic agriculture and trade; initiating and funding organic agriculture and economic research; and maintaining and enhancing current agency programs. OTA released its Farm Bill plan late last year, claiming that the 2007 Farm Bill is the key legislation that can influence organic agriculture and trade for years to come.

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