A new report details the benefits of organic farming and outlines strategies to expand organic farming practices through the 2023 Farm Bill. The report is a product of the National Resources and Defense Council (NRDC), the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems from Arizona State University (ASU) and Californians for Pesticide Reform (CPR).
Titled “Grow Organic: The Climate, Health, and Economic Case for Expanding Organic Agriculture,” the report elevates organic agriculture for its emphasis on ecological diversity, soil fertility, and natural systems rather than chemical interventions. The authors write that this approach “holds significant and largely untapped potential to address the multiple crises facing our society, including climate change, health and struggling rural economies.”
Research on the human and environmental benefits of organic farming, supplemented by case studies on more than ten farms, highlights the potential of these agricultural practices. The report shows that organic farming can help sequester carbon, improve soil health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These techniques can also help limit the spread of antibiotic resistance – a growing problem threatening human health – and reduce exposure to harmful agricultural chemicals.
“The expansion of organic agriculture is an investment in our future, an investment that could ultimately yield significant returns. Today’s conventional system contains immense hidden costs subsidized by our taxes that we can no longer afford. When we consider the true costs of our current farming systems, including health, environmental, social and economic impacts, the value of organic farming is undeniable,” says Dr. Kathleen Merrigan, Director Executive of the Swette Center at Arizona State University and former United States Assistant Secretary and Chief Operating Officer of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
But “Grow Organic” notes that only 1% of farmland is managed organically. A report by the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) reveals that growers often face challenges including reduced yields over the three-year period required to transition to organic farming, the fight against weeds and pests, and organic certification costs. OFRF also notes that these challenges disproportionately affect BIPOC producers.
To change that, the authors of “Grow Organic” provide 10 recommendations to help policymakers move organic farming forward through the 2023 Farm Bill and beyond.
“Greater organic investments in the Farm Bill – along with strong administrative commitment to organic and continued stakeholder advocacy – are needed to ensure that everyone who wants to grow, raise, manage land and eat sustainably organic can do it,” the report states.
Suggestions include increased support for farmers during the transition period, increased federal resources to support research and technical assistance for organic agriculture, and reduced barriers to organic certification for BIPOC farmers. Using true cost accounting can also help stakeholders better understand the value of organic farming.
“The cash receipt only captures a portion of the true cost of food,” Merrigan told Food Tank. “The harms of synthetic chemicals to human health, biodiversity and the environment are overlooked, which is one of the many reasons why organic is still a better buy.”
The authors also call for greater consumer education around organic foods and better integration of organic programs into public institutions such as the USDA.
“It’s time to unlock the potential of organic agriculture through our public policies, including the upcoming Farm Bill,” says Allison Johnson, senior counsel at NRDC. “Taxpayers spend billions every year to support conventional farming practices that put people and the environment at risk. Investing in the transition to organic means climate-resilient agriculture, healthier food options and stronger local economies.
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Photo courtesy of Markus Spiske, Unsplash