Abnormally high feed costs, partly the result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, are ruining organic livestock producers and federal relief payments are vital to keep farmers in business, said organic trade groups and businesses. "A perfect storm of trade disruptions, international conflicts and acute drought conditions has created a situation no farmer could have planned for or foreseen," said the 13 groups in a letter to lawmakers released on Monday.
After seven years as chief executive, Laura Batcha plans to leave the Organic Trade Association next spring as the industry enjoys record food sales. With sales of $56.5 billion last year, certified organic food accounts for nearly 6 percent of the total U.S. grocery market.
For 15 years, USDA has allowed hydroponic crops to be sold as organic and, at a meeting this week in Jacksonville, Fla., the advisory National Organic Standards Board decided to let that practice continue. The board rejected, 8-7, a proposal to deny the USDA Organic label to hydoponics and aquaponics despite a long-running campaign to limit the label to plants grown in soil.
Francis Thicke, who owns a certified organic dairy farm in Iowa, is ending his five-year term on the National Organic Standards Board with criticism of the influence of “big business” on the USDA organic program and with support for an add-on organic label that “represents real organic food.”
At a time when U.S. farm numbers are stagnant, the organic sector continues to grow, said a recent report by the USDA. There were 14,217 certified organic farms that sold $7.55 billion worth of organic commodities last year. The number of farms was up 11 percent from the previous year, and total sales were up 23 percent, according to the agency’s Certified Organic Survey.
In a challenge to the Trump administration's drive to erase Obama-era regulations, the organic food industry accused USDA of unlawfully delaying animal welfare rules that give livestock on organic farms more elbow room than allowed at conventional operations. Livestock groups and their allies in Congress have alternated between ridiculing the organic livestock rule and trying to scrap it.
Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree, with firsthand experience as an organic farmer, says the Trump administration’s proposals to cut USDA funding for organic agriculture programs “seem especially foolish and shortsighted” and that the integrity of the USDA “certified organic” seal must be protected.
Millions of pounds of corn and soybeans imported to the United States in the past year were labeled “organic” but actually did not meet the requirements of the USDA label, according to The Washington Post.
New data shows another year of rapid expansion in the organic sector, with the number of certified organic farms and businesses up by 13 percent during 2016, said USDA. "This is the highest growth rate since 2008," said USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service, and it follows a 12 percent increase in 2015.