While there is increasingly high demand for organic products, farmers seeking to transition to organic – particularly limited-resource and socially disadvantaged farmers – can face barriers due to the risk associated with the three-year transition period as well as the need to learn and invest in new practices. This year, CalCAN supported the efforts of our coalition member California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), to increase farmer access to organic certification through a bill they sponsored (AB 2499) and budget advocacy. As part of this effort, CCOF and CalCAN partnered to conduct a briefing focused on the opportunities of California’s organic marketplace and needed investments to help farmers meet the demand for organic products.
CalCAN supported CCOF on AB 2499, introduced by Assemblymember Brian Maienschein, which would have established in statute an Organic Transition Program to provide direct assistance, mentorship, and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers to adopt organic practices and offset the risk during the transition period. Importantly, the bill prioritized support for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers who otherwise may lack the resources needed. The bill also would have required a statewide market analysis of the organic sector to provide organic farmers with the information they need to take advantage of the growing consumer demand for organic. This bill passed the California State Assembly in May but did not advance out of the California Senate Appropriations Committee.
New State Funding for Organic Transition
However, we were successful in the budget debates for the fiscal year 2022-23. We worked with a diverse coalition of agriculture, food systems, farmworker, and environmental partners (the Food and Farm Resilience Coalition) to win a record investment in organic agriculture: $5 million to create an Organic Transition Program administered by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), and another $6 million for organic planning in the new Conservation Agriculture Planning Grants Program. CDFA also awarded the University of California Organic Agriculture Institute $1.85 million to increase organic technical assistance.
While this bill with program guidance language did not pass, the state budget allocated funding to CDFA for an Organic Transition Program for grants to farmers to subsidize the costs of transitioning to organic crops.
Details of Federal Funding for Organic Transition Announced
This month, there was more good news about resources to support organic transition at the federal level. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced further details in August on their $300 million investment to support organic and transitioning farmers, the USDA Organic Transition Initiative. This funding includes 1) $100 million for a Transition to Organic Partnership Program to create paid mentorship programs in six regions across the country focused on connecting experienced organic farmers with transitioning farmers; 2) $100 million in direct farmer assistance to implement a new organic management conservation practice standard and hire organic experts to build the capacity of Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff to serve organic and transitioning farmers, and 3) $100 million for organic market development support. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, of which CalCAN is a member, stated: “These investments help address the mounting need to assist farmers learning and adopting organic production systems if they are to meet growing consumer demand for organic and adopt practices that mitigate and build resilience to climate change.”
Organic agriculture plays a critical role in combating climate change by sequestering carbon, lowering energy usage, and reducing emissions, in addition to protecting soil and water quality and supporting public health. Organic practices enhance farm resilience while certification provides a price premium to farmers, and demand for organic products continues to grow more quickly than for all other food sales in the United States. It is critical that farmers receive the assistance they need to be able to transition to organic agriculture. This year’s investments will help more farmers access the benefits of organic agriculture and support climate change mitigation and resilience.