U.S. legislators consider boosting rural economic development through organic agriculture

Hand over wheat field in early summer evening. Photo: Thinkstock

OrganicBiz staff

Two U.S. legislators have put a bipartisan bill before Congress that would promote organic agriculture as a rural development tool.

Representatives Sean Duffy (R-WI) and Peter Welch (D-VT) have introduced the Organic Farmers Access Act, which would expand eligibility for organic production in certain rural development programs and help enable organic agriculture to be a key rural development tool in revitalizing our rural areas.

The legislation would “assist and incentivize organic agriculture” by expanding its access to, and eligibility for, several rural development programs.

Organic farming is vital to the rural economy. – Peter Welch (D-VT)

“By giving organics equal access grant programs, we can ensure that all of our farmers have the tools at their disposal to pick a production style that’s right for them without any penalty,” said Duffy in a release.

“Organic farming is vital to the rural economy, particularly in Vermont. It is essential that producers have the resources they need to transition to organic production. The Organic Farmers Access Act will assure that small farmers in Vermont and across the country can be a part of the organic farming success story,” said Welch.

The move was welcomed by the Organic Trade Association, which said in a release that the organic industry is a bright spot in the U.S. farm economy with sales of $47 billion in 2016.

“Organic has averaged double-digit growth over the last five years, making it the fastest growing sector of the U.S. food industry,” the OTA said in a release.

Conclusive research now links economic health at the county level to organic agriculture, and shows that organic food and crop production – and the business activities accompanying organic agriculture – creates real and long-lasting regional economic opportunities.

Organic hotspots kick start rural economies — counties with high levels of organic agricultural activity whose neighbouring counties also have a high level of organic activity — boost median household incomes by an average of $2,000, and reduce poverty levels by an average of 1.3 percentage points. 225 counties across the U.S. are identified as organic hotspots.

“Organic agriculture has directly contributed to the regrowth and economic success in many rural areas across the U.S.  We commend Representatives Sean Duffy and Peter Welch for recognizing the benefits that organic production brings to local economies,” said OTA executive director and CEO Laura Batcha.

“The Organic Farmer Access Act would expand opportunities for organic businesses and farms in rural development programs administered by the USDA, acknowledging that organic is a high return on investment for federal programs to stimulate economic development in rural America.”