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Chair Plaskett Opening Statement at Hearing to Review the State of Organic Agriculture

Washington, October 30, 2019
Chair Plaskett Opening Statement at Hearing to Review the State of Organic Agriculture

WASHINGTON- House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research Chair Stacey Plaskett of the U.S. Virgin Islands delivered the following remarks at today’s hearing to review the state of organic agriculture from the perspective of producers.

[As Prepared for Delivery]

"Good morning and thank you for joining us as we evaluate the state of organic agriculture from a producer’s perspective.

"In the past 20 years, the USDA Organic Seal has grown to become a label that customers actively seek out in the grocery aisle. Changing consumer preferences have led to immense growth and development in the organic sector. What was once a small, niche market has since transformed into a $52 billion industry.

"Just as we have seen tremendous growth and development in the organic market, domestic organic producers have evolved as well. Organic farmers and ranchers represent a vast array of scales and types of agricultural production, as well as a diverse range of rural and urban geographic regions.

"The producers here today are no exception to this diversity. We have producers from Oregon, Maine, California, Texas and my home district of the Virgin Islands. They represent a cross-section of the industry covering dairy, commodities, and specialty crops. I would like to thank you all for being here to share your insights into the industry and for taking time to be away from your farms.

"Just like other sectors that experience tremendous growth and change, the organic industry’s expansion has not come without challenges. Earlier this year, we held a hearing with Under Secretary Greg Ibach and Dr. Jennifer Tucker to discuss the effectiveness of USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP). This hearing highlighted efforts to protect the domestic organic supply chain and to support organic farmers and ranchers through USDA programs.

"During our conversation with Under Secretary Ibach, this Subcommittee stressed the importance of maintaining the integrity of the organic industry and for USDA to be attentive to the needs of the industry. Our producers depend on strong consumer confidence and clear standards to ensure the longevity of their business and continued expansion of the organic sector.

"The National Organic Program is a voluntary, public-private partnership between USDA and producers. As the Subcommittee with jurisdiction over the NOP, we have a responsibility to ensure that USDA is fulfilling its commitment to organic producers as a key stakeholder in that partnership. This includes being responsive to the needs of the sector and ensuring producers have access to the resources and technical assistance they need to run a successful operation.

"The 2018 Farm Bill included several provisions to encourage growth and innovation in the organic sector, including increased research funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Act and continued support for the Organic Certification Cost Share Program and the Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives. The Farm Bill also expanded USDA’s authority to crack down on bad actors attempting to undermine consumer confidence through fraudulent organic imports. These are all steps in the right dictions for the sector, but our work is not done.

"In a struggling farm economy plagued by uncertain trade conditions, increasing input costs, turbulent weather patterns, and low commodity prices, our farmers and ranchers are looking to thriving markets with high premiums – like the organics industry – to diversify their operations and increase profits. It is imperative that Congress and USDA continue to work together to support farmers, ranchers, and consumers who seek out the organic seal.

"We have heard from USDA leadership on this topic, but it is time for producers to have a say. I look forward to hearing today’s testimony and to learning how we can best support the organic sector."

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