>Before signing on to letters to the Agricultural Marketing Service of USDA
>supporting an organic cost share program for certification, it appears to me
>members of the organic community should supply some thoughtful analysis of
>its implications and possible effects on certified organic farmers and
>My concerns are gargantuan.
Eric and I frequently disagree. Not this time.
He who pays the piper, calls the tune. It would be entirely consistent
with past bureaucratic motives if the purpose of this was simply to
make certified farmers more dependent on bureaucrats, thereby
securinging the bureaucrats' jobs in this little developing empire at
the National Organic Program.
>The Agricultural Marketing Service appears to
>have proposed the organic certification cost share program.
The cynical side of me sees this as a means of gaining more control
over FVO and OCIA particularly, as these are both "high standards"
programs, neither of which (to my knowledge) has ever taken a nickel of
government money. We can't have such important programs so immune to
our control, now, can we ...?
In a private message to Anita Graf answering her question to me about
how it is that Canada --- with its rather tight controls on election
expenditures, PACs and such --- can still have so much of the same
problems of favoritism, croneyism, special deals and so on, I said,
++Same shenanigans, same waste, same corruption as in the US. Most of
++dirty work is done within the bureaucracy, as it is in the US.
Bureaucrats are generally invisible, unavailable, and unaccountable.
They can do a lot of good, and many are unsung heroes. More often they
do an amazing amount of anonymous harm.
>The money ultimately ends up going
>first to certified farmers [snip] and then is passed
>back to the Agricultural Marketing Service as fees for accreditation by them.
> In fact the proposed organic cost share program is another way to use tax
>money to support the Agricultural Marketing Service National Organic Program.
In a time of tight budgets, bureaucrats are as nervous as a long-tailed
cat in a room full of rocking chairs... the most effective way to
raise taxes is through all sorts of hidden fees, especially if they
come direct to your little domain.
>In the Midwest at least we have large numbers of farmers coming to
>certification agency meetings wanting to sell crops as "organically produced"
>for the increased income earning potential. This is a trend that has
>increased markedly every year for 4 years now. Almost none of these farmers
>have become really familiar with the principals, practices or system of
>organic farming. There main objective is increase farm income. Such a
>proposed organic cost share program will only increase the number of farmer
>applicants with very little increase in applicant knowledge of organic
Very sadly, Eric, you understate the case. I see these guys all the
time as an inspector. Just one example, from your state of Iowa...
Conventional farmer with many hundreds of acres in heavy duty corn
(anhydrous, etc). He had 130 acres (55 ha) that had been in the federal
Conservation Reserve Program (at a tidy annual rent) for ten years. The
whole thing was planted to food soybeans for 1999, which he wanted
certified. The entire 130 acres was going to go *back* into CRP in
2000. In the course walking the field it became obvious to me that he
had used herbicide(s) --- probably Pinnacle and Pursuit --- on the
whole field. He didn't get certified, but I'll bet there are a lot more
out there like him, and some of them *do* get certified.
The real weak link in the whole system right now is INSPECTION. Many
inspectors do not have practical production experience or knowledge.
Relatively few have any understanding of *conventional* production ---
its methods, its materials, and (above all) its *attitudes.* Increasing
the number of applicants by encouraging them with subsidies is
potentially disastrous for the little credibility remaining in the
The organic industry has largely done this to itself, with its slavish
and anal-retentive preoccupation with *materials* rather than farm
systems. It simply doesn't take as much understanding of agriculture to
haggle over materials as it does to codify the irreducible minimum of a
healthy system management.
Because it's easier for programs (and bureaucrats) to haggle over
materials, we have ironically undermined the entire inspection process.
Inspecting for materials use is *NOT* easy. In fact, it is probably the
most difficult aspect of the entire system to monitor. There are farms
I *know* got sprayed within hours of when I headed down the lane for my
What really matters is how the whole system is put together and
managed. That is difficult to codify, but once codified is relatively
easy to inspect, even for inspectors of modest ability. There is
absolutely no way, for example, that I could determine whether or not
an applicant as used 25 kg/ha of Chilean nitrate, or 125 kg/ha, other
than to trust his answer. That standard, therefore, is un-inspectable,
un-verifiable, and thereby useless.
What is *easy* to inspect is whether or not there is at least 25%
legume sod in the rotation, and whether or not the applicant has a
*written* management protocol for standard materials and procedures
used in that particular operation. Less than 2% of the farms I
inspected in 1999 had a written protocol for mineral fertility
management, even though it is clearly required in the standards. If you
think that doesn't matter, go back to the archives and review my
comments about soil minerals and crop quality from about 3 weeks ago.
The key questions are:
a) Is this system designed and managed so as maximise system health
and crop quality;
b) Is it designed and managed to minimise the need for chemical
c) Is this management protocol documented and followed, and
d) Is there a chain of custody guaranteeing that the harvest has not
been contaminated or co-mingled.
Having de-emphasised these most important managerial elements (which
are the *easiest* to inspect), and having over-emphasised materials
(which are very difficult to inspect), the organic business has left
itself extremely vulnerable. Federal cost sharing and the resultant
influx of desperate conventional growers may well be all that is needed
to tip an already-unstable system into the abyss.
>There is a question whether large numbers of new "cost share" applicants for
>organic farming certification will not stimulate oversupply of organic
>product. Every since passage of the Organic Foods Production Act, staff of
>the Agricultural Marketing Service have been trying to expand organic markets
>for us, expand organic supply for us. That is not their mandate under OFPA.
>Let the markets and supply expand without, absolutely without, Federal
>government intervention. All such intervention twist the internally,
>continually re-balancing organic supply and demand system in directions that
>are simply un-natural, not "organic."
This is an additional cause for concern, but if the inspectability
problem isn't resolved, it may not matter. There are inspectors (and
certification committee members) out here with enough concrete examples
to seriously damage the demand side of "organic" equation in the course
of a single interview on '60-minutes.'
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