The Organic Trade Association (OTA) has urged Congress to support organic agriculture by incorporating provisions to assist organic farmers and farmers seeking organic certification in the 2007 Farm Bill. The OTA told just-food that this was a vital step not only for primary producers but also for the organic industry as a whole, with manufacturers facing chronic shortages of organic raw ingredients.

"There is a shortage of all kinds of ingredients and to combat this we want to encourage more organic certified production in the US," Barbara Haumann of the OTA told just-food yesterday (17 October). "In our 2005 manufacturers' survey 52% of manufacturers said a shortage of raw organic ingredients was actually limiting sales growth," Haumann continued.

Retail sales of organic products in the US now total US$15bn annually. However, the OTA said, the food industry and its organic agriculture base need to keep pace with growing consumer demand.

According to the OTA, the organic sector currently receives only a tiny fraction of the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) budget.

"OTA is releasing an ambitious and comprehensive plan to advance organic agriculture. We need to ensure that organic farmers have access to all resources available to farmers through the US Department of Agriculture," said Caren Wilcox, executive director of OTA, whose members represent all segments of organic production, distribution and sales. "In many cases, organic is not receiving a fair share of current dollars appropriated for research, for conservation, for risk management - all current programmes that benefit other aspects of agriculture. We ask Congress for equality for organic farmers.

"Our farmers need access to the same resources USDA provides to conventional farmers -research, market data, risk management tools and import/export information," Wilcox said. "When conventional farmers decide what to plant for the upcoming season, they have reams of cost, production and market data to influence their actions. Organic farmers have none of these critical resources. As a result, they farm at a distinct disadvantage."

The OTA called for the USDA to help the transition from conventional to organic agriculture through the provision of technical assistance and risk management tools, eliminate hurdles to trade by developing an organic export strategy, increase funding for organic research and maintain and enhance current USDA programmes.