Organic Farmers, Farmers Market Left Out of Farm Bill Extension

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COLUMBIA - The U.S. Congress decided to extend the 2008 Farm Bill for one more year, but that extension will not include many subsidies local organic farmers and the Columbia Farmers Market depend on right now.

The extension, which will run until September 30, 2013, leaves out all organic programs the bill formerly funded including:

  • The Farmers Market Promotion Program - $10 million
  • Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative - $25 million
  • The National Organic Costshare Program - $22 million

The cost-share program helps organic farmers pay for the USDA certification by giving them up to $750. Without that help, farmers will have to pay anywhere from several hundred to a few thousand dollars out of pocket.

Dan Kuebler, owner of The Salad Garden, said that extra cost will be a strain, but will not put anyone out of business.

"We're still going to grow healthy food because that's what we want our community to have," Kuebler said.

But some organic food businesses are worried the extra cost to farmers will raise food prices.

"Prices are going to go up...incrementally at first. We have no idea how that's going to hit us," said Patty Clover, owner of Clover's Natural Market.

Clover said, however, her business will still benefit from buying locally.

"Everything gets smaller when you're dealing with your backyard and that's where we're going to be able to keep prices down, I believe," Clover said.

The Columbia Farmers Market is also unsure of how big of an impact the new extension will have. John Corn, a farmers market board member, said the loss of subsidies will likely affect the promotion for the market.

"We have a budget just like anybody else and to keep that same budget we either cut back or charge the farmers more, which in turn gets passed on to the consumer," Corn said.

Corn said federal cuts will not be felt immediately, but will likely have a longterm effect on the farmers market budget. The market is still waiting to hear whether its largest federal grant of $20,000 will get renewed this year.