Firestone Pacific Foods grows and packs great tasting and nutritious frozen fruit that is consumed by people throughout the United States and abroad. Our company has been rooted in the Pacific Northwest agricultural landscape for over a century. We hope to carry on this legacy for at least another 100 years. But we can’t succeed on our own.
Last year, our company sourced over 26 million pounds of blueberries and blackberries from 30 Oregon farms that are primarily based in the Willamette Valley. Over one half of that fruit was certified organic.
We need strong leadership in Washington D.C. to support the continued growth of organic agriculture in the region. This will contribute to the prosperity of our local farming communities and enable farming operations like ours to continue delivering abundant, healthy food to people across our country.
Firestone is committed to building soil health, promoting pollinator habitats, and protecting wildlife – and organic agriculture is a key strategy to achieving these outcomes.
Organic farming isn’t for the faint of heart. But we can make it easier for farmers to adopt organic production practices. This year’s Farm Bill, the federal legislation passed roughly every five years that guides American agriculture, offers an opportunity to ensure organic and transitioning farmers have what they need to succeed.
We face a long list of challenges. First, public investments in tools for organic farmers and processors haven’t kept pace with consumer demand for organic food. The organic sector has grown consistently for decades, and four out of five U.S. households regularly buy organic food.
But to date, only 1 percent of the nation’s farmland is certified organic, and the U.S. is a net importer of organic products.
Farmers transitioning to organic have to wait three years before they can label their products “organic,” and those early years can be rocky. It takes time to restore soil health, learn to manage pests naturally, and develop a successful farming system that works in partnership with nature. There are currently very few places organic farmers can go for relevant advice and tools to help manage these risks.
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There is a better way.
Policies developed in this year’s Farm Bill should remove barriers for organic farming, help transitioning producers, and expand organic markets right here in the U.S.
Added funding is needed to support a variety of challenges farmers face as they transition to organic, such as help with paperwork, adapting to farming without synthetic chemicals, and market development especially for crops grown during the three-year transition process.
We support proposals to increase funding to $100 million a year to support a wide range of efforts to make it easier to go organic. The U.S. Department of Agriculture currently has an organic certification cost-share program that helps cover the costs of certification. There could be a higher level of reimbursement for this program and flexible funding for farmers, processors, and the organizations that help them.
We’re looking to leaders like Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer, a key member of the House Agriculture Committee, to represent constituents and Oregonians like me who care about organic farming and want to help Oregon’s farms thrive.
Leaders like her can help businesses like mine work with local farmers to grow our domestic supply to meet demand and expand opportunities in organic farming. We’re calling on Rep. Chavez-DeRemer to support organic and transitioning farmers in the 2023 Farm Bill.
Together, we can preserve a way of life that is central to our well-being. We can nurture a homegrown and organic food supply that contributes to our security.
And we can meet rising consumer demand while supporting farmers’ interests in going organic, which will improve their bottom line and our planet’s health.
Josh Hinerfeld is CEO of Firestone Pacific Foods based in Vancouver, Washington and resides in Portla
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