Dairy cows in stable

Organic farm organizations are asking Congress for help as market disruptions make feed hard to afford.

“A perfect storm of trade disruptions, international conflicts, and acute drought conditions have created a situation no farmer could have planned for or foreseen,” said the Organic Trade Association and 30 companies and groups in a Nov. 21 letter to the House and Senate agriculture and appropriations committees.

Rising grain prices have stung livestock farmers of all kinds over the past two years. The group says the situation is particularly severe for organic farmers, who must use organic feed that is generally much more expensive than standard corn, beans and hay.

A severe Western drought has tightened feed supplies, with available grain often carrying high transportation costs. But even in a good year, the U.S. does not produce enough organic grain to support its organic livestock.

That makes farmers vulnerable to import disruptions, and Russia’s war in Ukraine a big one. The U.S. has also discontinued an organic agreement with India and imposed anti-dumping tariffs on the country’s soybeans, the trade association says.

In recent years, USDA has cracked down on imports fraudulently labeled as organic, tightening supplies of grain that might otherwise have been used, if errantly, on organic farms.

From January 2021 to May 2022, organic soybean prices more than doubled to $40.52 per bushel, and prices are still above $31, the group says, citing Mercaris market data. Conventional soybeans saw a price increase of only a few dollars during that time.

Retail prices for organic milk, eggs and meat have increased, but not enough to offset the runup in feed costs, the group says.

The group says farms are leaving organic livestock production and thousands more are facing financial hardship.

USDA and organic chicken company Bell & Evans both offer incentives to transition U.S. farmland to organic, but these are long-term solutions.

The trade group is requesting an ad hoc disaster relief payment to provide immediate relief for organic producers.

Among the signatories to the letter are Danone North America, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, Organic Valley, Pennsylvania Certified Organic, Stonyfield Farm and organic farm groups in Maine, New York, Ohio and Vermont.

This story has been updated to mention organic fraud.

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