The big news from the normally lethargic U.S Senate Wednesday is that the chamber is actually voting all day long. That's good news for Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley whose amendment to the farm bill was approved 63-36 by the Senate in one of Wednesday's first votes. His amendment, which makes it easier for organic farmers to get crop insurance, was co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, of Maine.
“Oregon is a leader in organic farming, and our farmers deserve crop insurance that reflects the high value of the crops they produce,” Merkley said in a statement after the vote. “There are more than 500 organic farms in Oregon, and that number is expanding rapidly. Today’s vote is an important step toward a crop insurance model that works for this growing segment of Oregon’s farmers.”
Organic farmers currently pay a higher premium for crop insurance than non-organic farms, but when they need their insurance, they receive reimbursements at the same lower rate as non-organic farms. In the 2008 farm bill, Congress directed the federal Department of Agriculture to collect data and establish the appropriate price for the various organic crops. However, in four years, USDA has only done this for four of the dozens of organic crops on the market.
The amendment that the Senate has now attached to the larger farm bill requires USDA to set appropriate payment levels for organic farmers within three years. Dozens of amendments are lined up for consideration and possible votes Wednesday. Sen. Jeff Merkley said his amendment is an "important step" in helping more than 500 organic farmers in Oregon.
The measure from Merkley and Snowe was one of the early votes on a day of when the Senate is expected to plow though more than a dozen amendments. Lawmakers hope to finish work on the sprawling farm bill by the end of the week. Other amendments scheduled for consideration later in the day include two sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
One would establish a pilot loan program to support healthy foods for the hungry while the other would provide incentives for government to purchase "locally produced foods."
Under federal law, organic producers must pay a 5 percent premium when purchasing insurance through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But if they file a claim, they're only compensated for their losses based on the price of a non-organic product, which is often much lower.
Farmers are not required to purchase the insurance, Merkley said, but having the opportunity to obtain protection is considered a critical tool for many farms, agriculture officials say. - Charles Pope, Oregon Live