Tester legislation helps producers who begin organic farming

Chemical-free agriculture is a win-win for Montana, Senator says

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Montana Senator Jon Tester is laying the groundwork to help more American farmers voluntarily make the switch to organic farming.

Tester today outlined his newest legislation, which provides assistance to producers who want to begin farming without fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides.

Tester's legislation is aimed at helping farmers as they transition from traditional farming techniques to certified organic farming.  The process usually takes several years and results in a temporary decline in crop yields and production.  Farmers can't sell their chemical-free crops for higher premiums until they're certified as organic.

"Making the switch to organics shouldn't be a make-or-break decision for family farmers," Tester said.  "It should be a decision that ultimately saves them time and money while increasing the value of the stuff they grow."

If passed, Tester's legislation would provide up to four $20,000 annual payments to farmers whose land has not been previously certified as organic. 

Tester's legislation allows farmers to use their payments for:

  • Technical     assistance;
  • Conservation     management to protect the environment and wildlife; and
  • Animal     welfare.

Under Tester's legislation, farmers who receive organic conversion assistance must sign contracts with the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.  They must also verify that they're complying with the certification process every year.

Tester, one of only two farmers in the U.S. Senate, stopped using chemicals on his 1,800-acre farm near Big Sandy nearly 20 years ago.  He made the switch to organic farming because the chemicals made his wife ill, and because it increased the value of his crops.  Montana has more acres of organic wheat production than any other state.

"Organic farming is a good deal for Montana's farmers and ranchers," Tester said.  "It's a win-win for agriculture in our state.  It's good for the land and it's good for folks who want to sell their crops for higher premiums."

Tester is including his organic conversion assistance measure for consideration in the upcoming 2007 Farm Bill.