Fiona Ma for State Assembly
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Legislation caps reimbursement at $250 per farmer

Legislation caps reimbursement at $250 per farmer By TIM HEARDEN Capital Press

SANTA ROSA, Calif. -- A state assemblyman here wants to set up a fund to help conventional farmers make the sometimes expensive transition to organic.

Legislation by Assemblyman Michael Allen, a Democrat, would establish the Transition to Organics Fund, which would be administered by the state Department of Food and Agriculture and would be funded by voluntary contributions.

No money from the state's beleaguered general fund would be used, Allen's office insisted.

Farmers would be able to recoup up to $250 of their costs from the fund, which is similar to an already existing federal program that provides them with up to $750, said David Miller, a spokesman for the lawmaker, who is a former Santa Rosa planning commissioner.

"We do have a sense that some farmers" would like to switch, Miller said.

"For some farmers, the cost involved in transitioning, which includes a waiting period, can be an obstacle," he said. "What we're hoping to do with this is for the folks for whom this may make a difference, to set up a process to help them transition to organic farming."

Proponents hope the fund will disburse between $25,000 and $75,000 per year in its first few years, he said.

During a three-year transition period, farmers adopting organic practices have to pay for a certification that they have not used conventional fertilizers or pesticides, according to a news release. The farmer must use typically more costly certified-organic pest control practices and pay extra state registration fees but is not yet able to market the crop as organic and reap higher returns.

For a few farms, the cost of switching to organic can be in the tens of thousands of dollars, although for others it is much less, Miller said.

The industry-supported fund would enable a new organic farmer to be reimbursed 25 percent of the costs associated with obtaining organic certification, including inspection, certification and registration fees, according to the release. In any case, the reimbursement would not exceed $250, the bill states.

If the fund ran out of money, the CDFA would not accept new applications for aid, Miller said.

Co-authored by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, Assembly Bill 1625 is similar to legislation in 2010 that was vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Miller said. The bill is supported by the California State Grange.

"AB1625 will preserve and create California farm jobs and help California farmers expand their national leadership in organic farmer," state grange president Bob McFarland said in a statement.

The bill faces a March 21 hearing in the Assembly Agriculture Committee.

Assembly Bill 1625
*Proposal: Establish a fund supported by industry contributions to assist farmers with the cost of transitioning from conventional to organic
*Author: Assemblyman Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa, http://asmdc.org/members/a07/
*Proponents include: California State Grange: http://www.californiagrange.org/
*Read the bill: http://leginfo.ca.gov/index.html