Murphy educated on organic farming

By:  Chris Dehnel
Willimantic Chronicle

STORRS — During a visit to the University of Connecticut this week, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said he would like to see an organic farming trend extend to Thanksgiving Day tables across the state using locally grown products.

But he also said he received “an education” at UConn about how hard it is for operations in smaller states to secure federal grants.

Murphy hosted a roundtable discussion at UConn’s agriculture school on Monday.

“We have a lot of small farms here in Connecticut growing organic crops and we have the agriculture school at UConn performing research on organic farming,” Murphy said. “But I didn’t realize how hard it was to get a subsidy. Yes, I received an education.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines organic agriculture as a farm program that produces products using “methods that preserve the environment and avoid most synthetic materials, such as pesticides and antibiotics.”

Organic farmers, ranchers and food processors follow a “defined set of standards to produce organic food and fiber,” according to the USDA.

A set of standards covers the product “from farm to table, including soil and water quality, pest control, livestock practices and rules for food additives,” according to the USDA.

According to the standards, organic farms and processors must preserve natural resources and biodiversity, support animal health and welfare, provide access to the outdoors so that animals can exercise their natural behaviors, use only approved materials, avoid genetically modified ingredients, receive annual on-site inspections and separate organic food from non-organic food.

Murphy said UConn is a research leader in organic farming.

He also said many farms in the state grow crops that follow a farm-to-table trend in the U.S.

The USDA touts aid for farmers and “public and private institutions” that research organic farming.

But that money is sometimes hard to get because many grant programs involve an “ industry match,” Murphy said.

“And that puts big farming states like Florida, Iowa and Nebraska at an advantage,” Murphy said. “Sometimes it is too big a match for smaller farms in Connecticut to get those federal dollars. I did not realize how hard it was to get those dollars until my visit this week.”

Murphy said it will be one area of focus when he returns to Washington after Thanksgiving.

“Farm- to- table is a real consumer trend and organic farming is a big part of that,” Murphy said. “It has extended to restaurants and school lunch menus, so this is an important industry. I will try to find a way to make it easier for the smaller farms and programs like those at UConn to compete for these federal grants.”