At its recent policy conference in Washington, D.C., the Organic Trade Association (OTA) heard from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack about the future of organic farming. Vilsack told OTA members that he views organic as “its own separate commodity,” and he is committed to treating it that way.  He wants to increase coverage options for organic producers under the federal crop insurance program provided by USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) and promised to remove a 5 percent organic rate surcharge on future crop insurance policies, beginning in 2014. The Secretary of Agriculture also announced that he will be giving all USDA agencies new directives to take into account concerning the documentation and inspection required for organic certification for eligibility for the department’s programs and policies. “Organic agriculture is one of the fastest growing segments of American agriculture and helps farmers receive a higher price for their product as they strive to meet growing consumer demand,” said Vilsack. “These new options will extend the safety net provided by crop insurance and provide fair and flexible solutions to organic producers. Coupled with the new guidance for agencies to support this growing sector, USDA recognizes that organics are gaining market share and is helping boost this emerging segment.” USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) is credited with helping create an organic industry in the U.S that includes 17,000 organic businesses with an estimated $35 billion in retail sales. Organics now ranks fourth in U.S. food and feed crop production in farm-gate values, when viewed as a separate category. All crops are being evaluated for establishing organic prices for the 2014 crop year. Current pricing options only allow farmers to insure organic crops at the conventional prices, with the exception of eight crops (corn, soybeans, cotton, processing tomatoes, avocados, and several fresh stone fruit crops) that already have premium organic price elections. RMA is working to provide organic price elections for six to ten crops in 2014. Oats and mint are two crops that have already been selected for organic price elections in 2014, and apricots, apples, blueberries, millet, and others are still under consideration. Organic certification allows farmers and ranchers to receive premium prices for their value-added products. Over the past 10 years, the number of certified organic farms and businesses in the United States has expanded to approximately 17,750, representing a 240 percent increase since USDA first began collecting this data. The NOP’s standards address conservation, food safety, risk management, export certifications, and other issues. The organic industry is looking for less overlapping requirements and reduced redundancy in paperwork in the new guidance. USDA’s 2010 Strategic Plan calls for a 25 percent increase in U.S. certified organic businesses by 2015.