- Associated Press - Thursday, August 4, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico’s organic-certification program is at risk as the Department of Agriculture faces a $125,000 budget shortfall.

Since 2011 the department has overseen the organic farming program with funds coming from fees charged to organic farmers and food processors, The Santa Fe New Mexican reported (https://bit.ly/2aDavnc). Now the program is underfunded and has just two people overseeing certifications and inspections for about 150 producers statewide.

State agricultural officials are meeting with organic growers, processors and farmers looking for advice on how to sustain the program.

“The current fee structure doesn’t provide sufficient funding to cover operating costs,” said Deputy Secretary Anthony Parra at a Wednesday meeting with growers, processors and farmers market staff. “We’re here begging for your help. We want this program to succeed as much as you do.”

The state’s organic program certifies and inspects farms, livestock operations and processors each year. Private companies also certify and inspect farms, but producers say they have to pay three or four times more for that service.

At Wednesday’s meeting at the Bernalillo County Cooperative Extension Service Office, some farmers said they believe the Legislature set up the program to fail by pulling funding. New Mexico’s organic produce used to be overseen by a private commission.

“It was inevitable that the program would run into trouble the day the governor canceled the commission and took away all the funding,” said Minor Morgan, owner of North Valley Organics in Albuquerque. “This day was preordained.”

Jeff M. Witte, secretary of the state Department of Agriculture, said he doesn’t want organic farmers to have to hire private inspectors and that he hopes the state chooses to invest in the organic program.

“The Legislature, as much as it needs to stretch state dollars, should be willing to help put healthy food on people’s tables,” he said.

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Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, https://www.sfnewmexican.com

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