An organic check off campaign could bring more farmers into the fold, clarify claims, OTA says

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Organic certification Organic food Organic farming

Demand for organic in the U.S. is soaring with more than 80% of families buying some organic products, pushing sales up to an expected $40 billion last year, according to the Organic Trade Association.

Yet challenges continue to hamper the organic industry, including consumer confusion about the difference between organic, natural and non-GMO. Other hurdles include demand outstripping supply and more funds needed to research improved ways to grow organic crops.

One way to clarify the confusion and better position the organic industry for growth is with an organic check-off campaign – similar to the Incredible Edible Egg and Got Milk? campaigns, according to said Laura Batcha, CEO of OTA. She notes an organic check off campaign would pool funds from everyone in the organic value chain from the farmers to the retail products bearing the USDA Organic seal to help fund common goals.

“The check off program would allow the industry to work together to pool those funds to provide public education so that folks really understand exactly why organic is”​ the best farm to table solution, Batcha said. She added: “The real enemy to organic is confusion. Every time consumers know more about organic they go deeper in terms of purchases and bringing it into their lives.”

Meeting growing demand

An organic check-off campaign also would help address the challenge of demand for organic products outstripping supply, Batcha said.

“One of the real valuable things about a program like this is you have a suite of programs that fall under what is called information services. And within the information services, you can do outreach and education to farmers looking to come into organic [and] to provide technical services … to really help bring people into organic production,” ​Batcha explained.

The program also would help fund agronomic and husbandry research focused on organic farmers’ needs, and market data to provide tools for farmers to succeed when they become organic, Batcha said. The research also would cover the environmental and human health benefits or organic, she noted. (Read more HERE​.)

Finding funds

Some farmers already pay into several check off programs, such as for meat, milk and eggs, and may feel put-upon by the idea of paying into yet another pool.

Batcha says the check off campaign’s steering committee’s proposal recognizes the potential drain of these programs on stakeholders, which is why it decided “that the right approach would be to use a broad and shallow approach, so that everyone in the value chain … pays a small assessment … [and] shares a little bit of the burden.”

She added: “For the smallest business under $250,000 a year participation is voluntarily.”

She also noted that everyone would be represented in the board of directors managing the check off campaign to ensure that all players’ needs are met over the long term. In addition, there are built in triggers that would allow the check off program to end if the industry did not feel like the money was being well spent and helping organic grow, thrive and be healthy, she said. (Read more about how the program will be regulated HERE​.) 

The check off campaign is far from a done deal. OTA still needs to submit the proposal to USDA, at which point stakeholders will have an additional chance to comment publicly on the proposal in the Federal Register. This comment period, combined with USDA’s review of the proposal, could delay the program until 2016 at the earliest.

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