Organic players consider options after USDA cans checkoff proposal

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Organic players consider new options to promote their industry after USDA cans checkoff proposal
Organic stakeholders are considering how they can promote their industry and raise funds for organic agriculture research and extension efforts after the US Department of Agriculture “blindsided” them by terminating the check-off program that many worked for years to create.

“The last couple of years we have all been building towards the organic checkoff, which obviously was our unified way of creating a rising tide that would lift all boats and address many of the issues that we face as an industry, including a need for research to back our claims and communications, and promote organic writ large.

"But now we are in a new era, and frankly we are going to have to do it ourselves,”​ Gary Hirshberg, co-founder and chief organic optimist at Stonyfield Organic, told attendees at the Organic Trade Associations annual policy conference in Washington, DC.

The conference brought together organic stakeholders from across commodities and up and down the supply chain a mere 10 days after USDA published in the Federal Register an unexpected termination of the rulemaking to establish a national research and promotion program for certified organic products.

After working with USDA for five years to craft the check-off program in a way that represented players from across the organic industry and did not disparage conventionally produced goods, the termination came “without consultation,”​ Laura Batcha, CEO of the Organic Trade Association, said.

“The move was really contrary to five years of work we did with the USDA where there were many of the structures and decisions that we brought forward that were built in consultation with them about what would work and what would not work,”​ she explained.

USDA's rationale 'perplexing at best'

She added that USDA’s rationale for terminating the check-off proposal so late in the game “was perplexing at best.”

The agency explained in the Federal Register notice that its decision was “based on uncertain industry support for and outstanding substantive issues with the proposed program.”

For example, USDA noted that among the 15,000 comments it received on the check-off proposed rule, there were concerns about how the de minimis level would eliminate a majority of organic farmers from the program, fears that there might be a disproportionate impact on high value commodities as assessments would be based on sales, and challenges related to tracing imported organic products, among other concerns.

While OTA members were disappointed by the decision, some others were not. The Organic Farmers Association was happy about the decision as the checkoff program would have created more paperwork for already burdened farmers. The Cornucopia Institute also lauded the agency’s decision to terminate what it considered to be an additional tax on organic.

Moving forward

The decision leaves OTA and those who supported the checkoff campaign back at square one and looking for solutions to promote and advance organic farming.

“Regardless of how anybody in the industry or stakeholders felt about the checkoff itself, there is absolute widespread consensus about the need for investment in education, promotion, research and extension in organic, and there needs to be a way for the private sector to participate directly in those investments. The checkoff happens to be the tool the USDA has most others use,”​ Batcha said.

While she did not commit to a path forward yet, she did note that the option of trying to work with USDA to propose a new checkoff campaign and facing "all the hurdles that we went through for years … is not a short or medium term play by any means.”

As such, she said, OTA and other industry stakeholders “will be exploring whether or not there is a feasible way to move forward on the private side.”

This might include a voluntary checkoff program, mechanisms through state boards or other ways to raise funds for collective goals.

Organic Voices offers industry a starting point

One option that is already in development is the Organic Voices initiative, which is a coalition of about 30 companies, including Stoneyfield, that are focused on gathering research and shopper insights related to organic and using those to help promote the industry.

So far the initiative has identified two key insights that the industry needs to address, said Hirshberg. The first is that consumers are confused about the difference between organic, non-GMO, local and other similar claims. The second is consumers are deeply suspicious and distrustful of government and corporations.

To address these, Organic Voices is trying to raise funds to focus on a combined effort “to rise the tide and lift all boats and do essentially what the checkoff would have done,”​ Hirshberg said.

Staying true to his job title of chief optimist, Hirshberg said he believes “we will eventually get back sanity in our relations with our government, but for now we have to do it on our own,” ​and if stakeholders work together they will eventually get there.

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Making the Case for The Organic Marketing Association

Posted by Dennis L. Weaver,

Making the Case for The Organic Marketing Association

My Good Food Friends -

With the setting aside of the Animal Welfare Proposal and the TERMINATION by the USDA of The Organic Check-Off Proposal, along with the upcoming Farm Bill, Organic is NOW fully at risk. If Organic tries to play the Government game and not force itself to WIN in the Free Market, Organic will lose!

There are local nutritionists even here in progressive Seattle regularly questioning the validity of ‘Organic’.

The “Maturing U.S. organic sector” used by The OTA is a euphemism for Organic Sales increases declining, both in dollars and in %, and AVOIDS the HARD TRUTH:

2014 to 2015 $3997
2015 to 2016 $3501
2016 to 2017 $2702

2014 to 2015 11.1%
2015 to 2016 9%
2016 to 2017 6.4%

Non-organic increased $6240 - 2.3 x FASTER than Organic!

Making the Case for The Organic Marketing Association


The Organic Marketing Association promotes Organic Good Foods and Products with positive, entertaining, consumer-centric messaging. The Organic Marketing Association believes in the power of fun and positivity to spread the word about Organic. We are committed to introducing Organic Good Foods and Products to new Consumers, growing the Organic Market for the benefit of People and Planet.

The Organic Marketing Association is not issues oriented, is apolitical and a Non-Profit.


There is an absence of a National PROMOTIONAL Organization driving Organic Good Foods forward. The Organic Marketing Association will fill THAT VOID.

The Organic Marketing Association is designed to flip the Organic Good Food Narrative over to the FUN side! It’s MESSAGING will be CONSUMER FACING, CONSUMER CENTRIC, CONSUMER ENTERTAINING & APPEALING.

We’re a HAPPY, FUN, EXCITING Group set to RE-BRAND, RE-POSITION Organic Good Food.

The Organic Marketing Association Founders are each independently successful, recognized Edutainers, Showmen, Branders and Environmentalists with years in the Organic Industry and have NEVER played the victims of the ‘big, bad non-organic ag Corporations’.

We’ve Appointed a few Select Board Members whose personalities, cheery outlook on life and bona fides bring even more synergy to the table.

The Board will be a solid, high-octane, indisputably creative, FUN & HAPPY Group.

The Founders all have thriving Businesses and are committed to creating The Organic Marketing Association because of the NEED to expand Organic Good Foods well past its niche 5.5%+/- Market Share for the BENEFIT of PEOPLE & PLANET.

The Organic Marketing Association will speak LOUDLY to the 95% with Billboards, Bus Cards, Bus Wraps, Social Media Banners, Posters, Postcards, Shelf-Talkers, Ceiling Hangers, Window Signs, A-Boards, Flyers, Business Cards …

The Organic Marketing Association will have Memberships, Associates, Affiliates, Partnerships and Sponsors. Our Organic Good Food Farmers CANNOT PAY to be in! We WANT our Organic Good Food Farmers to be the HAPPIEST PEOPLE on EARTH, ‘cause without them, there’s nothing! ALL HAIL THE ORGANIC GOOD FOOD FARMERS!!


25 years of ‘values’ and ‘movement’ messaging by Organic Industry ’experts’, delivered by lectures, powerpoints, petitions and protests, have resulted in a rather paltry 5.5%+/- Market Share and ONLY 1% at the Farm Gate. Can we call this success?

As we think about the future of Organic Good Food, the reason Organics only have a 5.5%+/- niche Market Share and 1% at the Farm Gate, is because the Organic Industry, as a whole, has been telling virtually the same old, tired story the entire time. The general public perceives the Organic Community to always seem to be against something, always angry, anti-this, anti-that, rigid ideologues, lecturing, holier-than-thou … never seem to just be HAPPY.

If Organic Good Food is DELICIOUS, then why only 5.5%+/- Market Share? It’s THE NARRATIVE … NOT THE FOOD, NOT THE PRODUCT!

Diffusion of Innovations is a theory that seeks to explain how, why, and at what rate new ideas, technology and products spread through cultures and clearly explains the risk to the Organic Industry and why the NEED for a change in strategy, a change of perspective, a change in the narrative, a change in presentation, a change in messaging and a change in market positioning.

"Tipping point to success is 15 to 18% Market Share, until then you’re nowhere. Mass market success, or mass market acceptance: You cannot have it until you achieve this tipping point of from 15 to 18% market penetration."

Below that tipping point of 15 to 18% with a 5.5%+/-, The Organic Industry risks failure every day because it doesn’t have enough oomph, enough resource, enough horsepower to be competitive, to tell its Story to enough people fast enough!

The Organic Community tends to have an arrogant, above-it-all, humorless, elitist, a stern dietician’s we-know-what’s-better-for-you stance. And at the same time, Organic Leadership has allowed Organics to be overwhelmed by its imitators: NON-GMO Project VERIFIED Seal, ‘natural’, local and sustainable, QUALITIES that were the original bastion of ORGANICS!

So many in the Organic Community and foodies walk around as though the weight of the world is on their shoulders. They’re always victims. At one Organic Conference, I heard three of the most depressing, negative keynotes I’ve EVER heard. How does THAT expand the market????

The Organic Industry brings on the criticism itself by always denigrating, disparaging non-organic and calling non-organic names, and in the same breath, saying Organic is better. THAT’S why the continuous pushback.

There in is Organics’ problem … its perceived righteous, lecturing, arrogance gets in the way of the normal people, the 95%!

But FUN is hard to criticize!

As I wrote way back in 2012: If the Organic Community spent half as much time as it does pissin’, moanin’, whinin’, cyrin’ and complainin’ about what the non-organic boys and girls are doin’, and instead, spent that time on TELLING its OWN STORY and SELLING an up-with-life feeling, Organics would probably be further down the road than its current Market Share.


We could care less what non-organic says or does!

I’ve seen so many negative postings on social media … with skull & cross bones on a non-organic field, horrible listings of pesticide residues on non-organic potatoes. How many SUCCESSFUL Consumer Companies try to scare people into buying their products? NONE except organics!

The ‘Law of Attraction’ states you move towards that which you want, a message more compelling than moving away from that which to avoid.

People just want to be happy, so leave ‘em alone with the ‘causes’ and the ‘movements’ and the politics. Put the SMILE to Organic Good Foods. Let ORGANICS reflect a POSITIVE CHOICE and add some HAPPINESS to a person’s life.

We will position Organic Good Foods as HIP, HEALTHY, TASTY, COOL and RELEVANT! ALWAYS.

Our time, energy and resources will be spent, and FOCUSED, on MAKING Organic Good Food the just-got-to-have, the go-to, the FIRST CHOICE, THE FASHION, hitting the holy grail of COOL. We’ll give it the IT factor.

After all, Organic Good Food is the LIFE of the party and we’ll bring the party to them!

Organic Good Foods ARE the HEALTHY HIGH! And when you start feeling better for more than four hours, call a friend.

We’re going to create the FUSION of FOOD, FUN and FASHION … to SHOW, TELL and SELL what ORGANIC GOOD LIVIN’ looks like, sounds like, tastes and feels.

‘Science’ doesn’t sell. Emotion trumps rational. The heart rules the mind.

As past WA State Director of Public Health, Dr. Maxine Hayes, said after witnessing a LIVE Change Your Food - Change Your Life!™ Show, “What our science needs is an enthusiastic interpreter like Dennis Weaver and Change Your Food - Change Your Life!”

From Science, to the Story, to the Image to the one liner Hooks … that’s a craft, that art form is what the Organic Marketing Association brings to Organic Good Food & Product MESSAGING.

The Organic Industry has tried to ‘educate’. We’re not here to educate, we’re here to sell, sell, sell!

"Humor, good music or a good story is what can most get & hold their attention" - research from

Everyone wants to be over there on the happy side, the Capt’n Morgan® side, the MILLER® Lite side, and not over there with the angry nutritionists, the food police gang and ‘protesters’! The Organic Industry’s rather dour & sour Story has handicapped its own Market Share.

Well, then, let’s have some FUN by putting some FUN in The Organic Good Food STORY! FUN is hard to ignore.

ALLOW Consumers to actually ENJOY their decision, not bothering them with food ‘politics’.

And we’ll show the American Flag. We want to ‘show’ support and encourage MUCH NEEDED expansion of DOMESTIC Organic Farmland.

Our attention will be to ALL Organic Good Foods, not just fresh produce focused, as there is an Organic everything! Life’s to live!

We say, if you make the Organic Good Food & Drink Choice from Carrots to Whisky and everything in between, you’ll live happily ever after.

You’re deluged with e-mail messages from food activists and The Organic Industry demanding that you “Tell Congress to …”, ”Stop Congress from …”, “Sign THIS Petition”, “‘Just LABEL It!’”, “We need your money to …“, “OPPOSE … “, “Join our struggle AGAINST … “, Tell The FDA …”, “Tell the USDA …”, “Call my Senator” and on and on and on, never-ending.

But all you ever get from Kellogg’s®, McDonalds, Coke® and Budweiser® is “The Start of Possible”, “i’m lovin’ it®”, “open happiness™”, “Great Times are Waiting: GRAB SOME BUDS”, “Everything POPS with PRINGLES™” and “LIVE MÁS™”. They never ask you to do anything other than BUY their stuff … and with a smile!

Budweiser® doesn’t show you their hops. They just take you to somewhere they know you just kinda want to be. Organics INSIST on proving up the value of its hops via PowerPoint, but then never ends up taking anyone anywhere.

And remember that ol’ mimetic desire? It’s the sociological theory that humans learn to want what they see. Steve Jobs expressed a similar thought in 1998: “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” You never thought you’d needed an iPhone, did you.

Where’s Organics’ picture of a vibrant young couple cresting a wave in a Ski-Doo® with a bottle of WOLAVER’S® Organic Beer and a bag of LATE JULY® Organic Chips!

Where’s our FUN, SEX and ROCK ‘N’ ROLL?

We’re gonna have a good O time!

And way back in 1944, songwriter Johnny Mercer got it RIGHT in the song Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive!


STAY TUNED for the Inaugural Organic Marketing Association Meeting: We have ORGANIC GOOD FOOD & DRINK, a BAND and A MISSION: DRIVING forward the JOY Organic Good Food brings to LIFE to the 95% of the Consumer Market not currently BUYING, ENJOYING & BENEFITING from DELISH Organic Good Foods & Drinks!

To ASK or LEARN about, or to JOIN: 425.774.8971

O's UP, Baby!

To Your Health!
Dennis L. Weaver

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