The Organic Trade Association wants to hear stakeholders’ ideas to help ‘GRO’ the organic industry

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

The Organic Trade Association wants to hear stakeholders’ ideas to help ‘GRO’ the organic industry

Related tags: Organic trade association

Months after the USDA unexpectedly and unceremoniously pulled the plug on plans to implement a federally mandated organic check-off program, the Organic Trade Association is soliciting ideas to help the industry ‘GRO’ through a voluntary, industry-vested research, promotion and education ‘check-off like’ program.

On Monday, OTA put out a call for industry members “to send in their biggest and brightest ideas on how best to collaboratively design and implement”​ the initiative, which the trade group has named “GRO Organic”​ after the cancelled check-off​. The acronym is short for “Generate Results and Opportunities for Organic.”

Stakeholders have through April 30 to submit their ‘big ideas’ on how to “address the organic sector’s most pressing needs,”​ including, “bringing new farmers into organic production and making sure existing farmers can stay in organic, increasing organic research and educating the public about the benefits of organic,”​ OTA said in the Nov. 5 announcement​.

It explains in the announcement, that the “goal of the program is to stand up a collaborative framework that engages the full organic supply chain in promoting the organic brand and organic production practices and advances essential research to solve problems facing organic farmers, processors, handlers and businesses.”

It adds, “the need is widely agreed upon – how we solve for it is what we must now work together to determine.”

With that in mind, the agency also seeks feedback and ideas around participation, funding, decision making, programing and general issues related to the initiative.

A two-prong approach

The call for ideas is the next step in OTA’s larger two-track effort to develop a voluntary industry-led approach to fund research for and raise consumer awareness of the organic segment.

The other track includes testing four ‘proto-type’ projects that could help shape future actions should the voluntary initiative go forward. OTA says each of these pilot programs fit under the GRO Organic initiative as it is currently laid out.

The first is a partnership with Organic Voices to support the group’s “It’s Not Complicated”​ promotional campaign, which seeks to raise $1 million in each of the next two years to reduce confusion about organic.

The second pilot seeks to build on this by conducting in-depth consumer research on how best to reinforce the benefits and far-reach of the organic brand. NMI will help develop strategic insights and business toolkits to support the organic market and answer questions such as how consumers make sense of competing claims and current politics, according to OTA. It estimates this will cost $325,000 in the first year.

The third pilot is more technical – focusing on research around soil health, climate change and the potential benefits to both that organic can offer. In partnership with the Organic Center, OTA plans to advance current research with universities such as Harvard and UC Riverside. It estimates this will cost $100,000 in the first year.

The fourth pilot also will cost an estimated $100,000 to work with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to fund two more organic extension agents, according to OTA.

So far, OTA says it has raised $750,000 towards its combined year one goal of $1.5 million. It adds that while the “momentum is growing,”​ it needs contributions for the “collective effort.”

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