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Organic Trade Association Decides To Move Ahead With Voluntary Organic Checkoff

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) recently announced plans to move forward with a voluntary organic research, promotion and education checkoff program that will be designed and implemented by stakeholders across the organic supply chain.

The OTA, in collaboration with the GRO Organic Core Committee, had formally petitioned the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in May of 2015 to begin steps to conduct a vote on and implement a research, promotion and information checkoff program for the organic industry.

USDA, in January 2017, published a proposed rule to establish an industry-funded promotion, reearch and information program for certified organic products. The program would have been financed by an assessment on domestic producers, handlers and importers of organic products and would have been administered by a board of industry members nominated by organic stakeholders and appointed by the US agriculture secretary.

The agency received almost 15,000 comments on the proposed rule. Comments revealed that there is a split within the industry in terms of support for the proposed program, USDA said. While some comments voiced support for a collective industry program, other comments stated that industry was not aligned in backing the proposal.

USDA announced in May of this year that it was terminating the rulemaking proceeding that would have established an organic checkoff program.

The OTA “recognizes great demand for coordinated organic research and promotion, and the organic sector is ready to work together on innovative solutions that will have key benefits for organic,” said Laura Batcha, OTA’s CEO and executive director.

“There is a critical need to educate consumers about organic, for more technical assistance to help more farmers transition to organic, and to loudly promote the organic brand,” Batcha continued. “Responding to that need, we are launching a two-track effort to develop a voluntary governance approach and to also advance initiatives that will deliver immediate big wins for the organic sector.”

The OTA has formed a steering committee to coordinate and lead the effort to establish a voluntary organic checkoff program. The steering committee has established two subcommittees to guide the process: a governance subcommittee and an immediate programming subcommittee.

To gain the best thinking from stakeholders about some of the critical questions that need to be addressed regarding how to maximize participation in a voluntary program and how to make the best decisions on investments, the governance subcommittee will be opening up a comment period later this year for interested parties to provide detailed comments in writing to address these questions.

Members of the governance subcommittee are the OTA’s Batcha; Melissa Hughes, Organic Valley; Gary Hirshberg, Stonyfield Organic; Perry Clutts, Pleasant View organic dairy farm, OH; Kim Dietz, The J.M. Smucker Company; Marty Mesh, Florida Organic Growers; Melody Meyer, Source Organic; and Grant Lundberg, Lundberg Family Farms.

The immediate programming subcommittee will identify programs to advance organic, and coordinate and fund those programs immediately. These prototype programs will invest in critical needs and serve as proven projects for investment when a formal voluntary program rolls out.

Collaborative programs are already being developed and funded. The OTA is joining forces with Organic Voices and that group’s “It’s Not Complicated” campaign to fund a nationwide message drive

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