OTA Moving Ahead with Check-Off Program to Support Organic Farmers

Washington, D.C. — The Organic Trade Association (OTA) announced plans to push for a voluntary, organic check-off program, which it says will help promote, educate and research the organic sector.

This statement comes after a decision in May by the United States Department of Agriculture to terminate a proposed rule that would have established a check-off program.

“In today’s political environment, organic companies and stakeholders are increasingly seeking private sector solutions, and the trade association is taking the lead in supporting these efforts,” said Laura Batcha, OTA 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,” she 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 association submitted an application to the USDA in May 2015 to consider implementing an organic check-off program, according to a press release. The USDA officially proposed a nationwide organic check-off program in January 2017, opening the process for public comments.

In May, it decided to cut the proposed program, citing a lack of consensus.

“USDA based the termination on lack of consensus within the industry in support for the proposed program and divergent views on how to resolve issues in implementing the proposed program,” the organization said. “Termination of the rulemaking process removes communication restrictions and allows USDA to engage fully with all interested parties to discuss and consider the future needs of the industry.”

Some of the other concerns expressed by USDA include how organic promotion would affect other agricultural commodities, the voting methodology that would be used, the financial burden on small entities and the challenges of tracing imported organic products.

The trade association said that more than 12,000 comments were made in support of its program.

Moving forward, the association has set up a steering committee to coordinate its latest effort of establishing a voluntary check-off program. One if its first steps will be opening up a comment period this fall for interested stakeholders.

Some other collaborative initiatives are also being started.

The association announced it will be partnering with Organic Voices and the group’s “It’s Not Complicated” campaign to fund a nationwide message drive to reduce the confusion about organics, according to a press release. The goal for the campaign is to raise a minimum of $1 million for each of the next two years.

“The organic community is committed to enabling a sound, resilient and sustainable future, and we look forward to everyone’s participation and influence,” said Batcha.  “We want to make sure — through our collective efforts — that organic flourishes and grows for many years to come.”