2013 23.4 WSDA Organic Program Update: Overview of Organic Research and Promotion Program

There’s a conversation taking place right now in the organic sector about a way to better secure the future of organic agriculture. The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is facilitating the conversation to determine if there is a fair and equitable way to pool funds for the purpose of establishing a federal organic research and promotion program. This would be an industry funded generic research and marketing program designed to increase demand for the industry’s agricultural commodities, thereby increasing the potential long-term economic growth of all sectors of that industry.

How could a research and promotion program help the organic industry?

In order to distinguish organic in the market place, grow demand, and help the consumer understand all that organic delivers, collective resources and coordination beyond those currently available to the sector are required. An organic-specific research and promotion program could help promote organic as a choice for consumers. Increased demand for organic products supports U.S. organic agriculture and rural communities. It’s also important to note that right now, many organic operators are required to pay into conventional marketing orders without any benefit to organic. Creating an organic marketing order would give organic operators the choice of paying into an ORGANIC program.

Get Involved in the Conversation

OTA is seeking input from all certified organic operations to evaluate whether a viable option for an organic research and promotion order can be identified as meeting broad stakeholder needs. Now is the time to get involved and learn more. This is a stakeholder process and the creation of a research and promotion program will be determined only through a formal voting process.

To date, OT A has hosted six webinars and 20 town hall meetings over the past 18 months, with 540 individuals
participating in locations across the country including VT, DC, FL , OH, WI, CA, OR , MT, WA, MN, RI and NM. The format of the town halls elicited feedback in the areas of: programs and utilization of funds, governance, assessments and exemptions, and whether a USDA-administered program with mandatory participation was the right vehicle for equitably pooling funds for research and promotion. Notes from the town hall meetings and audio recordings where available are posted on OT A’s website at http://www.ota.com/ORPP/town-hall-meeting-notes.html

Who decides?

The process of exploring a research and promotion order is still in its early stages. As the options for a framework are evaluated, if a consensus framework emerges, an informal poll of industry support will be conducted prior to submitting an application to USDA for the establishment of a USDA Certified Organic Research and Promotion Board. If based on support an application is submitted to USDA, the process would then involve a formal public comment period followed by an industry vote (referendum) with 2/3 support required to establish an order. USDA indicates the process takes up to two years to complete.

What legislative changes are needed?

Readers may have heard about the legislative work in which OTA is involved. There are two “technical fixes” that need to happen in order to remove the current obstacles to establishing a research and promotion program. These include adjusting the narrow exemption for certified organic producers and handlers from conventional check-off programs, and a technical fix to the Generic Research and Promotion Act to allow a multi commodity sector like certified organic to participate if it so chooses. The technical fixes would do three things:

  1. Remedy the 2008 Farm Bill exemption for organic producers and handlers to bring federal laws into better alignment with USDA NOP practice. The change will relieve organic producers and handlers from the burden of paying into conventional orders that do not have a history of working on their behalf.
  2. Grant the USDA the authority to consider an application for a promotion order by the organic sector – if it were to decide to do so – by defining organic as a commodity for purposes of research and promotion orders. While USDA supports regulation and labeling oversight, the USDA Organic seal is a common brand shared by over 17,000 organic operations in 50 states without dedicated marketing, research, and development funding.
  3. Provide organic producers and handlers a choice. Should an organic promotion order be approved by USDA in the future, organic operations would be able to select the promotion order that provides the most benefit for them – the relevant conventional order or the organic order.

IMPORTANT!! The technical fixes do not establish an organic order. It only allows the organic industry the same choice that other sectors of agriculture already have to petition USDA. The process includes public comment and referendum and a super majority is required to establish an Organic Research and Promotion Order (2/3 vote).

OTA’s role is to facilitate this process – not to set the parameters. OTA is committed to broad stakeholder engagement and encourages everyone across the organic sector to weigh in on the discussion. A dedicated site has been created where you can go to learn more about the process and add your voice to the mix at http://www.unitedformoreorganic.com/about-the-program/.

Tags: Organic, Organic Trade Association, OTA, Promotion, Research, USDA