OTA continues efforts for organic checkoff

Down but not defeated after the USDA nixed an official organic research and promotion program, the Organic Trade Association is forging ahead with efforts to establish a voluntary checkoff program.

The organization last week pledged not to walk away from an industry-invested program and has formed a steering committee to coordinate and lead the efforts.

“The Organic Trade Association 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,” Laura Batcha, OTA executive director and CEO, said.

There is a critical need to educate consumers about organic, to provide more technical assistance to help more farmers transition to organic and to promote the organic brand, she said.

OTA lost its long battle for an organic checkoff when USDA pulled the plug on the formal process to establish a checkoff in May.

After reviewing nearly 15,000 comments from industry stakeholders, including farmers, USDA terminated its proposed rule for a checkoff citing a “split within the industry in terms of support” for a checkoff.

The No Organic Checkoff Coalition, representing 6,000 organic farmers across the country, led the charge against a checkoff — contending a federal, mandated checkoff was not the right solution for the growing domestic industry.

The coalition found many faults in the OTA proposed checkoff, primarily that it was more likely to promote the needs of large processors over those of family farmers.

Jim Gerritsen, an organic farmer and president of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association — which was an early member of the coalition — told Capital Press on Wednesday OTA represents large-scale corporate processors.

“So that’s who was going to benefit from the checkoff anyway. So they might as well go to them directly,” he said.

“OTA is becoming pretty inconsequential. Their direction has nothing to do with organic agriculture. Their unwillingness to stand up for organic integrity is the real cutting-edge issue here,” he said.

The organization just wants to see an increase in organic sales and doesn’t care how that comes about, he said.

He doubts OTA’s efforts for a voluntary checkoff will get any buy-in from organic farmers.

“I can’t imagine any organic farmers earning their living from organic farming signing up for this. It’s going to be the corporations,” he said.

And with corporations paying for the program, he doesn’t think much of the funding will go to research for organic production, a priority for farmers, he said.

If those corporations wanted to support domestic organic farmers, they could make a pledge to buy U.S.-produced organic crops and not import dubious, so-called organic crops, he said.