Organic Research and Promotion Program Advances

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on January 17 announced it is seeking public comments to a proposal for a nationwide research and promotion check-off program organic.

The Organic Trade Association has led the drive for this check-off because the organic industry is at a critical point. This organic check-off will provide research and key tools to encourage more farmers to go organic and help all organic farmers be more successful. It will educate consumers in a positive way about what that organic seal really means. For the benefit of all of us, this proactive program will further the success of organic agriculture for the long term.

Published in the Federal Register, the proposal estimates the organic check-off, referred to as GRO Organic (Generic Research and Promotion Order for Organic), could raise over $30 million a year to spend on research to make farmers successful, technical services to accelerate the adoption of organic practices, and consumer education and promotion of the organic brand.

OTA submitted an application to USDA in May 2015 to consider the program after gathering information over three years throughout the country in town hall meetings, panel discussions, surveys and phone calls. OTA submitted a revised application a year later to reflect alternatives presented to USDA from organic certificate holders. To date, nearly 1,400 organic stakeholders publicly support the GRO Organic check-off, with 75 percent of those organic certificate holders being farmers and ranchers. 

“The time is right for a research and promotion check-off program designed for the organic sector. It’s time for organic stakeholders to invest back in our movement--to fund research to help organic farmers, to create and initiate projects to nurture new organic farmers. An organic check-off will allow us to speak to the American consumer in a strong and unified voice.” said Melissa Hughes, president of OTA’s Board of Directors and Director of Government Affairs for Organic Valley, the nation’s oldest organic dairy cooperative.  

“An organic check-off will provide a stable, reliable source of funding to support research into organic production methods and dissemination of new and existing research information to farmers. Check-off funds can support development of support systems necessary to enable expansion and success of organic farmers,” said Doug Crabtree, an organic farmer from Montana. 

What’s next in the process? USDA established a 60-day public comment period for interested parties to weigh in on the proposal. The initial comment period ends March 20. The final step will be an in industry referendum. //