The Organic Trade Association 2016 year in review

The Organic Trade Association unites and serves more than 8,500 organic farmers, handlers, ranchers, processors, distributors, and retailers across the organic supply chain. In fact, 2016 saw the biggest growth in OTA membership in over five years. If you’re one of the many members who already relies on OTA for its government relations, media outreach, and market insights work, thank you for your support. If not, take a look at a few of the many highlights of OTA’s work on behalf of the sector, and join us in our work to chart organic’s future.


Ag Outlook Forum includes organic

USDA’s annual Agricultural Outlook Forum offered its first session on the outlook for organic agriculture. The 2016 Outlook Forum in February, billed as “Transforming Agriculture: Blending Technology and Tradition,” included an afternoon organic outlook session, moderated by the Organic Trade Association’s (OTA’s) Executive Director/CEO Laura Batcha, exploring opportunities and challenges in this rapidly growing sector.

Organic Confluences Summit

The first Organic Confluences Summit, organized by The Organic Center, was a one-day event in May held in conjunction with OTA’s Organic Week in D.C. The conference brought together organic stakeholders with scientific experts and policymakers to turn environmental benefits research into actionable policy.

Inaugural Organic Produce Summit

OTA provided a series of break-out panel discussions for the inaugural Organic Produce Summit held in July in Monterrey. OTA’s Laura Batcha kicked off a series of Ted Talk-style keynote presentations with a State of the Organic Produce Industry presentation. The educational program explored issues critical to the $14 billion organic fruits & vegetables category, from supply, consumer trends and forecasting, to merchandising and evolving e-commerce opportunities.

Celebrating banner year, leaders

Celebrating its strongest growth in membership in five years, OTA drew hundreds of members to its annual Organic Leadership Awards dinner to pay tribute to inspiring organic visionaries who have made extraordinary contributions to advancing the organic sector. Honored were the farmers of the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative with the Organic Farmer of the Year Award, Mike Fata of Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods with the Rising Star Award, and David Vetter of Grain Place Foods with the Growing the Organic Industry Award. In addition, the meal at the sold-out dinner was verified organic by CCOF.

Making organic real for journalists

In July, OTA presented a hands-on session on organic to 20 top journalists from around the county. This session—including a walking tour of a certified organic grain operation, a mock inspection of the farm, and other informative features—helped kick off the National Press Foundation’s second annual educational program for reporters on food and agriculture. OTA’s program gave the reporters an up-close view of organic farming, insights into the organic market, and the latest findings on how organic contributes to soil health and water quality. 


Certification cost share

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in December announced that starting March 20, 2017, organic producers and handlers will be able to apply for federal reimbursement to assist with costs of organic and transitioning certification. In this action, USDA is expanding the reach of the national cost share program to include transitional certification fees and State Organic Program fees. For over a year, OTA worked directly with California Certified Organic Farmers, producers seeking transitional certification, and Californian organic operations who must pay additional fees to the California Department of Food and Agriculture to operate their businesses in the state to make the case for this expansion. USDA will leverage its Farm Service Agency network to make this program more available to organic producers and handlers while continuing to allow State Departments of Agriculture to administer cost share.

Sugar release granted

Demand for organic sugar continues to increase. However, there is very limited domestic supply of this key ingredient. The import of all sugar types into the U.S. is regulated by a tariff rate quota system (TRQ). The TRQ sets the amount of sugar that can enter the country without additional tariffs. Organic sugar is considered a specialty sugar and has its own limit. This limit has consistently been below the needs of our growing industry. As a result, OTA in March 2016 submitted an urgent request for emergency release of a minimum of 20,000 MT to increase the amount of sugar available for import without additional tariffs. OTA’s request was successful. USDA approved the ask and the U.S. organic industry had access to an additional 20,000 MT in May, raising the total to 152,000 MT for fiscal year 2016.  

Non-GMO labeling for meat, poultry

In conjunction with its 2016 Policy Conference, the Organic Trade Association coordinated a specific meeting with USDA to ask for a policy change allowing organic companies to make label claims that organic meat and poultry are produced from livestock or poultry not fed genetically engineered feed. Later in the year, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service issued guidance for such a policy change. This followed the signing of the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard—the new GMO labeling law addressing negative claims and allowing the terms GMO in negative claims provided the label or labeling is truthful and not misleading.

Looking Ahead

Survey to shape next Farm Bill

The Organic Trade Association encouraged producers and handlers to participate in its Farm Bill Survey to provide feedback for the upcoming 2018 Farm Bill. Over 500 organic producers and handlers weighed in on production, marketing, funding, regulatory, research, and extension needs. OTA is using this information to help shape its policy priorities for the next Farm Bill.

Use of soil amendments

To ensure that the unique production systems on organic farms are incorporated into FDA’s risk assessment concerning soil amendments such as manure, The Organic Center, Organic Trade Association, and the University of California-Davis applied for and received a planning grant from USDA’s Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI). Part of this grant included a national farmer-focused survey for organic producers to characterize the use of untreated manure and other soil amendments of animal origin. The results will help shape the design of upcoming studies on organic farms to assess the risks untreated manure pose to food safety and help FDA in its decision-making.

Claims on non-food products

Believing that not enforcing organic claims for all products could risk diluting the integrity of and trust in the USDA Organic seal, OTA continued its engagement on this issue during 2016 by forming a task force to analyze information collected by the Federal Trade Commission on consumers’ expectation of organic claims on non-food products. OTA also commissioned its own study to gauge shoppers’ beliefs and expectations over organic claims. OTA then shared its findings at a roundtable in October held jointly by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and USDA. OTA also submitted written comments to FTC on the issue. 

Stepping forward

Proposed organic check-off

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service in May officially posted the Organic Trade Association’s updated proposal for an organic research and promotion program. This latest document reflected stakeholder feedback that came from continued outreach by OTA and the ideas from responses to the original proposal, as well as technical edits from USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. The proposed check-off has achieved almost 1,400 public supporters, of which over 70 percent are organic producers. Note: See USDA’s 2017 announcement of the proposed organic check-off in a special 

Animal welfare

The National Organic Program (NOP) published its proposed rule on organic livestock and poultry practices in April after 14 years of public and transparent rulemaking process. The proposed rule creates standards for organic products that consumers demand and that are necessary for organic to maintain its premium position in the marketplace. However, there was an effort in the U.S. Senate appropriations process to prevent NOP from finalizing this rule. OTA mobilized its membership in coalition with other interested organizations to make phone calls to their Senators urging them to reject any attempts to impede NOP’s rulemaking, engaged in social media outreach, and held a targeted fly-in. This action helped deflect a possible amendment in 2016 that could have adversely affected the process. Note: See news of USDA’s final rule published in the Federal Register in January 2017, Page 21.

Transitional certification

The Organic Trade Association pushed for an industry-led, government-administered certification program for organic farmers who are transitioning to organic production. OTA’s Transitional Certification Task Force helped develop transitional standards and accredited certifying agency accreditation quality manual templates for OTA Board approval. OTA then submitted the final standard and quality manual to USDA in May for a USDA Certified Transitional Program. Note: See page 21 for the announcement by USDA and OTA of a new partnership to help guide farmers transitioning into certified organic agricultural production.


Organic creates economic hotspots

At its May Policy Conference, the Organic Trade Association released conclusive research that for the first time links economic health at the county level to organic agriculture and shows that organic food and crop production—and the business activities accompanying organic agriculture—create real and long-lasting regional economic opportunities. The White Paper, “U.S. Organic Hotspots and their Benefit to Local Economies’ prepared for OTA by Penn State Agricultural Economist Dr. Edward Jaenicke, found that organic hotspots—counties with high levels of organic agricultural activity whose neighboring counties also have high organic activity—boost median household incomes by an average of $2,000 and reduce poverty levels by an average of 1.3 percentage points.

U.S. organic sales post new record

According to OTA’s 2016 Organic Industry Survey, the booming U.S. organic industry posted new records in 2015, with total organic product sales hitting a new benchmark of $43.3 billion, up a robust 11 percent from the previous year’s record level and far outstripping the overall food market’s growth rate of 3 percent. The industry saw its largest annual dollar gain ever in 2015, adding $4.2 billion in sales, up from the $3.9 billion in new sales recorded in 2014. Organic produce and dairy sales—representing a “healthy” plate—were the leading categories.

Millennials and Organic

Parents in the 18- to 34-year-old age range are now the biggest group of organic buyers in America, according to OTA’s 2016 U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes & Beliefs Tracking Study. Among U.S. parents, more than five in 10 (52 percent) organic buyers are Millennials. And this influential and progressive generation is stocking their shopping carts with organic on a regular basis. The study found that more than eight in ten (82 percent) U.S. families say they buy organic sometimes, one of the highest levels in the survey’s seven-year lifetime.

OTA unveiled a new and enhanced International Organic Trade Resource Guide,  providing the most comprehensive and up-to-date market, policy and trade information on global organic markets available for American organic exporters and importers. The guide, funded by USDA’s Market Access Program and Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops Program, features in-depth information for 40 countries and 38 trade regions along with key marketing and policy data on each specific region. It provides organic businesses participating in the international market—and those businesses just beginning to explore opportunities outside the U.S.—with the latest data on a country’s organic regulations and standards, special requirements for imported organic products, certification information, contact connections for government agencies, and more.  //