Got Organic?

The organic equivalent of “Got Milk?” may be on the way. Interest in creating an organic research and promotion order (or check-off program), which would generate between $30 and $50 million annually for organic research and promotion, is nothing new. But the Organic Trade Association (OTA) is taking a fresh approach to exploring this mechanism to boost U.S. organic sales.

The approach first takes some old baggage off of the table by explicitly stating that an Organic Research and Promotion Program (ORPP) should support and not burden organic farmers: check-off assessments would not be made at the producer level. Interestingly, at a recent industry Town Hall in Washington, D.C., some producers argued for being assessed to ensure that they would have a seat at the table and a say in decisions on how ORPP funds will be distributed.

Secondly, OTA says that its role is to facilitate the process, not to set the parameters. A series of town hall meetings, webinars, and presentations is under way and aimed at engaging a broad range of stakeholders in a constructive back-and-forth and transparent process.

Feedback is landing in three buckets: governance, programming, and assessment/exemption. Reaction is being processed by a diverse steering committee that includes CCOF. The goal of the committee is to build a consensus ORPP model, responsive to issues that have landed in each of the three buckets. If such consensus is reached, a straw poll will be taken to quantify support.

While moving ahead with the process described above, there is also some political work to be done before organic can even qualify for a marketing and promotion order. First, a technical fix will be needed in the form of an amendment to the federal Generic Research and Promotion Act to allow for participation of a sector, such as organic, that includes multiple commodities. Another fix that is seen as critical to success is the allowance of an exemption for certified organic producers and handlers from conventional check-off programs. This exemption would relieve more farmers and handlers from paying into programs that do not support organic and make it easier for those who qualify to exercise the exemption. These “fixes” will benefit organic producers and handlers even if the decision is not to pursue an ORPP at this time.

$30 to $50 million annually may not seem like a lot to spend on research and promotion, especially in states like California where television advertisement can cost upwards of $3 million a week. But, it takes on a whole new dimension when you consider that the farm bill tally for organic in 2011, which includes the National Organic Program, Organic Production and Marketing Data, Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, and Organic Certification Cost Share Program, was just under $33 million (out of a $300 billion farm bill).

As, they say, the devil will be in the details, but looking at reports from other promotion orders, available on the USDA website, such an order will likely increase organic sales through targeted research and promotion. Participate in OTA’s listening sessions by contacting Amy Bovaird, or comment here and your thoughts will be forwarded to OTA. You can find dates for Town Hall meetings and webinars by visiting the site below.

Learn more:

OTA Organic Research & Promotion Order Page (includes Town Hall and webinar dates)

Organic Research & Promotion Program Overview

Organic Research & Promotion Program Guiding Principles