According to USDA, over 30,000 employees have completed organic “101” literacy education to help them better understand and serve organic operators. 23,000 people have taken the "201" course.
USDA is committed to helping organic agriculture grow and thrive. To help meet Secretary Vilsack’s goal to increase the number of certified organic operations by 25% by 2016, USDA is delivering results through a variety of programs that help the growing organic sector.
At OTA’s 2013 Policy Conference, Secretary Vilsack issued his Guidance on Organic Agriculture, Marketing and Industry, directing all USDA agencies to support organic agriculture and markets. In addition, USDA issued an Organic Resource Guide, outlining each of the programs and services USDA offers that either directly or indirectly support organic agriculture.
"Organic is not the 'same as.' It is its own separate commodity and needs to be treated as such. I'm committed to that."
--USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack
The landmark guidance document points out that through the National Organic Program, USDA has helped farmers and other operations create an industry now encompassing over 17,000 organic businesses in the United States and achieving $35 billion in U.S. retail sales. In fact, organic ranks fourth in U.S. food and feed crop production at farm-gate values when viewed as a distinct category.
Organic standards already include requirements relevant to conservation programs, food safety, risk management, and export certifications. As a result of overlapping requirements, organic operations have faced redundant paperwork and fee burdens that would be streamlined or eliminated through cross-agency recognition protocols. Acknowledging this, the guidance document outlines that all USDA agencies consider a valid USDA-NOP organic certificate and Organic Systems Plan as the mechanism for third-party documentation for eligibility and proof of compliance for various agency programs.
The guidance also addresses data collection and research priorities to position organic food and farming for continued success. “Organic production models may provide alternative solutions to current agricultural challenges, and it is the agency’s responsibility to develop diversity in research and alternatives for all producers,” the guidance points out.
Importantly, the guidance also establishes that agency administrators review their goals and report on actions taken towards achieving the USDA strategic goals related to organic agriculture.