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A game-changing year for organic... and challenges ahead

As we end this year and begin another, it’s time to reflect on the huge accomplishments of 2023 while also gearing up for more challenges ahead in 2024. First and foremost, I want to say thank you to all of the trade association's members for your unflagging commitment to organic and your hard work to keep pushing organic forward.  

This year was a game-changer for the U.S. organic sector. Headlining the year were two hard-fought and historic regulatory victories, each of which will strengthen organic standards, solidify consumer trust in organic and help continue its advancement.   

The year kicked off with USDA releasing its long-awaited Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) rule to stop fraud and protect the integrity of organic. It’s the biggest change to organic regulations since the beginning of the National Organic Program, and it was mandated because of the Organic Trade Association and the organic community’s work in the 2018 Farm Bill.   

Then in the fall, the USDA published its long-awaited final Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards (OLPS) regulation, creating clear standards for outdoor access for organic poultry and clarifying animal welfare standards for all organic livestock. Almost 20 years in the making, the final adoption of OLPS is a major win for organic producers, consumers and for all of us who have long advocated for organic to be the comprehensive gold standard.  

Our advocacy efforts not only delivered regulations for the organic sector but also organic specific resources and support.  USDA coupled its strengthening of organic regulations with a significant infusion of funds for organic producers and projects that push the organic needle forward. We saw USDA roll out a $100 million program, the Organic Dairy Marketing Assistance Program (ODMAP) to help struggling organic dairy farmers. OTA’s Organic Feedstuff Trade Relief Task Force was instrumental in making this happen through its tireless advocacy to Congress and USDA. The vital assistance to our dairy producers came on the heels of USDA’s unveiling last year of its $300 million Organic Transition Initiative (OTI), a groundbreaking multi-agency drive to expand organic ag through increased direct support and technical assistance to farmers and critical investments in the supply chain and market development. 

Organic also scored key wins on Capitol Hill. As the debate over the next Farm Bill began, the trade association’s lobbying efforts proved fruitful in getting two important bills introduced in Congress to ensure the continued advancement of organic and to increase targeted market development funds for the organic sector.  When the Farm Bill was extended, we were successful in making sure that a handful of critical but vulnerable organic programs were kept alive in that extension.  

OTA’s 2023 Organic Industry Survey reported organic food sales in 2022 breaking through $60 billion for the first time, totaling $61.7 billion. Total organic sales – including organic non-food products – were a record $67.6 billion. This growth occurred despite the challenging headwinds of inflation tightening consumer wallets and a jump in the number of competing food labels. 

By the numbers 

All of these accomplishments were the result of a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes work by all of you and by your trade association. As we wrap up the year, we want to share with you the numbers:  

  • We had over 300 meetings on Capitol Hill during the year with lawmakers and their staffs. 
  • During Organic Week alone, 118 OTA members participated in 163 meetings on the Hill. 
  • 288 members volunteered their time in 2023 to take part in 42 member community meetings, and more than 200 organic stakeholders took a week out of their busy lives to participate in Organic Week. 
  • We held 43 educational events during the year, including 16 webinars, attracting almost 125 participants each on average.  
  • OTA was featured in over 10,000 media stories, radio interviews and blogs and podcasts, including my appearances on CBS and NBC nightly news shows talking about SOE. Those two shows alone have some 12 million viewers. 

The work ahead  

We have no intention of resting on our laurels in the new year. We will keep pushing organic forward.  

In Congress, we’ll continue to make our presence known. The Farm Bill debate is going to intensify next year, and we will not let the organic voice be drowned out by bigger interest groups. We will be engaged in the process and build upon organic’s successes in recent Farm Bills.   

Organic needs investment in infrastructure, more funding for research and adequate financial support for organic producers.  The growth of organic agriculture in this country still lags that demand, and that imbalance cannot continue. 

Consumers need to know organic to value it. We’ll help consumers understand all the benefits of organic – for our environment, our health, our local economies – and work to keep organic the gold standard for sustainable agriculture and healthy food. 

With your continued support, we know we can be successful in these critical upcoming fights to support and grow our industry. Organic has always been a community, and in 2024 we will turn to our community even more for inspiration, support and insight. 

Together we grow organic. 

Tom Chapman

CEO/Executive Director 

Organic Trade Association