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Organic Check-off

Nearly 1400 organic stakeholders publicly support the GRO Organic Check-Off
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OTA has formally petitioned USDA for an organic check-off.
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GRO Organic is different than other check-offs
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Show your support for an organic check-off
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"The organic check-off is an enormous opportunity that the Farm Bill has created, and the industry should take advantage of it. However you want to structure it, however you want to do it, you should take advantage of it because it can literally put resources behind research and industry and do it in a very collaborative and participatory way."
—Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture
at OTA's 2014 Policy Conference

Alert

The Organic Check-off open comment period closed on April 19. Thank you to the thousands of organic stakeholders that submitted a comment in support of the program. 

 

From January - April 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sought public comments on the GRO Organic Check-off proposal. The period for submitting public comments in response to the proposal for an organic research and promotion check-off program is over. The Organic Trade Association submitted comments with 1,358 public endorsers named, including over 1,230 certified organic operators. These organic farmers, ranchers and business stakeholders were joined by over 11,000 supporters who commented directly on the proposal.  The complete text of the proposal is available for review on the Federal Register, or you can find a summary of the program and an excerpt of the proposed regulation here.

Now it is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s duty to cull through the thousands of comments received, and to determine which ones are  substantive and which ones reflect input from organic stakeholders. The next step will be the publication of USDA’s final proposal, followed by a vote on the proposed program by the organic sector. It’s time for organic stakeholders to cast their vote, and to decide for themselves if they want to implement an organic check-off. We urge USDA to advance the process.

Please contact OTA (info@ota.com or 202.403.8520) with questions, or if you are interested in speaking with a member of the GRO Organic Core Committee. 

Get The Facts  PROGRAM SUMMARY + EXCERPT View USDA's Proposed Rule  View the Organic Check-off Referendum Procedure 


MORE:  The organic industry  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 officially submitted an application to USDA in May 2015 on behalf of the organic industry to consider implementing 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.

Early in its process, OTA conducted multiple surveys of ALL organic certificate holders across the nation—some 17,500 stakeholders at that time—to gauge the interest in an organic check-off. In the various surveys, OTA got a response of around 5,000 certificate holders, which showed that twice as many certified operators supported the establishment of an organic check-off program as opposed. 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.

The  proposed organic check-off would be progressive and reform-based:

  • The Check-off Board would be made up of 50 percent producers and 50 percent handlers.
  • Producers will select their regional representatives through direct balloting.
  • Every single certificate holder subject to an assessment will have a direct vote–there is no bloc voting.
  • Assessments would be made throughout the value chain: producers, handlers, processors, retailers. 
  • Farmers and handlers with gross organic revenue below $250,000 will choose whether or not to pay into the program.
  • At least 50 to 75 percent of the funds would be earmarked specifically for research, or for activities that work hand-in-hand with research, like technical assistance and widespread dissemination of research findings.
  • Twenty-five percent of the assessment from producers would be required to be used for local and regional research. A Board sub-committee of regional seat holders would recommend how those funds would be used.
  • All of the research, inventions and innovations resulting from organic check-off programing would remain in the public domain.
  • A referendum is required every seven years to decide  whether or not to continue the program.

Now is the time, say organic stakeholders

Sales of organic food and non-food products in the U.S. are soaring, and the popularity of organic products has never been higher. Total organic product sales in this country hit a new benchmark of $43.3 billion in 2015, 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, according OTA’s 2016 Organic Industry Survey. But tight domestic organic supplies, inadequate funding for organic research, and consumer confusion about organic are major challenges for the sector. Organic stakeholders say the organic community needs to come together to invest back into its future.

“Organic is done being an awkward teenager. Its place at the table is now, and it deserves our efforts to preserve and advance the hard work of the last half-century,” said Todd Linsky, a veteran in the organic produce industry and now head of Todd Linsky Consulting. “I can think of no reason not to support the Organic Check-off–-it just makes common sense for all of our common goals.”

“We know first-hand how confused consumers are about organic in the broad sense. Is natural better, is GMO-free as good as organic? To have a program from a high level that educates on the benefits of organic is critical,” said Jesse Laflamme, co-owner of Pete & Gerry’s Organic Eggs based in Monroe, New Hampshire.

“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, organic farmer from Montana.

“We as organic brands need to consistently work together to educate consumers in clear and concise ways,” said Shazi Visram, founder and CEO of Happy Family, maker of organic baby and toddler foods. “Strength in numbers and of a broad group of people with the same goals are an exciting prospect. A check-off process will allow for expansion of the organic sector in a logical, impactful way.”

What's next in the process

USDA established a 60-day public comment period for interested parties to now weigh in on the proposal. Comments on the proposal are due March 20. The final step will be a referendum on the proposed check-off, with all certified organic stakeholders paying into the program eligible to vote. Approval by a majority of the organic stakeholders voting is required for implementation.

More information on the check-off is provided on the GROorganic.net site. 


Contact
Tessa Young
Vice President, Communications
(202) 403-8642
Director of Media Relations
(202) 403-8514

 

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