Three months after the U.S. Department of Agriculture pulled the plug on a plan to establish a national organic promotion and research program funded by grower assessments, the Organic Trade Association is resurrecting the plan.
While many of the goals remain the same, the USDA is no longer involved and the association wants to create a voluntary payment program.
“The Organic Trade Association recognizes great demand for coordinated organic research and promotion, and the organic sector is ready to work together on innovative solutions that will have key benefits for organic,” Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director for the Organic Trade Association, said in the release.
In an e-mail to The Packer, Batcha said the voluntary program will operate outside of the oversight of the USDA. The USDA expressly forbids disparaging other commodities by the agency’s promotion boards, and Batcha said the voluntary program also will focus on the positive attributes of organic products, not negative messages about non-organic food.
The guidelines for the program are being developed but, generally speaking, positive communications resonate with the public, she said.
“We are just beginning the process to build the framework and develop the goals for this voluntary check-off, but it will address the needs to promote the organic brand, educate consumers about organic, and provide the assistance — research, technical and more — necessary to help more farmers transition to organic,” Batcha said.
“We will be seeking the written comments from stakeholders to get their input.”
She said the OTA is developing a voluntary governance approach and advancing initiatives that will deliver immediate “big wins” for the organic sector.
The association has formed a steering committee, charged with addressing governance questions around a voluntary program to maximize good participation and decision making.
Subcommittees on governance and “immediate programming” are guiding that process.
“The GRO governance committee will be reaching out to all stakeholders this fall to allow for substantive input into the best way to structure a voluntary program,” Batcha said.
The GRO initiative is $825,000 towards a $1.5 million goal in year one to support immediate programming needs, she said.
That includes a goal of $1 million for each of the next two years for the Organic Voices’ “It’s Not Complicated” campaign, designed to reduce consumer confusion about organic.
GRO stands for Generate Results and Opportunity for Organic.
“Everyone in our organic industry has a stake in eliminating consumer confusion, growing the market, and building the organic brand, so we’ll work collectively to ensure the future of organic,” Batcha said.
The national organic promotion and research program was also known as GRO Organic (Generic Research Promotion Order for Organics).
“The name has been changed to reflect the new initiative that will be propelled by organic stakeholders; and it acknowledges that coordinated investment in the future of organic will happen outside the vehicles provided by USDA at least for the foreseeable future,” Batcha said in the e-mail.
The association is looking for input on how to maximize participation in a voluntary program and how to make the best decisions on investments. The comment period is expected to open this fall, according to the release.