Organic Group Turns Checkoff Failure Into Opportunity

The Organic Trade Association, which had tried and failed to get the federal government to back a checkoff program for organic foods, will instead launch a voluntary program of its own—with member assistance, of course.

The organic food industry may have found a new motto when it comes to federally supported checkoff programs: If you can’t join ’em, start your own.

That appears to be the lesson the Organic Trade Association took after a proposal to create a government-backed checkoff program went off the rails at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In May, USDA concluded there wasn’t consensus in the industry on the proposal, which was broadly supported among smaller companies but struggled to win the backing of larger growers, according to AgWeb. The decision was a disappointment for OTA, which had advocated for the program.

The association began looking for alternatives and ultimately decided to run a voluntary checkoff program of its own that would support industry research, promotion, and education.

“In today’s political environment, organic companies and stakeholders are increasingly seeking private-sector solutions, and the trade association is taking the lead in supporting these efforts,” OTA CEO and Executive Director Laura Batcha said in a news release. “There is a critical need to educate consumers about organic, for more technical assistance to help more farmers transition to organic, and to loudly promote the organic brand. Responding to that need, we are launching a two-track effort to develop a voluntary governance approach and to also advance initiatives that will deliver immediate big wins for the organic sector.”

OTA has launched a steering committee to shape the program, which it hopes to launch with a minimum of $1 million in funding for each of the first two years. The committee and related volunteer groups, along with outside partners, will collaborate on developing messaging for the program, identifying consumer and academic research opportunities, and building a larger network of organic extension agents around the country.

OTA says it will open a comment period  to allow industry stakeholders to provide input on what they would like to see from the program to encourage participation and support good decision-making.

The goal of all this work? An industry that looks out for itself. “We want to make sure—through our collective efforts—that organic flourishes and grows for many years to come,” Batcha said.

(JennaWagner/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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