Organic peppers
 The Organic Trade Association is seeking to implement a research and promotion check-off program for the organics industry

A national check-off program for organics could raise more than $30 million a year to advance the industry, according to the Organic Trade Association. The National Farmers Union, however, has concerns over how the money will be spent.

The OTA, in collaboration with the GRO Organic Core Committee, on May 12 petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to begin steps to conduct a vote on and implement a research and promotion check-off program for the organics industry. The program would feature mandatory fees, which is similar to a program already in place in the meat industry and known for the slogan “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner.”

“The organic industry in America is thriving and maturing, but it is at a critical juncture,” says Laura Batcha, chief executive officer and executive director of the Washington-based OTA. “Many consumers remain unaware of what that organic seal really means. Organic production in this country is not keeping pace with the robust demand. An organic check-off program would give organic stakeholders the opportunity to collectively invest in research, build domestic supply and communicate the value of the organic brand to advance the entire industry to a new level.”

The program would educate consumers about the USDA’s organic seal and how it distinguishes organic claims from other claims such as “natural,” confirm the science behind organic benefits, fund research to solve problems such as pests and weeds, and bring new farmers into organic production through information and technical assistance.

The GRO (Generic Research and Promotion Order for Organics) program proposes an assessment rate of one-tenth of 1 percent of net organic sales. Organic handlers would be required to pay this rate. Organic producers would have the option of paying one-tenth of 1 percent of either net organic sales or producer net profit.

Organic producers, handlers and importers with gross organic revenue below $250,000 per year would not be required to pay into the check-off program. If they did so voluntarily, they would be eligible to vote in program referendums.

A referendum would be required every seven years to decide whether or not to continue the program. Every certificate holder subject to the assessment would have a direct vote. A check-off board would be made up of 50 percent producers and 50 percent handlers.

Seeking proposals

The USDA is inviting proposals or partial proposals from the public on a new industry-funded promotion, research and information order for organic products. The USDA now will accept other proposals or partial proposals until June 19. Then the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service will consider the submitted proposals before publishing a proposed organic promotion, research and information order, which would create an industry-funded research and promotion program for organic products under the Commodity Promotion, Research, and Information Act of 1996.

“AMS staff believes that it is in the best interests of the organic community to solicit a wide range of views before proceeding with the publication of this proposal,” the USDA said May 18. “Consequently, interested parties are invited to submit alternative proposals or partial proposals to assist with the development of an organic promotion, research and information program.”

Proposals may be submitted to Organic Promotion, Research, and Information Order; Room 3071-S, STOP 0201; Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA; 1400 Independence Ave., S.W.; Washington DC 20250-0201. Call (202) 720-5115 for more information.

The 2014 farm bill provided the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to issue an organic commodity promotion order.