“Organic food companies and retail stores face shortages of organic ingredients and products every year because domestic organic production just can’t keep up with the robust demand for organic. It’s not good when your store’s organic egg shelves are empty, or you have to put a ‘temporarily out of supplies’ sign on the door of the organic milk case. We need more organic farmers in America.”
Sarah Bird, Bhakti Chai
An Organic Check-off program would generate money for organic to successfully implement, develop, and manage programs needed to grow market share. Program categories include promotion, research, education, and increase supply. Well-funded, properly planned, and carefully monitored programs would help educate consumers about organic, distinguish organic from lesser claims, confirm the science behind the environmental and public health benefits of organic, undertake research to solve problems such as invasive pests and weed control, and bring new farmers into organic production through information and technical assistance.
One-third of organic consumers are new to the market—having purchased organic for less than two years. By educating consumers regarding the benefits behind certified organic claims and the difference between unregulated natural, sustainable, and eco-claims we give consumers information that will lead to an increase in their purchases of organic.
Research indicates a high level of confusion among consumers regarding verifiable organic claims and ‘natural’ and other eco-claims in the marketplace. Most consumers wrongly attribute organic benefits to unregulated natural products, with a recent study showing only one in ten consumers understands the difference between natural and organic. An Organic Check-Off will give consumers the information they need to understand the benefits of organic.
An Organic Check-Off program could help tackle unmet research needs, such as alternatives for weed control and agricultural inputs, translating into everyday solutions for organic farmers. In addition to agronomic and husbandry research focused on farmer needs, diverse research activities like nutritional value studies, confirming the environmental and human health benefits of organic food and farming, and compiling market data would be possible.
Twenty-five percent of producer assessments will be earmarked for local and regional research. A sub-committee of regional seat holders on the Check-Off Governance Board would recommend how those funds should be allocated based on need.
Organic is still less than one percent of U.S. farmland. Closing the gap between demand for organic products and U.S. organic production is critical. We need to support existing farmers and encourage others to transition. We must provide technical assistance and research to support organic producers.
Frequently Asked Questions
All organic certificate holders throughout the supply chain would pay a small fee to participate in the check-off– producers, handlers, processors, distributors, etc.
Organic producers and handlers would pay one-tenth of 1 percent of net organic sales. The assessment is based on total gross sales minus the cost of certified organic goods. For producers, this would be items such as organic feed, seed and planting stock; for processors, this is the cost of certified organic ingredients.
Producers and handlers with revenue under $250,000 could choose to be assessed. If they chose to participate, they’d be assessed at the same 1/10 of 1 percent rate and would have full voting rights. If they choose not to participate in the check-off, they will be exempt from any assessments.
You can choose which federal check-off you want to pay into if you’re participating in another federal check-off program.
It’s estimated that the check-off could raise over $30 million a year to advance organic.
At least 25 percent of producer assessments would be earmarked specifically for local and regional research, with producer members of the board deciding how to allocate the funds.
A 17-member industry board, appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, would make the decisions on how the funds would be allocated and which programs would be implemented. USDA would sign off on all the plans approved by the board.
The board would reflect the diversity of the sectors paying into the check-off. There would be 16 voting members. Producers would comprise 50 percent of the voting members, and handlers 50 percent.
Producers will directly select their regional representatives through direct balloting. Other board slots would be nominated by individuals, industry groups or associations and approved by USDA.
A term would be three years, and no board member could serve no more than two consecutive three-year terms. Furthermore, no company could be represented on the board by an owner or an employee for more than two consecutive terms.
OTA facilitated the application for the check-off to USDA. OTA would have no role in the governing of the check-off program and in the allocation of funds.
Yes, a referendum is required every seven years to decide whether or not to continue the program.
- The organic check-off is very reform minded. It is unlike any other check-off that has preceded it. After exhaustive research, analysis, and outreach, the Organic Check-off solves for what has not worked in other check-offs, emphasizes what has worked, and creates custom programming that is as creative and unique as the organic sector itself.
- An organic check-off would represent all organic products: in essence, treating organic like a commodity instead of a singular product or category like dairy, tomatoes or grain.
- The Board composition would reflect the diversity of sectors paying into the organic check-off and have balanced regional participation: 50% of Board seats would be allocated for producers and 50% would be for handlers.
- Producers will directly select their regional representatives through a simple nomination and balloting process.
- The organic check-off requires a referendum every seven years to determine whether or not to continue with the program.
- Every single certificate holder subject to an organic check-off assessment would have a direct vote. A weighted vote by a representative on behalf of the members of an organization (aka bloc voting) would not be allowed.
- Assessments would be made throughout the value chain on all organic certificate holders. Producers, handlers and processors would all be required or invited to contribute depending on their gross organic revenue. Traditional check-offs typically target assessments only on a single group.
- The Organic Check-off proposal outlines that 25% of producer assessments are earmarked for local and regional research. A board sub-committee of regional seat holders would recommend how those funds would be.
- The Organic Check-off has an explicit objective to grow domestic production and acres. Well-funded, properly planned, and carefully monitored information programs would allocate at least 25% of total funds to help bring new farmers into organic production through information and technical assistance.
- All of the research, inventions and innovations that are a result of Organic Check-off programing will remain in the public domain.
A proposal for an organic research and promotion check-off program has been published in the Federal Register. After a 60-day public comment period, the final step will be a referendum on the check-off proposal, with all certified organic stakeholders eligible to vote. Approval by a majority of those voting is required. The whole process could take a year or longer.