Biden Administration Transition Letter

November 23, 2020

The Honorable Joseph R. Biden
Wilmington, DE

Dear President-Elect Biden,

The Organic Farmers Association congratulates you on your recent election and we look forward to working closely with your Administration on issues that are critically important to organic farmers.

OFA is a membership organization that represents America’s certified organic farmers. Our organization was founded by and is controlled by certified organic farmers, and only domestic certified organic farmers vote on OFA’s policies and leadership.

Organic is a growing sector of the U.S. agriculture system, with tremendous potential to address climate change, help family farms flourish, revive rural communities and protect public health. But for organic agriculture to meet its potential, we need the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to take several steps to protect the integrity of the USDA certified organic label.

The USDA sets the regulations and standards that must be met by products that bear the organic label. Certified organic farmers rely on this label to accurately convey information about their products in the marketplace. Because consumers believe in the integrity of the organic label, the organic sector has enjoyed tremendous growth and provided a path to economic viability for many family farms. But the USDA has considerable work to do to maintain the standing of the organic label with consumers and ensure a level playing field for organic farmers, including finishing long-delayed updates to regulations and increasing the agency’s focus on enforcement.

In the short-term, there are several key actions needed to get critical rulemaking processes across the finish line after years of unnecessary delay and to reverse Trump Administration decisions that were detrimental to the organic community.

Strengthening Organic Enforcement Rule: The organic market has grown so rapidly that the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) has lagged behind in building the enforcement capacity necessary to oversee a $50 billion industry with global supply chains. U.S organic grain farmers reported negative impacts on the prices they could get for their products after increased volumes of organic grains abruptly started to arrive in the United States several years ago. Since then, imports from regions with questionable oversight and that seem to lack sufficient organic acreage to produce the amount of organic product being exported have continued, while several high profile investigations have also revealed large-scale schemes in the United States to sell fraudulent organic products. After years of advocacy to draw attention to the impacts of fraud on domestic markets, organic farmers need full and consistent enforcement of the USDA organic standards and increased capacity at the NOP to detect and prevent fraud in organic supply chains.

A critical step for the new Administration is to finalize and implement the “Strengthening Organic Enforcement” proposed rule as quickly as possible. This rule is required by the 2018 Farm Bill and the organic community weighed in during a public comment period earlier this fall. As well as putting the rule into effect as soon as possible, the NOP must continue to coordinate with other USDA agencies as well as U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to increase awareness of organic commodities that are likely to be imported (and the potential for fraud) and to leverage other agencies’ inspection resources at ports of entry.

Origin of Livestock Rule: The NOP’s failure to strengthen the standards for organic livestock has allowed large-scale organic dairies to undermine those organic farms that comply with the intent of the organic label. Organic dairy farmers need a level playing field. Years of delay in closing loopholes in the organic standards for livestock have caused ongoing economic harm. We need the NOP to finalize an enforceable rule on Origin of Livestock as quickly as possible.

The agency has failed to address this problem for years. In 2015, the NOP published a proposed rule to clarify that, after completion of a one-time transition from a conventional dairy farm, all new dairy animals milked on an organic dairy farm would need to be managed organically from the last third of gestation. The 2015 proposed rule garnered strong public support from the entire organic community, but has never been finalized. In the FY 2020 appropriations bill, Congress gave the NOP 180 days to finalize the rule, but the agency missed this deadline.

The NOP must work to finalize this important rulemaking as quickly as possible with a final rule that can be consistently enforced and that requires that the entire one-time transition happen over a twelve-month period under the supervision of an organic certification agency as part of the producer’s Organic System Plan. Cycling dairy animals in and out of organic production must be prohibited, and once a distinct herd is transitioned to organic, all animals must be raised organically from the last third of gestation.

Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule: The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) rule is another long-overdue measure to strengthen the organic standards, which was delayed and ultimately withdrawn by the Trump Administration. The OLPP final rule would allow the NOP to consistently enforce stronger animal welfare standards on organic farms and close loopholes being taken advantage of by some large operations. The rule was discussed and vetted in the organic community for more than a decade and has widespread support. Animal welfare is an issue of critical importance to organic consumers, and these standards must be tightened to retain consumers’ confidence in the organic label. We urge you to reinstate the final OLPP rule as quickly as possible.

Organic Certification Cost-Share Program: All certified organic operations must complete annual inspection and certification. The federal government has historically reimbursed up to 75 percent of organic certification fees paid by organic farms and businesses, with a maximum reimbursement of $750 per certification scope (crops, livestock or handling) per operation. This summer, USDA’s Farm Services Agency (FSA) cut reimbursement rates for 2020 certification costs to 50 percent, up to a maximum of $500 per scope. This action leaves organic operations – who had been planning on being reimbursed for their certification costs at the same level as previous years – burdened with an unplanned expense, in the midst of a period of higher costs and disrupted markets caused by the pandemic. The cost share program is particularly important to small and mid-sized organic farms, and those who are just starting out with organic certification.

The 2018 Farm Bill provided new funding for the organic certification cost share program, and written commitments made by USDA to use pre-2018 Farm Bill carryover balances to fund current program needs were used to calculate the funding provided in the 2018 Farm Bill. But the agency has struggled to track program spending, which led the agency to provide inaccurate reports of the carryover balances to Congress as the funding provided in the 2018 Farm Bill was being considered, and has resulted in a shortfall for the program for the rest of the years of the Farm Bill cycle.

We urge you to act quickly to restore the funding levels for this program mandated by Congress. While a relatively small amount in the scope of the USDA’s budget, restoring the reimbursement level could make a big difference to many small organic operations. We also hope that the FSA will examine the administrative problems that led to this year’s shortfall and swiftly develop a plan to ensure this does not happen again.

Pandemic Response: Since the passage of the CARES Act, the USDA has been making direct payments to some farmers, through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). The payment formulas used in CFAP 1 to calculate the payments and the rigid delineation of funding for specific commodity and livestock categories shortchanged organic farmers, particularly small-and-medium-scale diversified operations that have been economically impacted by the pandemic. There were some improvements made in CFAP 2 that made the program somewhat more feasible for some organic and diversified operations. But there are still many challenges faced by organic farmers because of the pandemic that the USDA’s response fails to address, which we outlined in a letter sent to USDA earlier this summer.

We also encourage the new Administration to investigate what the pandemic revealed about various sectors of the food system. In sharp contrast to the disruption that happened in highly consolidated, conventional supply chains, organic farmers quickly adjusted to  public health restrictions that affected where and how they market their products and challenges faced by their workforce, coming up with creative solutions that allowed them to feed their communities. You can read more about how organic farmers adapted here and here. For some farmers serving local and direct-to-consumer markets, sales have actually gone up as a result of the pandemic as consumers seek out local sources of food. However, in many cases, costs have also skyrocketed for these operations because of the additional investments in equipment, technology, sanitation, staffing, and transportation that must be made in order to meet social distancing and infection prevention protocols. A more detailed examination of how the various sectors of the food system responded to the pandemic should inform future USDA pandemic response efforts.

In addition to these specific regulatory actions that the USDA should take in the immediate future, we have other suggestions that would help organic farming realize its full potential.

National Organic Standards Board: The Organic Foods Production Act that created the NOP also established a unique federal advisory committee, the National Organic Standards Board. This volunteer board plays a critical role in the function of the organic program, not just in evaluating materials allowed for use by organic operations and making recommendations on changes to the organic standards, but also in providing a venue for all of the stakeholders in the organic community to work together. We urge your Administration to treat the NOSB as a key part of the organic process by:

  • Committing to fill farmer seats on the board with people who have direct agricultural experience and deep expertise in organic practices, and actively working to increase the diversity of board members.
  • Allowing the NOSB to have more input in setting their workplan.
  • Committing to move NOSB recommendations quickly through the rulemaking process to become enforceable regulations.

Oversight and Accreditation: One of the critical roles played by the NOP is providing oversight of accredited certifying agencies who inspect and certify organic operations. But many of the controversies that have been long-debated in the organic community boil down to inconsistent interpretation or application of organic regulations by certifiers. We urge the NOP to take seriously its role as an accreditor and to acknowledge that this role is inextricably tied to its enforcement mandate. Ensuring that certifiers consistently interpret and apply the standards, everywhere they operate, is critical to the integrity of the organic label. The NOP is the only entity that can ensure that this happens.

Organic as a Climate Solution: Organic farming can play a critical role in fighting climate change. Organic regulations require certified organic farmers to implement beneficial carbon sequestration practices by eliminating chemical soil disturbance through the prohibition of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and other crop protection chemicals. The standards require organic farmers to adopt tillage and cultivation practices that “maintain or improve” soil condition. We urge the new Administration to prioritize research to document how organic practices can maximize carbon sequestration, as well as documenting the multiple benefits created by organic practices. We also urge the NOP to adhere to the goal of continuous improvement by tightening the organic standards on several issues that would make organic even more meaningful as a climate-friendly practice. These include:

  • Prioritizing enforcement of the pasture standard for large-scale dairies.
  • Reinstating and implementing the OLPP rule for livestock operations to require livestock operations to provide meaningful access to pasture.
  • Prohibiting the certification of hydroponic operations as organic. For organic agriculture. to maximize its potential as climate-friendly agriculture, soil must be recognized as the cornerstone of organic production.

Support for Organic Research: Many of the challenges facing the organic sector can be addressed with increased research. Organic research often addresses challenges or identifies practices that are also relevant to farmers who are not certified organic or who farm conventionally. An increased focus on soil health, alternatives to chemical pest management and cover crops across all sectors of agriculture show that this kind of research can serve an audience that is wider than certified organic. We urge you to increase USDA’s support of organic research. And we hope that your Administration will address the devastating impact of the decision to move the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture out of Washington, DC. The move led to dramatic staffing shortages and low morale, and took these critical staff out of conversations happening at USDA headquarters.

Organic Outreach Within USDA and to Federal Partners: It is clear that, despite the rapid growth of the organic industry and the National Organic Program, many other divisions within the USDA are still not familiar with organic. In order to encourage other USDA divisions to make their programs more feasible for organic producers, we urge you to reinstate the position of organic policy advisor that was created during the Obama Administration.

We also urge you to expand the NOP’s outreach and education to other federal partners such as various policy divisions of the White House, including the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Another critical federal partner is Customs and Border Protection. We hope you will explore how to create an organic advisor position for CBP, which is a critical piece of the federal effort to prevent fraudulent organic products. And we urge the NOP to increase outreach and education of other USDA divisions, such as APHIS, and federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency about the impact that genetically engineered crops and associated herbicides have on the organic sector from genetic and chemical drift.

Personnel: As you work to fill open positions at USDA and other federal agencies, we urge you to choose people who are committed to the full range of agriculture that is happening in the United States, including organic, diversified, direct market and other types of production. The following list is a sample, by no means an exhaustive list, of the types of people who would bring this necessary perspective to your team:

David Zuckerman, Lieutenant Governor of Vermont, organic farmer

Amanda Beal, Agriculture Commissioner of Maine

Kate Greenberg, Agriculture Commissioner of Colorado

Elanor Starmer, former administrator Agricultural Marketing Service

Jesse Buie, organic farmer in Mississippi, member of National Organic Standards Board

Andrew Bahrenburg, staff, Senator Leahy

Kelliann Blazek, former staff, Representative Pingree

Hannah Smith-Brubaker, former Deputy Agriculture Secretary of Pennsylvania, executive director of Pasa

Michael Sligh, Alliance for Organic Integrity

We appreciate the opportunity to provide input as you develop your priorities and look forward to working with your Administration. We hope to be able to set up a time for OFA leadership to meet with your transition team and new USDA staff to further discuss these ideas. If you have any questions or need more information, please contact our Policy Director, Patty Lovera,, (202) 526-2726.


Kate Mendenhall




2021 OFA Leadership Candidates

The following certified organic farmers and organic farm organizations are running for open seats in their region for the Governing Council or Policy Committee.OFA farm members will vote on their regional candidates.  OFA policy is ONE FARM, ONE VOTE.  Each farm has an equal place at the table.

The ballot is open until November 15.


California: GOVERNING COUNCIL Candidates

Farmer Candidates

Judith Redmond, Full Belly Farm, Guinda, CA

Bio/Statement: I currently serve as an officer on the OFA Governing Council, and I would like to be re-elected for another two- year term. I have been a co-owner and farmer at Full Belly Farm since 1989. I also serve as an adviser to the California Climate and Agriculture Network, the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, and as a Commissioner of the Capay Valley Volunteer Fire Department. With the diversity of livestock, produce and flowers that we raise here at Full Belly, we are constantly made aware of the importance of regulations and policy and how they strongly influence the viability and success of different kinds of

farms. People making policy and the public at-large do not understand on-the-ground challenges of farming. Through the work of OFA, organic farmers can build a stronger voice for themselves as part of reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint. Full Belly Farm is a certified organic, multi-generational farm founded in 1985. We enjoy cooking, eating, growing, harvesting and selling fruits, nuts and vegetables year-round. We also grow beautiful flowers and top off our activities caring for a herd of sheep and a flock of chickens. We make every effort to foster sustainability on many levels — from fertility in our soil and care for the environment, to creating a stable and respectful workplace for our employees. We attend farmers markets, have a CSA program and sell to many stores and wholesalers. We often invite our CSA members and customers to the farm and offer numerous events for people who want to learn more about organic agriculture and the farmers that grow their food. Through this work we hope to invigorate the agricultural economy and build the social well-being of the small communities in our Valley.

Albert Vera, Vera Ranches, Culver City, CA

Bio/Statement: Albert Vera is a business owner, city commissioner and lifelong Culver City resident. Continuing a legacy of leadership begun by his father. Vera owns Sorrento Italian Market, a specialty food store filled with old-world charm, as well as the family’s 26 ranches encompassing thousands of acres north of Bakersfield. He is a member of the Culver City Exchange Club and has served on both the Culver City Landlord/Tenant Board and the Culver City Civil Service Commission, where he currently serves as part of the five-member commission charged with advising the City Council on all matters concerning Human Resources administration, recommending adoption of amendments to the Civil Service Rules, making any appropriate investigation regarding Human Resources administration and providing an appeals procedure for classified employees. Vera also serves on the Culver City Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and the Culver City Palms YMCA Board of Managers.

California: POLICY COMMITTEE Candidates

Farmer Candidates

Kenneth Kimes, Greensward / New Natives, LLC, Aptos, CA

Bio/Statement: I currently represent California on the OFA Policy Committee and would like to be elected for another 2-year term. I have been farming greenhouse microgreens year-round for over 35 years and have always farmed organically (certified since 1982) and have only ever used organic seed (90k lbs. per year). We lobby the public to promote organic continuously at the farmers markets. My wife and I run the farm with ten full-time employees and five part-time employees. I have served on the Board of Directors for the following organizations: Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) (10+ years), Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau Board (6 years), Agriculture Policy Advisory Commission (10 years), Monterrey Bay Certified Farmers Markets, Action Pajaro Valley (farmland preservation task force), Santa Cruz County GMO Commission (we banned GMO's), and was on the Board of Directors for CCOF for many years.


Midwest Region: GOVERNING COUNCIL Candidates

Farmer Candidates

Dave Bishop, PrairiErth Far, Atlanta, IL

Bio/Statement: I currently serve on the OFA Governing Council and would like to be re-elected to another two-year term. PrairiErth is a 300-acre farm with diverse crops and livestock and has been certified organic since 2004. With my family we also run the 100- acre farm where I grew up. Over these combined 400 acres, we grow organic corn, soybeans, oats, wheat, livestock forages, vegetables, fruit, and flowers and produce organic beef, pork, eggs and honey. We sell at local farmers’ markets and to restaurants and stores and offer a vegetable CSA and winter CSA. PrairiErth Farm has been participating in research with the University of Illinois for many years. Current research is studying the impact of various cover crop mixtures on weed suppression, soil microbial activity, and field productivity. We are passionate about growing organically, a system I adopted after years of conventional farming. I view organic farming as a way to limit our ecological footprint by caring for the earth, not just for us, but for future generations. We've reduced our farm “footprint” even further by using solar-powered pasture fencing and livestock watering systems. In addition to farming, I have lobbied in DC with NSAC for organic and local food issues, both in writing the farm bill and in the appropriations process. He currently serves as President of the Illinois Food, Farms, and Jobs Council, a Governor appointed entity created to advise the Governor and the Legislature on agricultural issues.

Jason Holly, Hempsylvania, Inc, Drums, PA

Bio/Statement: Jason farms a 23-acre farm located on the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains where he cultivates hemp, garlic, beets, mushrooms and pumpkins. He also uses waste product from hemp production to create a fermented fertigation product, brewing high volumes of aerated compost tea. Currently all hemp cultivated by Hempsylvania is intended for human consumption in a variety of our post-processing pathways, as such, he grows using only organic methods, without pesticides or other harmful growth regulators. He takes pride in ensuring that only natural ingredients and procedures are used in his cultivating, curing and extraction processes.

Midwest Region: POLICY COMMITTEE Candidates

Farmer Candidates

Michael Adsit, Plymouth Orchards, Plymouth, MI

Bio/Statement: I currently serve on the OFA Policy Committee and would like to be re-elected for another two-year term. I also served as a member of the founding OFA Steering Committee. During this time, serving OFA, I have spent a significant amount of time establishing communications with other organic farmers, promoting OFA to farmer interest groups and meeting with members of the Congress and Senate on behalf of OFA. I am committing to doing everything I can to represent and further the interests of organic farmers. My farm, Plymouth Orchards, is a 120-acre organic orchard and farm. We are also a regional agri-tourism destination. The farm was originally started in 1977. We grow organic apples, raspberries, asparagus, vegetables, small grains and hay. Plymouth Orchards is also certified as a processor for organic dried apples. Vegetables are marketed through a CSA. Fruits are direct marketed and wholesale. At Plymouth Orchards, I am responsible for organic crop production and marketing.

Organization Candidates

Illinois Stewardship Alliance (ISA), Molly Gleason, Communications Director, Springfield IL

Bio/Statement: I currently serve on the OFA Policy Committee and am interested in serving another term. I was raised on my family's 4th generation grain farm in Elkhart, Illinois and currently manage 63 acres of that farm. In the future, I hope to diversify our land into organic production. While my family farm does not currently use organic practices, my involvement with the farm provides a front-row seat to the issues involved with making the decision to transition to organic and all the challenges that entails, especially as it relates to generational transfer of farm management. In addition, my experience at Illinois Stewardship Alliance brings me into contact with direct-market fruit and vegetable growers on a regular basis, many of which use organic practices or who have gone through the certification process. I work with them to understand the barriers and opportunities facing local food producers, drive demand for local food, and shape and promote local food policy. I bring strong communications skills, community-organizing and coalition-building experience, and an in-depth knowledge of the food system. If elected, I would love to put these assets to work to raise the profile of organic farming, advance organic initiatives, and garner recognition for organic farming as more than a niche method of farming, but as a real and lasting solution to restore soils, feed communities, and build thriving local economies and ecosystems.  Illinois Stewardship Alliance (ISA) is a membership-based organization. We are an organization of local food producer, concerned citizen or food-systems related organization. Alliance members span the state and have one thing in common: they all care about the food that is produced and consumed in Illinois and want to support the increase of fresh, local foods.


North Central Region: GOVERNING COUNCIL Candidates

Farmer Candidates

Mike Kelly, High Meadow Farm, Johnson Creek, WI

Bio/Statement: I currently serve on the OFA Governing Council and am interested in serving another term. My family and I started a Community Supported Agriculture program in 2009, and today raise certified organic veggies, poultry and sheep on our gorgeous, well-maintained 40-acre certified organic farm with the help of farm friends, volunteers and employees. Our CSA has over 200 members, we also sell wholesale accounts, and have workplace CSA relationships with local businesses. I served on the FairShare CSA Board of Directors and currently serve as a county supervisor with Jefferson County and on the Farmers Union water committee. Prior to farming, I had a career as a utilities superintendent. I am very interested in promoting organic agriculture and do that from my work on the farm and through my position as county supervisor.

Organization Candidates

Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES): David Perkins, President, Spring Valley, WI

Bio/Statement: We currently serve on the OFA Governing Council and we are interested in serving another term. Educating farmers about organic and sustainable production is the foundation of our work. The cornerstone of this foundation is the annual MOSES Organic Farming Conference, the country’s largest conference on organic and sustainable farming, which draws 3,000+ people each February to La Crosse, Wis. We also educate farmers about specific farming practices through MOSES Organic Field Days and the MOSES Organic Answer Line. We manage several projects to support and empower organic farmers: Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring Program, New Organic Stewards program, and our Rural Women’s Project. We also advocate for national policies that encourage organic production.

David Perkins currently serves as President of MOSES. David returned to his rural roots in 1994 to create Vermont Valley Community Farm located in southern Wisconsin. After a wonderfully successful 24 years of connecting thousands of people to their food, the CSA was retired in 2018. The farm continues its organic seed potato business. Committed to nurturing more CSA farms, David has spoken across the country on CSA, organic vegetable production and financial management. Certified organic since 1999, David is passionate about organic. He is the current Board President of Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Services (MOSES) and served on the FairShare CSA Coalition Board, the Organic Farmers Association Board, and the UW- Madison Center for Integrated Agriculture Systems council.

North Central Region: POLICY COMMITTEE Candidates

Farmer Candidates

DeEtta Bilek, Tom & DeEtta Bilek Farm, Aldrich, MN

Bio/Statement: I currently serve on the OFA Policy Committee and am interested in serving another term. My husband and I have owned and operated our 220-acre farm since 1977. We have been certified organic since 1998. On the farm we have crop production, graze beef cattle, and maintain forest. My primary role on the farm is the paperwork and help with overall management. My past experience with farm policy includes several opportunities to testify at Minnesota Legislature hearings and meetings with individual policy makers to share organic and sustainable agriculture information from a farmer perspective. I have attended two NOSB meetings and presented on behalf of OCIA International. At that time, I was a Board member and served one year as President of the Board. From 1997 - 2003, I was Program Manager for the Sustainable Farm Association of MN. From 2004 - 2016, I was Chair for the MN OCIA Chapter's Education Committee. I have also served on the MISA Certification Board of Directors and have participated on the Land Stewardship's Federal Farm Policy Committee.


Western Region: GOVERNING COUNCIL Candidates

Farmer Candidates

Nathaniel Powell-Palm, Cold Springs Organics, Bozeman, MT

Bio/Statement: I currently serve on the OFA Governing Council and would like to be re-elected to another term. I am a certified organic grain and beef cattle producer located in Bozeman, MT. As a first-generation farmer and rancher, I started my operation in 2004 and received organic certification in 2008. From my original leased 10 acres in 2004 my operation today consists of 875 acres on which I produce organic small grains and grass finished beef cattle. In addition to my farm, I work as an IOIA trained independent organic inspector. Currently contracted with 6 Accredited Certifying Agencies, I inspect approximately 225 operations per year. I have inspected organic operations to the NOP standard in 36 states for all three scopes (crops, livestock, and processing). I hold a BS in Environmental Science, with a focus on soil and water resources from Montana State University. My training as an agronomy researcher and my research history in soil chemistry has allowed me to hone a strong analytical skill set directly related to organic production agriculture. I believe my 9 years as a certified organic beef and grain producer has equipped me with significant technical expertise in organic production. My experience as an organic inspector has allowed me to examine operations and listen to the concerns of organic producers in every region of the country. If selected to serve on the Governing Council, I would bring both my expertise as a producer and broad experience as an organic inspector to my work with the OFA. Lastly, as a young farmer, I have experienced firsthand the challenges of starting a successful farming business and have spent most of my time farming certified organic. As the organic production community expands to include more and more young growers, I will bring a viewpoint and understanding to my work with the OFA that will align closely with a quickly growing sector of the industry.

Linley Dixon, Adobe House Farm, Durango, CO

Bio/Statement: Starting on rented land, over the past 10 years, our family has worked hard to build our farm business and finally purchase a farm on which we can live and continue to grow. This experience has exposed me to the challenges new organic farmers face to get started and succeed. I have a Masters in Plant and Soil Science and a PhD in Plant Pathology. My hope is that OFA can help ensure that USDA organic standards and enforcement continues to represent the values of the organic community and the way the vast majority of us farm, that is with the responsibility to maintain healthy soil and pasture. For the past ten years, we have farmed 3 acres of vegetables intensively in Durango, CO, with a prime focus on soil health. We direct market to local restaurants, SWFF Local Distribution Cooperative, James Ranch, and the Durango Farmers Market. Our specialties are soil-grown greenhouse tomatoes, salad greens, peppers and strawberries. Daily operations are managed by my husband, Peter Dixon, and brother, Reid Smith. I am the associate director of the Real Organic Project by day and tomato pruner extraordinaire by night.

Organization Candidates

Montana Organic Association (MOA): Becky Weed, Board of Directors, MT

Bio/Statement: Montana Organic Association currently serve on the OFA Governing Council and are interested in serving another term. Becky currently represents Montana Organic Association on the Governing Council and would like to serve another two-year term. Since 2002, The Montana Organic Association has been the voice of Montana's organic community. MOA believes that the organic movement is the one best hope for keeping small family farms viable while providing clean, nutritious, and safe food to the community; helping secure our food system by supporting farm diversity; and contributing to a healthier environment which helps protect our precious wildlife and natural resources. MOA's mission is to advocate and promote organic agriculture for the highest good of the people, the environment and the state's economy.

Becky Weed and her husband Dave Tyler have owned and operated Thirteen Mile Farm in Southwest Montana for thirty years (certified since 1999). They primarily run a certified organic grassfed sheep flock, although their operation has included a wool processing mill (2003-2017), as well as grassfed organic cattle and small-scale commercial vegetables intermittently. One of Becky’s employees is purchasing and continuing the wool mill, opening up time for Becky to return her focus more fully to her land, integrating crops and livestock, and to agriculture more broadly. Becky has served on the Montana Board of Livestock, and the boards of the Wild Farm Alliance, People and Carnivores, and has recently joined the board of the Montana Organic Association. She also served on the Conservation & Science Board of a very large ranch operation in Central Idaho, Lava Lake Land & Livestock, continuing her lifelong interest in the interface of agriculture and conservation. Before becoming involved in agriculture, Becky worked for more than ten years as a geologist with degrees in the Geological Sciences from Harvard (B.A.) and University of Maine (M.S.). That mixed background in research in some of the wildest places on earth, along with hazardous waste cleanup in some extremely urban locations continue to influence Becky’s perceptions and hopes for agriculture.

Western Region: POLICY COMMITTEE Candidates

Farmer Candidates

Nathaniel Powell-Palm, Cold Springs Organics, Bozeman, MT

Bio/Statement: I am a certified organic grain and beef cattle producer located in Bozeman, MT. As a first-generation farmer and rancher, I started my operation in 2004 and received organic certification in 2008. From my original leased 10 acres in 2004 my operation today consists of 875 acres on which I produce organic small grains and grass finished beef cattle. In addition to my farm, I work as an IOIA trained independent organic inspector. Currently contracted with 6 Accredited Certifying Agencies, I inspect approximately 225 operations per year. I have inspected organic operations to the NOP standard in 36 states for all three scopes (crops, livestock, and processing). I hold a BS in Environmental Science, with a focus on soil and water resources from Montana State University. My training as an agronomy researcher and my research history in soil chemistry has allowed me to hone a strong analytical skill set directly related to organic production agriculture. I believe my 9 years as a certified organic beef and grain producer has equipped me with significant technical expertise in organic production. My experience as an organic inspector has allowed me to examine operations and listen to the concerns of organic producers in every region of the country. If selected to serve on the Governing Council, I would bring both my expertise as a producer and broad experience as an organic inspector to my work with the OFA. Lastly, as a young farmer, I have experienced firsthand the challenges of starting a successful farming business and have spent most of my time farming certified organic. As the organic production community expands to include more and more young growers, I will bring a viewpoint and understanding to my work with the OFA that will align closely with a quick growing sector of the industry.

Organization Candidates

Tilth Alliance: Melissa Spear, Executive Director, WA

Bio/Statement: Tilth Alliance works in community with Washington's farmers, gardeners and eaters for a more sustainable, healthy and equitable food future. Our strategic priorities include advancing organic, regenerative, and sustainable growing practices, to increase demand for healthy food grown in Washington using organic, regenerative and sustainable growing practices, and to raise awareness of the critical relationship between food production and climate change. Our membership base is composed primarily of certified organic farmers. We serve our base through advocacy at the state and county level, by providing training opportunities, by directly connecting organic farmers to consumers through the Washington Farm and Food Finder, and by producing an annual conference where organic farmers from Washington can convene to learn, network and socialize.

Melissa Spear has worked at the intersection of conservation and agriculture for the past 15 years. She started out at The Trust for Public Land, successfully protecting several iconic farms in Connecticut. She then spent 9 years as Executive Director of a non-profit organic urban farm and environmental education center serving the city of New Haven, CT. She served as the vice-chair of the Working Lands Alliance in Connecticut, an advocacy organization working to ensure farming remained a viable enterprise in the state. She moved to Seattle and became Executive Director of Tilth Alliance in 2018 where her focus is squarely on promoting and supporting the adoption of organic practices. Under her leadership, Tilth Alliance is leading the formation of a Coalition for Organic and Regenerative Agriculture that will advocate for organic farmers and farming practices both here in Washington and in Washington D.C.

Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (WODPA): Jill Smith, WODPA Consultant, WA

Bio/Statement: WODPA represents dairy farmers in the Western United States. The mission of the Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance is to preserve, protect, and ensure the sustainability and integrity of organic dairy farming across the west.

Jill Smith is the owner and founder of Pure Éire Dairy in Othello, Washington, actively involved with the farming, dairying, processing, and marketing of her family's own brand of dairy products sold throughout the state of Washington. The scope of her work includes working directly with consumers, retailers, and distributors, allowing her to understand what organic buyers’ expectations are with organic products. She has been an organic producer since 2005, is also currently working as a Consultant for the Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance and is actively involved with several sustainability groups throughout the Pacific Northwest. Organic integrity and policy directly impact her livelihood and the commitment she has made to her consumers.


Southern Region: GOVERNING COUNCIL Candidates

Farmer Candidates

Jordan Pool, F&S Pool Farms, Inc, Dalhart, TX

Bio/Statement: We currently grow both conventional and organic crop . Between conventional and organic we farm about 8500 acres, 1500 of those being certified organic. Our certified organic crops grown are corn, cotton, pima cotton, peanuts, alfalfa, and milo. I started farming 16 years ago working for my father, then in 2010 when I married my wife, I started branching out on my own. I make all the major decisions on the farm and my wife takes care of our financial part. We have a great partnership and love what we do!

Shawn Peebles, Shawn Peebles Organic Farm LLC, Augusta, AR

Bio/Statement: Our farm is solely organic. I am a third-generation farmer. I started farming early with my dad and branched out on my own about 20 years ago. I switched to organic farming in 2009. We farm approximately 1500 acres. We grow sweet potatoes, edamame, black eye peas, soybeans, and corn. We find it exciting to find new crops to grow and diversify more each year. I handle some of each aspect that goes into a farming operation. I am hands on and fully involved in each decision that goes into the operation. I am currently serving on the USDA's Specialty Crop Committee. I have also served on a dicamba specialty task force. I enjoy speaking at meetings and conventions to share my knowledge and experience with others. I think organic farming is the future and want to see it grow. I will stand tall for my beliefs and advocate for what I believe in.

David Faison, Dface Farm, LLC, Hephzibah, GA

Bio/Statement: David Faison, Jr. is a second-generation farmer and former Army NCO, now serving as a Dept of the Army employee, Intensive care unit LPN at Eisenhower Army Medical Center where he has served since 1995. He has been a certified organic farmer running Dface Farm, LLC since 2018. Dface Farm is a small USDA certified organic farm in Richmond county Georgia. On this farm, David produces a small amount of diverse vegetables on 3 acres. He grows okra, pea's, kale, greens, peppers, tomatoes and some other veggies and berries. He supports their local Veggie Park Farmers Market (Augusta, GA) sales and online sales and teaching a sustainable farming lifestyle.

Seth Fortenberry, SSF Farms Inc, New Deal, TX

Bio/Statement: Seth Fortenberry is a 4th generation farmer who grew up in the south plains of West Texas farming since he was a young boy. Seth’s Great Grandfather W.O Fortenberry bought some of the land that Seth farms to this day. Seth began farming in 2002 using conventional practices. In 2006 Seth’s farming practices started to change after meeting oncologist, cancer survivor, and organic advocate Dr. Lillian Chou. In 2006, Dr. Chou asked Seth to farm one of her fields but required he farm it organically. Through his friendship with Dr. Chou Seth learned of the health benefits of farming organic and how organic farming can be done on a large scale. Currently, Seth farms 3000+ acres of certified organic farmland and another 3000+ acres of uncertified farmland (farmed using organic methods) in Lubbock and Hale County, Texas. His organic crops consist of Cotton, Corn, Milo, Black Eyed Peas, Garbanzo Beans, Wheat, Barley, and others. He is committed to on-farm research and has opened up several acres for research of organic crops and crop production systems. In 2015, he purchased a feed mill and started New Deal Grain to process his and other local farmers' organic commodities. He is passionate about producing the healthiest food from the healthiest soil, and helping others do the same.

Southern Region: POLICY COMMITTEE Candidates

Farmer Candidates

Laura Freeman, Mt. Folly Farm, Winchester, KY

Bio/Statement: I currently serve on the OFA Policy Committee and would like to be re-elected to another term. I own and run Mt. Folly Farm. Mt. Folly includes 1250 acres of pasture, timber, and crop land. About 70% of our crop and hay land is certified organic, making 290 organic acres and one organic high tunnel. I own and run the farm and have since 1982. I am also currently working to certify our cattle. I am also a climate change activist and farm entrepreneur, especially focused on hemp and heritage grains. Our farm is located in Kentucky, which has a nascent organic farming movement, so we are early adopters. Our core group is under 40, representing the future of farming. We are spreading the value of organics in the region by hosting multiple field days each year and connecting with our elected officials--introducing them to organic farming.

Jordan Pool, F&S Pool Farms, Inc, Dalhart, TX

Bio/Statement: We currently grow both conventional and organic crop . Between conventional and organic we farm about 8500 acres, 1500 of those being organic. Our certified organic crops grown are corn, cotton, pima cotton, peanuts, alfalfa, and milo. I started farming 16 years ago working for my father, then in 2010 when I married my wife, I started branching out on my own. I make all of the major decisions on the farm and my wife takes care of our financial part. We have a great partnership and love what we do!

David Faison, Dface Farm, LLC, Hephzibah, GA

Bio/Statement: David Faison, Jr. is a second-generation farmer and former Army NCO, now serving as a Dept of the Army employee, Intensive care unit LPN at Eisenhower Army Medical Center where he has served since 1995. He has been a certified organic farmer running Dface Farm, LLC since 2018. Dface Farm is a small USDA certified organic farm in Richmond county Georgia. On this farm, David produces a small amount of diverse vegetables on 3 acres. He grows okra, pea's, kale, greens, peppers, tomatoes and some other veggies and berries. He supports their local Veggie Park Farmers Market (Augusta, GA) sales and online sales and teaching a sustainable farming lifestyle.

Organization Candidates

Organic Association of Kentucky: Brooke Gentile , Executive Director, KY

Bio/Statement: The Organic Association of Kentucky (OAK) advances organic agriculture to improve the health of the environment and our communities. We grow ecological resilience, economic viability and socially just futures for Kentucky farmers through educational, technical and market resources. OAK's programs include Organic Transition Technical Assistance, Farmer Field Days, Annual Organic Farming Conference, Employer Sponsored CSA Programs, and Consumer Education. Founded by farmers and researchers in 2011, OAK has grown significantly in the past few years and continues to serve farmers with nearly 400 members and programs that reach 3,000 participants annually. Learn more about us at

Brooke Gentile joined the Organic Association of Kentucky (OAK) in 2017 as the Executive Director. She is a Kentucky native and brings a background rich in food and farming non-profit program development, evaluation and management. Brooke has been committed to strengthening organic food and farming systems ever since working on Italian farms over two decades ago. Inspired to grow the small farm and local food revolution, Brooke worked with Cornell Cooperative Extension and Red Hook Farms in New York City to develop youth urban agriculture programs. She then moved to Northern California and lived and worked at Occidental Arts and Ecology Center in the gardens, focusing on production, education and organizing. From there, Brooke shared five years with Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, a community food pantry with gardens and nutrition education in Bloomington, Indiana. As the Executive Director she led the organization through the strategic planning process, increased food access advocacy programming while more than doubling program capacity during the 2008 recession, strengthened partnerships and won state recognition for impacts. Back in Kentucky, Brooke then taught undergraduate students at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment about issues in agriculture and sustainable farming practices for four years. Now with the Organic Association of Kentucky she melds a passion for farming, organic practices, education and advocacy to support OAK’s growing programs and state-wide farmer network.

Carolina Farm Stewardship Association: Roland McReynolds, Executive Director, NC

Bio/Statement: The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) is a farmer-driven, membership-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that helps people in North and South Carolina grow and eat local, organic food by advocating for fair farm and food policies, building systems that family farms need to thrive, and educating communities about local, organic agriculture. Founded in 1979, CFSA is the oldest and largest sustainable agriculture organization in the Southeast. We provide training and technical assistance to farmers on organic farming practices, including: consulting on organic high tunnel production of specialty crops; providing NRCS TSP services for farmers seeking CAP-138 plans (supporting organic transition); hosting numerous workshops throughout the year; running the only organic certified incubator farm in the Southeast, Lomax Farm in Concord, NC; conducting research on organic vegetable production practices at Lomax Farm and other farms; and hosting two annual conferences for organic farmers. We also conduct extensive policy advocacy on issues of importance to organic farmers in North and South Carolina, at the state and federal levels.

Roland Reynolds is an attorney and has served as the Executive Director of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) for almost 14 years. His experience in the areas of environmental and agricultural law gives him a thorough understanding of the regulatory issues related to natural resource conservation in agriculture. He has led CFSA’s government relations activities on behalf of sustainable agriculture stakeholders, served on a variety of state and national boards and committees, and provided information to state and federal elected and administrative officials. In his work on the USDA’s Fruit & Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee, Reynolds led the committee to unanimously call for increased USDA funding for public plant breeding programs, which is a high priority of the organic community. He is effective at resolving conflicts; influencing government agencies, businesses and industry organizations; and establishing and strengthening working relationships with outside entities. Reynolds has built bridges with ‘conventional’ farmers and farm organizations, and has strengthened CFSA’s relationships with colleges and land grant universities in the Carolinas, serving on a number of departmental and college-level advisory boards and helping those institutions better serve the region’s organic producers and the goals of environmental stewardship in agriculture.


Northeast Region: GOVERNING COUNCIL Candidates

Farmer Candidates

Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht, Garden of Eve Organic Farm & Market, Riverhead, NY

Bio/Statement: Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht and her husband Chris founded Garden of Eve organic farm in 2001, dedicated to providing delicious organic vegetables, fruits and beautiful flowers and to “making changes in the world by living them.” Invited to sell some extra produce from their garden (zucchini!) at a local farmers market they made $40 and were launched on their farming career. In the 20 years since then, they have expanded and now grow 60 acres of certified organic vegetables, flowers, raise 1500 pastured laying hens, and oversee a team of 20 at the height of the season. Garden of Eve sells produce through a large on-farm Market, 3 farmers markets, and nearly 1,000 households participating in their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs at 20 locations in New York City and on Long Island. Eve holds a BA from Harvard in Environmental Science and a MS in Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She has also worked as a land preservation advocate with the North Fork Environmental Council and as Principal Planner for the Town of Southampton. In Eve's over 20 years of operating a family-scale organic farm, She has been constantly challenged to overcome the innumerable challenges that farmers face, as well as the ways that the chemical farming industry overrides the interests of real farmers in national policy. She is a longtime supporter of several OG watchdog groups and has seen how "Big Food" continues to try to water down the organic standards that the rest of us work so hard to uphold. She is well qualified for the OFA Governing Council with her skills in advocacy and lobbying, through her longtime involvement in land planning and farmland preservation on the North Fork of Long Island. She has worked with groups both inside and outside of local government to help secure the preservation of large tracts of vulnerable land including what became the Hallock State Park; North Fork County Park, and farmland that has now been preserved for perpetuity through Purchase of Development Rights.

Matthias Reisen, Healing Spirits Herb Farm & Education Center , Avoca, NY

Bio/Statement: Matthias and his partner have been producing certified organic medicinal herbs since 1992. Before that he was an organic dairy farmer. He produces over 60 medicinal botanicals plus produce value added products. The farm consists of 40 acres, 20 acres of river bottom land and 20 acres of woodland. They have been farming this land since 1982. Matthias has a B.Sc. in Agronomy (the study of plant and soil sciences). He was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines working with subsistence farmers on crop diversification. His role working with Cornell Cooperative Extension was that of a Field Crops and Vegetable Agent but also worked with greenhouse and maple syrup producers. Healing Spirits Herb Farm and Education Center has been in operation since 1991. Over the years Matthias has volunteered with the USDA Farmer to Farmer program assisting small scale farmers in Nepal, Jamaica, Belarus, Colombia and the Dominican Republic. Matthias is also past president of the International Herb Association and the Northeast Herbal Association.

Nicole Zlotnikov, Zfarms Organic, Dover Plains, NY

Bio/Statement: The certified organic products on Nicole's family farm are livestock, beef, lamb, goats meat, poultry, eggs, vegetables, orchard, and berries. The farm is a total of 220 acres, 80 acres in production. While Nicole is currently a junior in High School, she takes a management role on the farm with financial planning, advertising and marketing strategies. Nicole is passionate about preservation and restoration of ecology for the future of the planet. She feels that organic regenerative agriculture is an important piece in the solution of the problem. She feels that food justice is an important issue and that organic local farms can help to supply people of different social background with the high-quality healthy food. Recently, Nicole launched a charitable volunteer organization, Farm to Food Pantry. It has been promoting local food pantries' volunteers to come to farms and help farmers to donate their products for people in need in local communities.

Organization Candidates

Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance: Edward Maltby, Executive Director, Deerfield, MA

Bio/Statement: Ed Maltby currently represents NODPA on the OFA Policy Committee and would like to also serve on the Governing Council. He has also served on the founding OFA Steering Committee and Advisory Committee. NODPA started in 2001 and is the largest grassroots organization of organic dairy producers. It has remained true to its original goal of advocating on behalf of producers, regardless of who they sell their milk to, for a sustainable pay price plus protect the integrity of the USDA Organic regulations. NODPA is governed by organic dairy producers who meet regularly by conference call and annually in-person as either Board members or State Representatives. NODPA has a very active and committed Board and team of State Representatives that work together with NODPA staff to fulfill the mission of the organization. NODPA Bylaws protect the integrity of the organization and ensure that organic dairy producers control the association rather than any one brand, advocacy group or individual. NODPA represents organic dairy producers in the east of the country and has an active involvement with its sister organizations in the Midwest and the west which ensures that it can always remain connected to and controlled by its members.

Ed Maltby is a producer with over 45 years of experience managing conventional and organic dairy, beef, sheep and vegetable enterprises on a variety of different farms in Europe and the United States. For the past 20 years, Ed has worked with regional farms to cooperatively market their products into mainstream markets, ranging from direct marketing of lambs and organic produce, to establishing a cooperative of dairy farmers who direct market their own brand of milk in Western Massachusetts. Since 2005, Ed has worked as Executive Director of NODPA. He also developed a national umbrella organization, Federation of Organic Dairy Farmers (FOOD Farmers), to provide a national voice for organic dairy family farms. Ed served on the USDA Dairy Industry Advisory Committee to advise the Secretary of Agriculture on dairy policy. In 2006 when one of the last two remaining USDA slaughterhouses in MA was destroyed by fire, Ed worked with the family-owned Adams Farm Slaughterhouse to rebuild. The plant opened in November 2008 and in March 2009 Ed was asked to provide management assistance which later turned into a contract as General Manager.

Northeast Region: POLICY COMMITTEE Candidates

Farmer Candidates

Luke Gianforte, Gianforte Farm LLC, Cazenovia NY

Bio/Statement: I currently serve on the OFA Policy Committee and am interested in serving another term. Gianforte Farm has been certified organic since 1998 and currently operates 600 acres of grains and row crops in Upstate New York. The farm currently grows small grains for the food grade market as well as corn, soybeans, and dry beans. I returned to the farm in 2014 after graduating from Cornell University and serve as the managing partner. Since returning to the farm, I have focused on adopting new technology relevant to organic agriculture and developing new markets for the farm's products. In 2016, Gianforte Farm won the Conservation Farm of the Year through the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District.

I was raised on my family's farm that started transiting to organic when I was five years old. I always had a deep passion for agriculture and knew I wanted to be a farmer. After high school I attend Cornell University where I had the chance to visit and learn about all types of farms all over the world. After graduation I returned home to the farm full time. I have been active in the local agricultural community through serving on the FSA County Committee and on the board of a non-profit which serves the refugee community through agriculture. I am also currently in the LEAD-NY agricultural leadership development program which has already proven to be a strong networking and personal development opportunity. As a young farmer I believe it is critical to be actively involved in the conversations regarding agricultural practices and policy decisions, especially when it comes to the Organic program. Agriculture is constantly changing, and as organic producers we need to ensure the intentions of the Organic label remain sound while continuing to move forward. Consumers are facing more food choices than ever before, making it more critical than ever to preserve the meaning of the Organic label.

October Policy Update

By, Patty Lovera, Policy Director

October 2020

Covid-19 Response

Another month has passed and there is still no clear sign when Congress will come to an agreement and pass a new bill on economic stimulus and response to the Covid-19 pandemic. On October 1st, for the second time, the House passed its own version of a stimulus/pandemic response bill. But the Senate has not yet passed its own bill. An attempt in the Senate to pass a “skinny” package with fewer programs failed on a procedural vote in early September.

There have been a lot of fits and starts, with conflicting announcements from the President, but the negotiations between Democrats and Republicans seem to be continuing. The major sticking points are aid to state and local governments, unemployment assistance, and a proposal to provide businesses with immunity from lawsuits by workers or customers. The bills that have been introduced so far would provide more funding for USDA to make direct payments to farms and processors that were impacted by the pandemic, with fairly vague instructions that give a lot of discretion to USDA on how to set up payment programs.

The USDA is still running the two main programs established by the CARES Act that Congress passed earlier this year. On September 21st, the USDA started accepting applications for the second round of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), which is the program to give direct payments to farms impacted by the pandemic. This round has different rules for which crops and farms are eligible for payments, which are an improvement over the first round (which did not really address the needs of most organic farmers.) We have more detail on the second round of CFAP here. The application period ends on December 11th. Even if the first round did not make sense for your farm, it may be worth it to check out the new requirements to see if this new round is a better fit.

Organic Certification Cost-Share

Unfortunately, there is no good news to report on raising the reimbursement levels for organic certification cost-share. On August 10th, the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced that funds were being released for the annual organic certification cost-share program, and that due to an unexpected shortfall in funding they were lowering the reimbursement rate to 50 percent of the certified organic operation’s eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $500 per scope. This is reduced from a rate of 75 percent of the certified organic operation’s eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $750 per scope in previous years (and the level that was specified for this program in the last Farm Bill.)

OFA worked with National Organic Coalition, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and other allies get a better explanation from the FSA about why this program unexpectedly came up short in funding. Now we are working to educate members of Congress on the need to boost the program’s funding so that reimbursement levels can be restored. Congress’ failure to pass new spending bills on time (the new fiscal year for the federal government started on October 1st) means that the federal government is currently running under an extension of last year’s budget. This makes it more complicated to quickly get Congress to provide more funding for the cost-share program. But we are going to keep working to try to get the reimbursement level restored. In the meantime, it does help for members of Congress to hear from organic farmers about why the cost share program is important. You can find out how to take action on cost-share here.

National Organic Standards Board Fall Meeting

The fall NOSB meeting will be held online, spread out over several days. The public comment sessions will be from noon until 5:00 eastern on October 20 and 22, and the NOSB meeting will be from noon until 5:00 eastern on October 28, 29 and 30th.

You can get information about how to register to watch the meeting online on the USDA’s website for this meeting.

You can see the full agenda for the meeting on the USDA’s website and read more about the proposals the NOSB will vote on at the meeting here. One piece of the agenda that might be of interest to those who are following the issue of enforcement and organic imports is a guest speaker from Customs and Border Protection, scheduled for the first day of the meeting (Wednesday October 28) at 12:30 eastern.


OFA Comments on Strengthening Organic Enforcement 2020


October 5, 2020

Jennifer Tucker
Deputy Administrator
National Organic Program
1400 Independence Ave. SW
Room 2642-So., Ag Stop 0268
Washington, DC 20250-0268

Re: Docket No. AMS-NOP-17-0065-0001

To Whom It May Concern:

The Organic Farmers Association is led by domestic certified organic farmers and only certified organic farmers determine our policies. Preventing fraud in the organic marketplace through stronger enforcement has been a top priority for OFA members since our founding.

Our advocacy has included working to include the provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill that are being implemented through this proposed rule. U.S. organic farmers have already experienced significant economic harm from fraud in organic markets, in both domestic and import supply chains. The need for stronger enforcement efforts by the National Organic Program (NOP) was brought to the forefront by years of effort by organic farmers and advocates.[1] U.S organic grain farmers reported negative impacts on the prices they could get for their products after increased volumes of organic grains abruptly started to arrive in the United States several years ago. Since then, imports from regions with questionable oversight and that seem to lack sufficient organic acreage to produce the amount of organic product being exported from that region have continued, while several high profile investigations have also revealed large-scale domestic efforts to sell fraudulent organic products. The net effect of both domestic and imported products being revealed or suspected to be fraudulent has not only economic impacts on the producers who are complying with organic standards but are being undercut in the market by fraudulent products, but also in consumer confidence in the organic label as a whole.

Therefore, we believe that this proposed rule is critical to both the long-term viability of the organic label and organic farmers. And we know that enhanced enforcement efforts by the NOP are long overdue, so we urge the agency to finalize this rule and put it into effect as soon as possible. U.S. organic farmers will continue to suffer economic harm while these regulations are not in effect.

Before we address the specific provisions of the proposed rule and the questions posed for public comment, we have some overarching suggestions and concerns about the proposed rule.

Scope - The broad scope of this proposed rule presents its own challenges. We are concerned that the proposed rule covers so much ground that it will be difficult to get everything in the package finalized. The complexity of some of the topics included in the proposed rule may mean that a significant amount of work remains to be done to resolve concerns raised through this public comment period. But other provisions in the proposed rule, such as the new requirements for import procedures and addressing which entities must be certified, are vitally needed and should be finalized and implemented as soon as possible. If the agency finds as a result of this comment period that some portions of the proposed rule need more in-depth revisions or other work, we urge the agency to consider splitting the proposed rule up so that the sections that are complete can be finalized and implemented quickly.

Emphasis on Auditing - The primary focus of the proposed rule seems to be to improving procedures that will enhance the process of auditing or investigating potential fraud after it has already taken place. We understand that auditing is a major component of  organic oversight. But we also urge the agency not to prioritize auditing at the expense of enforcement activities that can prevent fraud from occurring in the first place, especially in complex supply chains.

NOP Enforcement Capacity – We are concerned that the proposed rule lacks information about the NOP’s commitment to increasing its own capacity to do enforcement activities, in addition to the regulatory changes spelled out in the proposed rule. We urge the NOP to share with the organic community more information about how the new authorities and regulations in the proposed rule impact the NOP’s workplan and staffing needs. Specifically:

  • How will the NOP increase the profile of its enforcement functions as a way to deter those considering fraud?
  • How will the NOP utilize the existing authority, programs and personnel of other government agencies (such as the Automated Commercial Environment system at ports of entry) to increase the NOP’s ability to stop shipments until their organic status can be verified?
  • How will the NOP increase the regular training of agency partners, such as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) port specialists on organic requirements and documentation?

Certifier Oversight – It is also important to put the new requirements that will be created by the proposed rule into the context of the NOP’s existing authority and mandate to provide oversight of accredited certifying agents (certifiers) as a primary method of ensuring integrity. Because certifiers play such an integral role in the daily work of ensuring that certified operations are meeting the organic standards, it makes sense that this proposed rule focuses a lot of attention on certification activities. But we are concerned that the proposed rule pays insufficient attention to the NOP’s oversight over certifiers, including vital activities involved in accreditation.

The list of controversies in the organic community that are caused by inconsistent interpretation or application of organic regulations is quite long, and includes access to pasture, hydroponic and greenhouse operations and transition of organic livestock. The role of NOP in ensuring that certifiers are using consistent interpretations of the regulations cannot be overstated. We welcome the improvements to certifier practices that this proposed rule will require, but that alone is not enough to prevent fraud. We will continue to push the NOP to improve oversight of certifiers as a key component of enforcement.

NOP Requirements  – This proposed rule creates new responsibilities for many players in the organic supply chain, including certifiers, which is appropriate. But we are concerned that the proposed rule does not outline how the NOP will hold itself to similar high standards as those it is setting for other players in the organic sector. For example:

  • Will the NOP communicate with other accreditation agencies internationally about potential fraud or certifier noncompliance?
  • Will the NOP raise the training and experience requirements for its staff who work on accreditation and enforcement?

Interagency Coordination – We understand that the NOP is not as large an agency as others that deal with imported agricultural products, and that there are not NOP personnel present at critical points in the supply chain, such as international certification office locations or ports of entry. This makes it critical that the NOP is able to leverage personnel from other government agencies who may be present in places where the NOP is not. We urge the agency to continue to prioritize coordination with and education and training for other agencies such as CBP and APHIS. Efforts devoted to educating staff from these agencies about the organic requirements, as well as finding ways to integrate the organic designation into their systems, are a critical way to multiply the reach of NOP in preventing fraud.

Questions for Comment

General Topics

  1. The clarity of the proposed requirements. Can certified operations, handlers, and certifying agents readily determine how to comply with the proposed regulations?

Defining Risk - The proposed rule contains numerous references to certifiers and operations assessing risk and then creating procedures based on the level of risk (for example, in determining inspection frequency or a fraud prevention plan.) We urge the NOP to clearly define different levels of risk to ensure that certifiers are using consistent methods to determine what practices constitute high risk. It may be necessary for the NOP to issue guidance on how to determine risk, or require training for certifiers on this critical assessment process.

When the NOP is coming up with guidance on how to assess risk, we believe that the size of operations and the complexity of supply chains must be considered. While organic certification is size neutral, as an operation grows, the amount of product sold and required inputs increase, which increases the potential to introduce and conceal fraud within the complexity of an operation. Size should be one factor that is considered to increase risk, as should the complexity of an operation and its supply chain for inputs and sales.

We also believe that operations deemed to be higher risk should trigger a requirement for inspection and review by more experienced and specialized reviewers and inspectors.

Defining Audits: In different sections of the proposed rule and the accompanying narrative, the terms “supply chain audit” and “traceback audit” are used. More clarity is needed on these terms, as a supply chain audit sounds much more comprehensive than a traceback audit.

  1. The implementation timeframe. AMS is proposing that all requirements in this proposed rule be implemented within ten months of the effective date of the final rule (this is also one year after publication of the final rule).

Because this proposed rule is so complex and covers so many different topics, we suggest that the NOP consider setting different implementation dates for different sections. We have heard from some certifiers that the proposed implementation date of ten months after the effective date is not feasible to make the changes required for certifiers. Smaller certifiers in particular may need more time, as well as technical assistance.

But the implementation date for the requirements for import procedures should be as soon as possible, ideally faster than 10 months after the effective date of final rule. The problem of fraud in organic supply chains has been hurting U.S. organic farmers for years, and the measures in the proposed rule are long overdue. We can’t afford to wait for another year for these enhanced efforts at fraud prevention to begin.

Applicability and Exemptions from Certification

  1. Are there additional activities that should be included in the proposed definition of handle (i.e., are there additional activities that require certification)? Are there any activities in the proposed definition of handle that should be exempt from certification?

We suggest that to be explicitly clear, the NOP should add the terms “importing,” “exporting,” “transloading,” “relabeling,” “splitting,” “opening,” “packaging,” “private labeling” and “sorting” to the definition of handle.

We also have concerns about some forms of transport remaining exempt from certification. Some types of containers used for large bulk shipments, or containers that are permeable, could create risk for commingling with non-organic product or contact with prohibited substances. Transport of large volumes of product or transport involving commingling are factors to consider for requiring certification.

Another area that needs clarity is certification for private label products. Companies that sell private label organic products (but do not otherwise handle organic products) should be required to be certified. Companies that sell organic products need to understand the special requirements organic products have as they move through the supply chain, whether or not they produced them. Allowing an entity to benefit from the premium associated with the organic label by selling private label products without being required to do the same work to be certified that is required of other certified entities producing a similar branded product creates an unlevel playing field.

  1. Are there specific activities not included in the proposed rule that you believe should be exempt from organic certification?

We urge the NOP to clarify that on-farm seed production can take place under the scope of a crop certification, and does not require an additional certification as a handler.

  1. Are there additional requirements that exempt handlers described in this proposed rule should follow?

We believe the NOP should establish and require a uniform affidavit process to provide more structure to exempt entities providing transport or storage services to ensure those entities understand that organic products must be handled in ways that prevent contact with prohibited substances or commingling. Ensuring that exempt handlers use and provide uniform affidavits vouching for how organic products were handled should be the responsibility of a buyer of organic product.

The proposed rule would allow facilities that only store organic product to be exempt from certification. But oversight is still needed for these facilities to ensure that these operations are aware of and following the organic regulations to prevent contact with prohibited substances and commingling. Later provisions of the proposed rule about special handling instructions and notification of organic status on nonretail containers could be useful for exempt storage facilities. But we urge the NOP to consider what else can be done to ensure that these exempt operations understand the special handling needed for organic products.

For transport activities or activities at a port that may not require certification, the NOP could require a transport plan from the owner of the certified product. This plan would detail where products goes and what happens at each stage of the transportation, and could be connected to the uniform affidavit system.

Imports to the United States

  1. Is the 30-day timeframe for certifying agents to review and issue an NOP Import Certificate appropriate? Why or why not?

We are concerned about a different timing issue that was mentioned in the narrative description of the proposed rule, but not specifically mentioned in the regulatory text, that imported shipments be “associated with” but not “accompanied by” the Import Certificate and that importers would have up to 10 days to submit the certificate to the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) system. This lag time between a shipment entering  the country and the import certificate being made available in the ACE system is far too long. The lag between the product and the certificate arrivals could substantially diminish the chance that a problematic shipment is prevented from entering commerce, or make it impossible to prevent fraudulent product from being recovered once it does. This lag time could be the difference between preventing fraudulent product from entering the country or merely finding out that this happened later during an audit, after it is too late to prevent.

The Import Certificate should accompany the imported shipment and be submitted to the CBP ACE system upon shipment from the foreign port. Without a verified import certificate in the ACE system, a shipment should not be unloaded at a U.S. port of entry.

  1. How could the mode of transportation and frequency of shipments affect the use of the NOP Import Certificate?

We urge the NOP to consider specifying a limited number of ports of entry (for each mode of transportation) where organic imports are allowed to enter the United States. As the NOP continues to build its capacity to work with these new import certificates and other government agencies like CBP and APHIS, it makes sense to first refine these systems and train other agency partners at a few main ports of entry. This would help NOP refine its procedures before they could eventually be expanded to more ports of entry.

Additional Comments on Imports to the United States

We support the requirement created by the proposed rule that imported organic products must have an import certificate. But we urge the NOP to do more with these new certificates than is outlined in the proposed rule, as recommended by the USDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). The OIG recommended in its 2017 audit report that the NOP “develop and implement a plan to verify NOP import certificates at U.S. ports of entry, identify fraudulent import certificates, and capture organic import data.”[2] We believe the proposed rule could go further to establish systems for achieving the OIG’s recommendation. Requiring import certificates is a critical first step, but it should not be the only step that NOP takes.

For import certificates to have real value in preventing fraud, the NOP will need to have a plan, and the capacity to implement it, that allows the verification of the information on the certificates. Simply having certificates on file with no follow-through to verify the information they contain will provide false confidence. The NOP’s ability, working with CBP and other agencies, to flag shipments whose information cannot be verified while still at the port, is what will have a deterrent effect on parties considering an attempt to import fraudulent products.

The proposed rule also does not make clear how the NOP will capture organic import data from import certificates in a useful time frame to influence its oversight of certifiers or other countries’ accreditation systems. Capturing data to indicate trends, such as a surge in imports from a particular broker or from a particular region, could inform the NOP’s oversight of certifiers or accreditors operating in those regions, or indicate the need for further investigation. The NOP should develop a set of investigative procedures that are triggered by import data, such as automatically conducting an investigation when there is a significant surge in imports for a specific product category to determine if fraudulent activity is contributing to that increase and conducting an automatic investigation when a product entering a port has been certified or produced by an entity that is under investigation from another competent authority such as the EU.

Another area where the proposed rule could be clearer is how the NOP will work to address the recommendation from the OIG for improved coordination between the NOP, APHIS and CBP to ensure that APHIS officials at a port are notified about what to do if APHIS fumigates organic products with prohibited substances. The OIG called on the NOP to work with CBP to update the ACE system message sets to ensure that APHIS officials are notified of steps to take when organic agricultural imports are treated with NOP-prohibited substances and that importers are notified that treated organic products can no longer be sold, labeled, or represented as organic. We understand that the NOP has been participating in a working group with CBP and other agencies on issues related to imported products, and we urge the agency to continue with that process. But providing more context in the proposed rule about how these inter-agency coordination efforts connect to the new regulatory requirements will help the organic industry understand what is happening at ports of entry and possibly deter fraud by making clear that NOP is leveraging the resources of other agencies to strengthen oversight.[3]

Labeling or otherwise providing a visual indicator that a container holds organic products is a good first step. But unless the person seeing the container knows what organic means, providing this information will not do much good. Therefore, the NOP should design simple training modules for employees of other government agencies and uncertified entities in the supply chain on the specifics of the handling requirements and rules for organic products, emphasizing prohibited materials, restrictions on fumigants and restrictions on commingling.

The proposed rule was also not clear about how the NOP is addressing Recommendation 7 of the OIG report, on how NOP will notify the trade to ensure fumigated product is not sold as organic.[4] This notification could be improved by the provisions of the proposed rule relating to removing exemptions for some types of handlers and improving the requirements that nonretail containers indicate organic status. But the proposed rule does not clearly describe how the NOP will improve the procedures to notify the trade if organic product is mistakenly treated with prohibited substances, specifically how organic labeling on a nonretail container must be altered to indicate that a product has lost its organic status.

Finally, we urge the NOP to go beyond what is required by the Farm Bill for information captured by the ACE system for organic imports. Information that the NOP should consider utilizing in addition to the new import certificate includes other types of documents that are widely used in commerce, such as bills of lading, insurance certificates and shipping manifests. We are aware that audits and inspections by certifiers may utilize these types of documents. But we urge the NOP to consider ways to use these documents to provide additional information to detect potentially fraudulent imports as shipments arrive at ports of entry, in order to prevent fraud. For large bulk shipments of products such as grain, which are likely to contain the commingled production of many operations, having additional information could be critical in detecting fraud and preventing these shipments from entering commerce. As the NOP continues to improve its enforcement capacity, we urge the agency to consider expanding requirements about what information a broker, importer or other handler must provide to buyers at the time of import to include information about all of the operations that supplied the product in a commingled shipment.

Labeling of Nonretail Containers

AMS seeks comment regarding the proposed amendments to the labeling of nonretail containers, specifically whether or not the certified operation that produced or last processed the product must be listed (i.e., not optional) on all nonretail container labels.

We support requiring the labeling identified in the proposed rule section 205.307(a), items which “must” be listed. But we believe that some items listed in proposed rule 205.307(b), items which “may” be listed, are so important that they should be made mandatory and not left to the discretion of handlers to decide. Specifically, we urge the agency to move the following items to 205.307(a) so they will be required for nonretail containers:

  • Producer contact info (or last certified handler)
  • Special handling instructions (such as “Organic – Do Not Fumigate”)
  • Country of origin
  • USDA organic seal

We believe the proposed rule’s definition of nonretail container is too limited. Large nonretail containers used for shipping (tankers, containers, barges, etc.) should also be covered by these labeling requirements because they are used in complex supply chains and have high potential for commingling. This labeling could provide a very important last layer of protection to prevent commingling or contact with prohibited substances at a port or other facility that handles more than organic products, or is being shipped or stored by entities that may remain exempt from certification.

And we urge the NOP to think beyond labeling requirements and to explore methods that are already used in food supply chains, such as tamper-proof seals on shipping containers. These seals could also potentially be color-coded or somehow identify organic status.

Finally, we are aware that the NOP is concerned that requiring labeling of very large, bulk-scale, containers may be challenging. If that is the case, then we suggest that those types of containers are too large to be used for shipping organic products. We believe it is appropriate for organic shipments to have restrictions on the type of containers that can be used for transportation, given the special handling requirements needed to protect organic integrity. Extremely large vessels, such as those using bulk cargo holds, encourage commingling of product and increase the potential for fraud. We urge the NOP to consider requiring that organic commodities be shipped in containers that can be loaded onto ships and then onto rail or trucks, while remaining sealed with tamper-proof devices. This could eliminate one weak point in long complex supply chains.

On-Site Inspections

We support codifying the NOP’s guidance that certifiers must conduct unannounced inspections for a minimum of five percent of the operations they certify annually. The NOP had previously issued this as a best practice, but the proposed rule will now make this requirement enforceable.

We support the requirements for mass balance and traceback audits, as well as provisions that prevent certifiers from operating in regions where they lack capacity to conduct unannounced inspections.

We urge the NOP to require that certifiers perform unannounced inspections during critical times, such as during the grazing season for a dairy operation that may not be complying with the pasture rule.

The discretion given to certifiers in selecting which operations receive unannounced inspections makes it even more critical that the NOP can ensure that certifiers are using a consistent process for determining which operations are high risk. As we described earlier in this comment, the NOP should clarify definitions of how risk is evaluated, issue guidance and perhaps require training for certifiers on how to assess risk. We believe that the size of an operation must be a main factor in assessing risk, both because of the complexity that comes with maintaining organic practices on larger operations and the volume of product that larger operations release into commerce.

Certificates of Organic Operation

  1. Should an expiration date be included on all certificates of organic operation? Would this make them more useful?

Organic farmers usually do not control the timing of their certificate renewal. They are bound by decisions involving their certifier about when their inspection can take place and the final review of their application completed. Therefore, we urge the NOP to ensure that any expiration date on certificates allow time for delays in inspection or review by the certifier. We do not want farmers to be left without a valid certificate because the process ran behind schedule due to things they cannot control.

Additional Comments on Certificates of Organic Operation

Section 205.404 (b) of the proposed rule would require a certifier to issue a certificate that is generated from the INTEGRITY database and states that a certifier may provide a certificate to certified operations electronically. We suggest that the NOP to add a provision that requires certifiers to provide certified operations with the option to receive paper copies of their certificate. There are still many farm operations that do not have sufficient internet connections to rely on electronic records, or do not wish to do so.

Including acreage data in the INTEGRITY database is necessary to do thorough mass balance audits that can detect fraud, by showing if a region does not have enough acreage to supply the amount of product claimed to originate there. We urge the NOP to include acreage data by crop and region to allow this kind of analysis. But there will need to be some flexibility in how this data is collected and presented to avoid creating a burden for farmers. For example, for producers with a diversified crop mix, especially fruit and vegetable producers who may grow many varieties every year on small parcels of land, a streamlined way to estimate acreage will be needed to avoid creating a huge reporting burden for these operations.

And farmers have also expressed some concerns about how acreage data is presented in the database. One particular concern is whether buyers could access detailed acreage information about specific certified operations in the database, in order to gain an advantage in marketing negotiations. We suggest that the NOP consult with the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service about how that agency addresses such concerns in the course of conducting and reporting data from the Census of Agriculture. One potential method for addressing this problem could be to aggregate the acreage data by some regional area (such as the county level in the United States) to prevent an individual operation’s acreage from being accessible in the database. Another potential option would be to limit who can access acreage information to certifiers and the NOP, to prevent buyers or others involved in marketing from accessing this information.

Personnel Training and Qualifications

  1. Should any other types of knowledge, skills, and experience be specified?

We believe the NOP should require specific qualifications for different types of inspectors and reviewers employed by certifiers. Specific examples include experience working on or managing an operation of the type they are qualified to inspect or review. For example, an inspector or reviewer evaluating a dairy operation should be required to have knowledge of how dry matter intake calculations are done and have experience with dairy operations.

We also urge the NOP to create requirements for inspectors and reviewers who deal with high-risk operations, with more qualifications required to be eligible to certify those operations. As will be discussed in more detail below, we also suggest that the NOP consider specialized training or requirements for certifiers that wish to certify grower groups, due to the complexity and specific risks created by those systems.

Oversight of Certification Activities

In section 205.501 (a) (22) of the proposed rule, we are concerned about why a new certification office has 90 days to notify the NOP that it has started operations. This seems like far too long for a certifier to operate in a new area without letting the NOP know they have started certification activities there. We urge the agency to drastically shorten the length of time certifiers have to notify the NOP about opening a new office, and to consider requiring notification before certification activities in the new area can begin.

Accepting Foreign Conformity Assessment Systems

AMS seeks comment regarding whether the public sees a differential risk to enforcement associated with certain organic trade relationships. Specifically, compared with organic equivalence determinations, are there increased risks associated with recognition agreements where other countries’ governments oversee the implementation of NOP certification?

The 2017 report by the OIG outlined numerous ways that the NOP needed to “strengthen its controls over the approval and oversight of international trade arrangements and agreements for the import of organic products into the United States.”[5] These included better tracking and public notification of differences between foreign and U.S. organic standards, as well as oversight and audits of countries with equivalency and recognition agreements. Until all of the recommendations from the OIG’s report are fully implemented, there will continue to be risk associated with both types of organic trade agreements. The agency must develop a better system for identifying and accepting public comment on differences between U.S. and foreign organic standards and how to resolve them.

Additional Comments on Accepting Foreign Conformity Assessment Systems

The NOP should conduct more frequent audits for certification agencies and certifiers’ foreign satellite offices using a risk-based approach. Audits of satellite offices in other countries outside the location of the certifier’s headquarters office should be required for accreditation of the certifier as a whole, and the certifier’s headquarters office should be held responsible for any noncompliance found at their satellite offices.

Additionally, the agency should not restrict its relationship with governments of trading partners solely to standards setting activities. These governments are also providing oversight and accreditation of the organic sector in their countries, and the NOP and these trading partners should be collaborating on enforcement activities as well as data that could inform decisions about risk for fraud in international supply chains. A more expansive approach to the scope of the relationship with recognition or equivalency agreement countries would include the foreign governments’ role as accreditors. If a country the United States has a trade relationship with has taken enforcement action against a certifier or certified operation, that information should be shared as part of the trade relationship. This could prevent unscrupulous operations or certifiers from using the United States as a destination for product they could no longer sell in another country due to an enforcement action. This communication needs to be ongoing, in real time, and public – not something that only occurs during a regular two-year review.

Compliance – General

We support the proposed rule language regarding the NOP’s ability to initiate enforcement action against any person who sells, labels or provides other market information concerning an agricultural product if such label or information implies, directly or indirectly, that such product is produced or handled using organic methods, if the product was produced or handled in violation of the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) or regulations. This was the intent of the Farm Bill provisions to strengthen the NOP’s capacity to take enforcement actions when fraud happens, and we believe more robust enforcement activities by NOP will deter fraud in the future.

Noncompliance Procedure for Certified Operations

In addition to the clarification in the proposed rule about a person who is responsibly connected to an operation that violates OFPA or the regulations being subject to penalties, we urge the agency to review and upgrade their procedures for coordinating with other government agencies with the capacity and authority to provide enforcement, such as the Department of Justice, state attorneys general, the Department of Treasury and others who have been involved in past investigations and prosecutions of organic fraud cases.

We also urge NOP to consider how to maximize civil penalties in the case of fraud, by setting the number of violations per bushel or other unit of production so that the penalties are actually punitive to those who committed fraud and to deter others who may be considering it.

We also urge the agency to make explicit in the proposed rule that any business or individual found to have intentionally violated the organic regulations for the purpose of fraud can never again receive an organic certificate. We think that it is necessary for the NOP to clarify that unintentional violations due to mistakes or confusion about the standards are not the intent of this provision, and that the penalty of being ineligible for future organic certification is due to intentional violations and intent to commit fraud.

Grower Group Operations

OFA is aware that there are successful and well-run grower group networks around the world that provide a viable way for small producers to participate in the organic market. We are supportive of those operations having this opportunity and see the concept of grower groups as a very valuable option for small operations, both internationally and in the United States. But we do have concerns about the complexity of grower group systems and the need for well-designed and well-run internal control systems and thorough oversight by certifiers.

We have some specific thoughts in response to the questions posed for comment, which we offer below. But first we would like to express our more general concern that there should be a much more thorough conversation among the entire organic community about the best way to set rules for grower groups that strike the proper balance between allowing this unique system to provide small growers a way to participate in the organic market and reducing the potential for violations of the organic standards or unfair economic conditions for growers. We believe that discussion should be initiated at the National Organic Standards Board because it has been over a decade since this topic was last addressed in that venue, which serves as a forum for the entire organic community.

The inclusion of new regulations for grower groups in this larger proposed rule on enforcement is problematic. We think that the best approach is to take the grower group section out of the proposed rule, so that it may receive more discussion and consideration, without delaying the rest of the proposed rule, which needs to be implemented as soon as possible. The stakes for getting these rules for grower groups right are very high for many small farms around the world. It is worth taking more time to make sure the rules are as thorough and well-designed as possible. The best way to do that is to remove this section from the proposed rule, so that there is not unnecessary pressure to rush through this process to complete the larger package of issues in the proposed rule.

With that general caution about process, we offer the following specific thoughts in response to the questions for comment.

  1. Should there be limits on gross sales or field sizes of individual grower group members? If yes, please describe these limits.

We believe there is some need for a limit on the scale of operations that are eligible to participate in a grower group. We view grower groups as an appropriate way for smaller operations, who may not be able to manage organic certification on their own, to enter into the organic industry. There may be a point at which some operations grow in size or experience, making the process of getting their own certification more feasible. But we understand that for some operations this may never happen. It does seem to create the opportunity for imbalances in the decision-making process of a grower group if a few participating operations are radically larger than others, as well as creating challenges for calculating who should get an annual inspection or other oversight.

We believe the NOP should consider some guidelines for how to address limits on the scale of operations eligible to participate in grower groups, but understand that this is a very complex subject because of the huge range of operations around the world that participate in this system. We believe it is unlikely that a single metric like acreage or sales value will be sufficient to encompass the diversity of different grower group networks around the world, and it will likely require a multi-part test to assess this.

  1. Should there be a limit on the maximum number of members allowed in a grower group operation or in a grower group production unit? If yes, please describe these limits.

This question also illustrates the need for a very thorough discussion of grower groups by the entire organic community. An arbitrary limit on the number of operations in a grower group will not be useful, because so many factors ranging from geographic range covered to the quality of the internal control system impact risk. But the complexity involved in managing larger numbers of members in a grower group, both for the internal control system and for certifiers, needs to be addressed.

  1. Should there be a limit to the geographical distribution of members? This includes limits to the maximum geographical proximity or distance between grower group members, grower group production or gathering areas, or grower group production units within a single grower group operation. If yes, please describe these limits.

Similarly, this needs thorough discussion in the organic community. But a larger geographical distribution of members in a grower group does increase the complexity of the system and  this must be considered in how certifiers and internal control systems define risk.

Additional Comments on Grower Groups

In addition to the questions posed for comment, we have other concerns that we think would best be addressed in a discussion with the organic community before finalizing any new rules for grower groups.

Protections for Farmers – The requirement that members of a grower group can only market their organic products through the grower group is logical from the perspective of how to create a system with control over organic integrity. However, this could create an imbalance in power between individual farmer members and the grower group entity. If farmers have some concern or dispute with the grower group entity over prices or other treatment, they have few or no options to seek a better price or better conditions if they cannot market their products elsewhere without losing their organic certification. Because they cannot sell the product as organic in any other way, they have no leverage in the transaction with the grower group buyer. This requires some other mechanism for protecting farmers from retaliation or other unfair treatment at the hands of the grower group entity. The NOP should convene a discussion with the larger organic community, including international organizations with experience in running grower groups, about models including cooperative structures or other grower protections that may be necessary to protect individuals participating in grower groups.

The experience of contract poultry growers and other contracting arrangements in the United States comes to mind when considering a requirement that a farmer must sell their product in a specific channel. The imbalance in power between the buyer/owner in a vertically integrated supply chain and individual producers can become severe and lead to unfair practices ranging from preferential treatment of some producers relative to others to retaliation against individual producers who challenge a decision by the buyer or complain to authorities. If the use of grower groups expands, especially in countries where vertically integrated supply chains is predominant, it will be important to have options for individual growers to protect their rights while still being able to participate in a grower group.

Livestock -  The proposed rule would not allow livestock producers to participate in a grower group, but does not explain why. There are honey producers operating around the world who use a grower group model currently, and it does not seem appropriate to cut them off from the grower group system without clear justification. And with proper rules to address scale and other factors, small farms raising livestock may be interested in this model, especially if a grower group network could share the infrastructure for processing that is so often a limiting factor for animal products.

But if the grower group model were to be expanded to livestock, especially in the United States, there are additional factors to be considered. The model of vertically integrated contract livestock operations in the United States is not one that should be imitated in the organic sector. We do not want organic growers to end up having to suffer unfair treatment or prices as a condition of being able to market their products as organic. If livestock is to be allowed in the grower group model, the NOP should consider whether to require that individual growers own the animals and also have some ownership or control of the processing infrastructure and decision-making of the grower group.

Retail - Although it is not included in this proposed rule, OFA oppose the use of the grower group model for retailers. If retail operations require certification because they meet the definition of a handler under the new requirements of the proposed rule, individual locations should be required to be certified.

Certifier Requirements - The certification of grower groups is complex due to the complicated structure of this system and the need for an excellent understanding of the risks posed by large numbers of operations operating over a potentially large geographic area. The NOP should consider a special type of accreditation for certifiers that have the necessary training and experience to certify grower groups.

Single Crop – The NOP should clarify the use of the phrase “single crop” in the proposed rule on grower groups. As currently written, it could be interpreted to mean that a grower group can only market one crop, which could have negative implications for crop rotation on small farms.

European Union Standards - The European Union is in the process of revising their standards for grower group certification. Many grower groups around the world sell to both the U.S. and EU markets. Therefore, we encourage the NOP to consult with the EU before finalizing new U.S. standards on grower groups to ensure they are as compatible as possible to alleviate the burden on grower groups that sell into both markets.

Supply Chain Traceability and Organic Fraud Prevention

  1. Does the proposed definition of organic fraud encompass the types of fraudulent activities you witness in the organic supply chain?

NOP should consider how to clarify this definition to make clear that entities that may not take legal possession of a product (because they are a broker, shipper, processor or facility that stores product owned by someone else) are still covered by this definition.

Additional Comments on Supply Chain Traceability and Organic Fraud Prevention

In section 205.501 (a) (21) of the proposed rule, we urge the NOP to provide more clarity on the difference between a “supply chain audit,” the term used in the regulation text, and a “traceability audit,” the term used in the narrative. A supply chain audit sounds much more comprehensive than a traceability audit, which could focus on the one stop forward and back approach of whether an operation can provide that level of traceability, as opposed to vouching for the entire supply chain of a product.

Additional Amendments Considered But Not Included in This Proposed Rule

Packaged Product Labeling

  1. For private-label packaged products, which certified operation(s) should be listed on the retail label (brand name/distributor, contract manufacturer, or both)?

Both the brand name/distributor and the contract manufacturer should be listed on retail labels. This increases the transparency of the organic marketplace, which benefits producers and consumers by allowing them to understand the supply chain responsible for a product.

  1. Which certifying agent(s) should be listed?

The certifying agent for both the brand name/distributor and contract manufacturer should be listed. If a product that is not sold under a private label must list its certifier, products sold under a private label must also list their certifier.

  1. Should the certifying agent listed on a label always be the certifying agent of the certified operation listed on the label (i.e., should the certifying agent match the operation)?

Yes. Allowing labels to list certifying agents that do not match the operation that actually produced the product is not only allowing inaccurate information to be presented to consumers, which could undermine their confidence in the organic label, but also could encourage frequent changes in suppliers or certifiers by private label product manufacturers. This kind of frequent switching could create a dynamic where buyers are constantly pitting suppliers (and their certifiers) against each other to create an advantage by cutting prices paid to farmers or compliance with organic standards.

  1. Should listing contract manufacturers on labels be mandatory? Should it be optional?

Listing contract manufacturers on labels should be mandatory. Organic consumers value transparency and providing this information on labels increases the transparency of the organic supply chain. Organic farmers and handlers also benefit from increased transparency in the supply chain, which helps them assess opportunities in the marketplace.

Expiration of Certification

  1. Could an operation with unresolved adverse actions renew certification?

This depends on the number and severity of the adverse actions. The NOP should discuss with the organic community how to design a system that would not block an operation from getting its certificate renewed due to minor non-compliances, if the operation had a record that indicates that they are working in good faith to address the problems. But there should be an option for an operation with a history of repeated adverse actions and a record of failing to address them to be prevented from renewing its certification.

  1. Would a grace period be appropriate for operations that failed to renew by the expiration date? If so, what length grace period would be appropriate?

We have heard concerns from organic farmers that some certifiers could suspend a certification for missing the deadline to submit an application or pay fees. In this scenario, there should be some sort of grace period so that certifiers can contact the operation to make sure there wasn’t a miscommunication or reasonable explanation for the delay.  This is a topic that the Accredited Certifiers Association may be well-suited to address and develop best practice recommendations.

  1. What process should exist for an operation to regain organic certification should it allow its certification to expire?

There are some valid reasons why a farm operation may have allowed its certification to expire, such as illness or other setback on their farm operation that caused the farmer to fall behind with paperwork. We suggest that the NOP discuss this topic with the organic community to try to find a reasonable process for an operation that had previously been in good standing and can offer a valid reason why their certificate expired to regain certification. One idea for doing this would be to only allow an operation to use this process once and also to include a farm using this process of regaining certification in any future assessment of risk for this operation (for determining unannounced inspections or other certification activities.)

  1. Should certifying agents notify certified operations of their upcoming expiration of certification?

Yes, certifiers should notify certified operations of their upcoming expiration. This could prevent operations from losing their certification because they are a small business struggling to keep up with paperwork or because of some other disruption they are facing. If an operation needs this reminder repeatedly, this may be something that certifiers could consider as a factor in assessing risk for this operation.

Fees to AMS and Oversight of Certifying Agents’ Fees

Fees Paid to NOP – We are concerned about the approach of having an agency rely on user fees for the revenue it needs to run operations. Creating a reliance on user fees brings with it some risk that a disruption to the industry generating the fees can leave an agency starved of funds it needs to operate. For example, because of the disruptions to global trade and air travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic, user fees that fund agricultural import inspection activities performed by CBP are hundreds of millions of dollars lower than projected for the year. This has left that agency short of funding and in need of an emergency infusion of funds from Congress to maintain operations.[6]

We are also very concerned about the power dynamic created by a user fee relationship. When an agency is reliant on fees paid by the entities it is regulating, it can create a disincentive to penalize or remove one of those entities from the program because doing so could reduce the user fees that provide revenue for operations. We believe that shifting the NOP to a more user fee-dependent model is a mistake that will make the agency’s enforcement activities harder to accomplish, which would undermine the viability of the organic industry.

NOP Oversight of Fees Paid by Certified Operations – In addition to the question of fees paid to the NOP, our members believe that the agency should also increase its oversight of the fees that operations pay for certification. Farmers report a wide range of fees charged by certifiers and wonder if more consistency would alleviate confusion about differences between certifiers and the burden of having to do research to choose a certifier. And as we continue to try to remove obstacles to new farmers getting their organic certification, the cost of certifying remains a barrier for many small operations and those run by socially disadvantaged farmers. The NOP should convene a conversation with the organic community to evaluate certification fees and whether options like a sliding scale for small, beginning, and socially disadvantaged farmers would increase participation in organic certification.

Related to the issue of certification fees, OFA remains very concerned about what happened to the organic certification cost share program this year. We urge the NOP to advocate with other USDA agencies such as the Farm Services Agency, which administers the cost share program, to help protect the cost share program and restore it to previous reimbursement levels.


This proposed rule is a long overdue first step towards the robust enforcement we need to protect the integrity of the organic label and the economic viability of organic farms that rely on consumer trust in that label. We urge the NOP to make the revisions we outline in this comment and to finalize the rule as soon as possible. To do so, we believe that the NOP should prioritize finishing the most urgent, and closest to completion, provisions of the rule such as the import requirements. If other provisions, such as the grower group regulations, need more discussion and evaluation, we suggest that the agency remove those sections from the proposed rule so that work can be done without holding up the rest of the package.

But once this rule is finalized, there is still more work to do prevent fraud in the organic sector. We believe that the NOP should seek from Congress any additional authority it needs to address fraud in domestic or international markets, such as stop sale authority. And we will continue to advocate for resources for the NOP to increase the agency’s capacity to hold itself to the same standards of training, information sharing and other enforcement activities that it has set out for other entities in this proposed rule.

Beyond personnel and funding, the NOP must have the will and mindset needed to prioritize enforcement actions and visibility in the marketplace to deter fraud. We understand that auditing is a cornerstone of the organic certification system. But an overemphasis on auditing things after the fact, at the expense of active involvement in the marketplace through verification activities and coordination with other agencies, will not solve the problem facing the organic industry.

Finally, we urge the NOP to take seriously its role as an accreditor and to acknowledge that its role as an accreditor is inextricably tied to its enforcement mandate. The oversight of organic certifiers is essential, and the accreditation procedures that are not addressed in this proposed rule are a key component of how organic standards are actually enforced on the ground. Ensuring that certifiers consistently interpret and apply the standards, everywhere they operate, is critical to the integrity of the organic label. And the NOP is the only entity that can ensure that this happens. As the agency works to finalize the provisions of the proposed rule and implement new requirements for certified operations and certifying agents, it cannot overlook the work it needs to do as well to fulfill its critical role in the enforcement process.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on these issues that are of critical importance to U.S. organic farmers.


Kate Mendenhall


[1] “U.S. Farmers Stalk Fraudulent Imports to Save Their Markets.” Minneapolis Star Tribune. July 16, 2019.; “The Labels Said ‘Organic.’ But These Massive Imports of Corn and Soybeans Weren’t.” Washington Post. May 12, 2017.;  “the Tragedy of Fraud.” Organic Farmers Association. Summer 2020.

[2] USDA Office of Inspector General. “National Organic Program – International Trade Arrangements and Agreements.” Audit Report 01601-0001-21. September 2017. Recommendation 4.

[3] USDA Office of Inspector General. 2017. Recommendations 6 and 7.

[4] USDA Office of Inspector General. 2017. Recommendation 7.

[5] USDA Office of Inspector General. 2017

[6] “Ag Groups Warn of Ag Inspection Funding Shortfall.” Feedstuffs. June 30, 2020.


OFA Comments to NOSB Fall 2020

October 1, 2020

Ms. Michelle Arsenault
Advisory Committee Specialist
National Organic Standards Board
USDA-AMS-NOP, 1400 Independence Ave. SW
Room 2642-S, Mail Stop 0268
Washington, DC 20250-0268


Re: Docket No. AMS-NOP-20-0041-0001

Dear National Organic Standards Board Members,

The Organic Farmers Association is led and controlled by domestic certified organic farmers and only certified organic farmers determine our policies using a grassroots process. We believe organic farmers were instrumental in creating our successful organic market and must be leaders in directing its future.

OFA supports the work of the National Organic Standards Board and we know that you play a crucial role in maintaining the integrity of the USDA organic label. We appreciate the opportunity to provide comments to the Board and the National Organic Program on general issues impacting organic farmers, as well as several specific items on the agenda for your meeting.

Issues Impacting Organic Farmers

We support NOSB recommendations moving forward to rulemaking or guidance in a timely manner, and we urge the NOP to continue to prioritize its regulatory efforts that are critical to the integrity of the organic label.


We were disappointed that the NOP did not meet the deadline set by Congress for finalizing a rule on origin of organic livestock. We urge the program to work quickly to address this longstanding gap in the organic standards and level the playing field for organic dairy farms who are already meeting the intent behind the organic label. We urge the NOP to work quickly and intently to finish the origin of organic livestock rule that so many dairy farmers urgently need. We also encourage the NOP to be transparent with the organic community about the status of the rule. We urge you to include the following provisions in a rule on origin of livestock:

  • A producer as defined by the USDA NOP may transition bovine dairy animals into organic production only once.
  • A producer is eligible for this transition only if they convert an entire established non-organic dairy operation to organic production at the same geographic location within a defined 12-month period. Once that transition has started, other non-organically certified animals cannot be added to the herd.
  • This transition must occur over a continuous 12-month period prior to production of milk or milk products that are to be sold, labeled, or represented as organic.
  • A producer must not transition any new bovine dairy animals into organic production after the end of the 12-month transition period.
  • A producer is not eligible for the exemption if it has been used by a Responsible Connected person who has 20% or more ownership share in their legal entity.
  • The certifying entity will file an organic system plan prior to the start of transition and the transition process is overseen by the certifier as part of their accountability.
  • Transitioned animals must not be sold, labeled, or represented as organic slaughter stock or organic bovine dairy animals.
  • If organic management of the dairy animal, starting at the last third of gestation or at any other time it has been organic, is interrupted, the animal cannot be returned to organic certification.
  • Split bovine conventional and organic milking herds at the same location should be prohibited.
  • Once the regulation is finalized all entities should be required to immediately meet the requirements of the Final Rule.

We also urge the NOP to continue to focus on compliance with the pasture rule, with an emphasis on higher risk operations including those on the margins of the 30 percent dry matter intake rule and dairies with 1,000 or more milking and dry cows.

Container and Greenhouse Operations

OFA continues to be concerned about the consequences for the integrity of the organic label as a result of the NOP and NOSB moving forward to allow organic hydroponics without clarity on how this type of production complies with the Organic Foods Production Act. We are also troubled by inconsistent interpretation of NOP guidance on the practices that can be used in container and greenhouse operations.

This summer, OFA, the National Organic Coalition and the Accredited Certifiers Association conducted a survey of USDA-accredited certification agencies to determine the amount of consistency in how certifiers interpret the standards for transition within greenhouses, hoop houses, hydroponic and indoor operations.

The goals of the survey were to:

  1. Inform the work of the ACA’s working group, which is focused on the June 3rd, 2019 NOP memo on Land-based Production Affecting Greenhouse and Container Production.[1] The working group intends to begin creating guidelines in the coming weeks and months to address inconsistencies and identify best practices in three-year transition period requirements.
  2. Use the aggregated data we have collected to inform the NOP and NOSB, identify where there is a lack of uniform interpretation, and request their review and clarification.
  3. Ultimately the goal of the survey is to bring all certifiers into alignment in this area so that together we uphold high organic integrity and provide uniform interpretation of the organic standards

Thirty-four certification agencies responded, and their responses indicate a wide range of interpretations about how long these operations must wait after the application of a prohibited substance and whether split operations can be certified. We presented 20 different scenarios and only two – an operation with plants grown in the ground (while in a structure like a greenhouse or hoop house) and certification of the outdoor access area for poultry – showed strong consensus on what transition time is required after application of a prohibited substance. Other scenarios yielded split results, indicating that different certifiers have different interpretations and application of the standards. We have attached a summary of the survey results with this comment.

The survey results show that certifiers need more clarity from the NOP. We are encouraged that the ACA working group is focused on this issue this fall, and we encourage the NOP to work collaboratively with them and provide clarity for certifiers on this regulatory question.

Organic Certification Cost Share

OFA members are extremely concerned about the decision by the Farm Services Agency to cut 2020 reimbursement levels for the organic certification cost share program to 50 percent, with a maximum reimbursement of $500 per scope (down from the long-standing level of 75 percent or $750 per scope.) This cut in the program leaves organic operations – who had been planning on being reimbursed for their certification costs at the same level as previous years – burdened with an unplanned expense, in the midst of a period of economic stress caused by the pandemic.

Our conversations with FSA after they announced the reduced reimbursement level have been very disturbing, and indicate that the agency used incorrect numbers in its communications with Congress about the status of funding for this program. And delays in preparing the program for 2020 applications meant that the news about the funding shortfall came so late that it will be a challenge to fix the problem this year. We understand that the NOP and AMS no longer administer this program. But we urge the program to reach out to FSA to try to better understand how this problem occurred this year and how to prevent it in the future. We see the NOP as an important advocate for organic agriculture within the USDA and ask you to support organic farmers by helping to maintain a strong organic certification cost share program.

Issues on the NOSB Meeting Agenda

Crops Subcommittee: Proposal – Paper (Plant pots and other crop production aids) – petitioned

The issue of paper pots is on the agenda for the NOSB because this is a tool that is critical to many small farms that depend on this product. Therefore, we appreciate the Board’s efforts to address this need and clarify the status of paper on the national list. OFA supports this proposal.

Crops Subcommittee: Discussion Document – Biodegradable biobased mulch annotation change

In the discussion document, the Board requests feedback from the organic community on several questions relating to the environmental characteristics of these products, their compatibility with organic standards and whether they are vital tools for any operations. We appreciate that this material has been a source of discussion for the Board for a long time and that there are proponents of this product in organic production. But we will note that as part of our policy development process this year, a proposal was submitted to support the consideration of biodegradable biobased mulch by the NOSB, and this proposal was not adopted by OFA. This is not a priority issue for the organic farmer community, and we encourage you to focus on the organic issues that are most important and necessary to organic farmers, the backbone of the label.

Handling Subcommittee: Discussion Document - Whey protein concentrate - petitioned for removal

OFA supports the intent of the discussion document to remove whey protein concentrate from the National List. As indicated in the petition submitted to NOSB and in public comments, there is adequate organic whey protein concentrate available and non-organic whey protein concentrate should no longer be allowed in certified organic products.

Livestock Subcommittee: Proposal - Fenbendazole - petitioned

OFA opposes the subcommittee motion to “amend the listing for fenbendazole to include: Fenbendazole-for use in laying hens or replacement chickens intended to be laying hens at 7 CFR §205.603 (23)(i).”  We have several concerns about the proposal to allow fenbendazole in laying hens or replacement chickens with no withdrawal time, especially without the completion of a definition of what constitutes an emergency use.

Organic consumers have long looked to organic products as a way to avoid exposure to veterinary drugs or other residues. Allowing the use of this parasiticide without a withdrawal time could lead to residue in eggs or laying hens that end up as slaughter stock. Undermining consumers’ expectations for organic products by allowing residues in one product can put the credibility of the entire label in jeopardy. In addition to our concern about residue, we also feel that fenbendazole is not a product widely requested by certified organic farmers raising laying hens, as reflected in testimony by numerous certification agencies at the spring meeting.  Management changes should be encouraged on farms where fenbendazole is requested rather than allowing a parasiticide as a band-aid for an overarching management problem.

We are also concerned that allowing this use will trigger producers who do not use fenbendazole to feel compelled to communicate this to their customers through additional label claims. A better approach than this constant escalation of claims that need to be provided on top of organic certification is to have strong organic standards for all products, that don’t require any extra communication to concerned consumers.

The debate over the necessity of allowing the use of fenbendazole also illustrates the need for the NOP to finish the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule. Public comment on this issue has shown a wide range of opinion over the necessity of this treatment and the OLPP could be a way to ensure that organic standards require all producers to use practices that maximize bird health and prevent disease.

Materials Subcommittee: Discussion Document – NOSB Research Priorities 2020

OFA supports the efforts of the Board to highlight specific topics for research that will advance organic production. Specifically, we would like to emphasize the need for research into the following topics on the 2020 list:


  1. Evaluation of methionine in the context of a system approach in organic poultry production.
  2. Organic livestock breeding for animals adapted to outdoor life and living vegetation.

Both of these research priorities would help to support organic livestock production that meets high standards for animal welfare and reduces the reliance on confinement methods that do not meet consumer expectations for organic.


  1. Elucidate practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and that contribute to farming systems resilience in the face of climate change.

OFA members are concerned about climate change and have been documenting the impacts of a changing climate on their farms for decades. Recent severe weather events have offered a more forceful reminder that the climate is changing. The role of organic methods in addressing climate change and better tools for organic farmers to adapt to changing conditions should be top priorities for research.

Coexistence with GE and Organic Crops

  1. Testing for fraud by developing and implementing new technologies and practices.

Making sure that the NOP can develop and enforce strong regulations that are capable of detecting and preventing fraud in organic supply chains is a top priority for OFA. Fraud in organic supply chains not only impacts farmers who follow the rules but are undercut by those who do not, but it also puts the reputation of the entire organic label at risk. Research into new testing methods that can provide better tools for detection and enforcement should be a top priority.

Thank you for your consideration of these comments.


Kate Mendenhall