Harriet Behar's Opening Remarks at NOSB Meeting

Harriet Behar, chair of the NOSB and member of both OFA Governing Council and Policy Committee starts off the Spring NOSB

meeting in Seattle, WA with impressive opening remarks calling for action and organic integrity to defend organic on behalf of organic

farmers. Read her full opening remarks below:

The NOSB work is done by a dedicated group of board members and I 

would like to let them introduce themselves

 now.  Please state your name, where you are from, and what seat you hold on the board, starting with…..

This is my first public meeting as chair of the National Organic Standards Board and I want to say what an honor it is to

 work with such a fine group of dedicated board members who truly work to represent their constituencies concerns and well as the overall health and vitality of organic agriculture and marketplace as we debate and decide materials, guidance and regulations for submission to the National Organic Program.  I especially thank the subcommittee chairs who put in extra time to make sure that everything goes smoothly and gets done on time.  I have spent many years as a member of the public, watching these meetings and I can say that being on the inside has greatly increased my understanding of the process, both opportunities and challenges.

There is much positive to congratulate ourselves as organic advocates.  The organic market is growing, organic consumers have access to food and fiber that is healthier for them and represents so many answers to the environmental challenges we face both regionally and globally.  More farmers are continually improving their farming systems by applying fundamental and advanced organic farming practices, providing a healthy lifestyle and environment for themselves, their livestock and their local communities.   In my mind, there is nothing more beautiful than working with and within the natural systems that have evolved so beautifully and elegantly on this precious earth.  This is not an unachievable dream, I see it all the time on many excellent organic farms and my life is enriched both by continually improving my farm’s organic system and biodiversity each year.

But there are dark clouds obscuring some of this sunshine. Known cases of fraud and subsequent sale of nonorganic grains as organic into our markets, has highlighted the need to deal with the loopholes and grey areas in our regs and enforcement in an immediate and forceful way.   This fraud has been discovered originating both from domestic and foreign markets.

There is unfortunately a long list of areas where enforcement and additional rulemaking is sorely needed ---pasture for ruminants, origin of livestock, outdoor access for poultry and other livestock, questionable uses of various materials, approval of hydroponic operations that do meet the same standard as soil-based operations, lack of consistently by the many certifiers, and the organic certification system needs more oversight and accountability.  Fear that a client might legally challenge a certifier decision, has kept both the certifiers and the NOP to not regulate to the clear wording and intent in many of these areas, instead allowing clients to massage the regulatory language to fit their own operation.  This does not hold everyone to the same high standard, and is one of the contributors to our current problematic situation.

The NOP has limited their work and the work of the NOSB.  Various issues have been taken off the work agenda or the NOP has decided to not work on implementation of NOSB recommendations.  Examples of areas that the public has noted in their recent comments include inerts, animal welfare, hydroponic both in water and in containers, BPA in packaging, peer review of the NOP accreditation system, apiculture, pet food and more.  These items were all mentioned many times by various commenters at this meeting, including the former deputy administrator of the NOP, as areas of great frustration.  The public has stated the NOP needs to develop better systems to address these important areas in a more timely way.  We are a young program, in the bigger scheme of things, and when we find a grey area or a loophole in the reg, we should be allowed fix it as soon as possible before it becomes the norm, since this reg is still in its infancy and these problems were bound to come up addressed.  Our community is tenacious and I do not doubt that these issues will continue to be part of the conversation until they are resolved.

 I can see that the hard working NOP staff is working towards solving these problems and I commend deputy administrator Jennifer Tucker for her willingness to engage openly and transparently with the community.  However, we are playing catch up to tighten up oversight and enforcement numerous areas of organic production, which is causing hardship in many sectors of organic.  We need to become more proactive to catch problems before they become the norm.  This is the responsibility of both the organic community and the program.

It is obvious we have passion and drive to keep pushing for consistency in the implementation of the high organic standards that we all work so hard to develop and provide the guidance to the National Organic Program.  We are a very unusual agricultural sector, we want to be regulated, we want those regulations to be followed and we want them to be strict, yet practical. 

I have visited literally thousands of organic farms, and many hundreds of organic processors.  Organic production is not just a something they do, it comes from their hearts and has deep meaning in their lives.  That organic certificate is something they are proud of, since it represents their intense commitment and the good work they are doing.   Organic consumers count on us to make sure the food they are getting is what they expect it to be, organic.  The NOSB and NOP have a responsibility to live up to their trust in our work.

We, the organic community, the organic marketplace, organic advocates, the NOSB and the National Organic Program cannot let down consumers and the vast majority of owner/operators on the farm and processors who are doing it right and are now competing with others who cut corners or commit organic fraud.   We understand there are problems, but I encourage all commenters and board members keep in mind that we are here to find solutions. I believe that if we are willing, we should be able to find a way to improve our rules and enforcement in a timely way that honor the hard work and desires of the organic community. The entire organic community and marketplace depends on the integrity of the organic label, and without integrity we are nothing.

Lastly, I sit in the environmental seat on the board, and I continuously find myself in awe of the beauty and diversity of life on our planet.  I have enough creatures that each of you should be able to choose one – marine life, farm animals, a variety of finger puppets,  wind up baby chicks and a few especially cute frogs, choose which ever one calls to you.

Thank you.

Kate Mendenhall's remarks at 2019 Pre-NOSB Meeting

Organic Farmers Association's Director, Kate Mendenhall, participated at the Pre-NOSB Meeting in Seattle, Washington to discuss 2019 organic integrity priorities including:
1. Organic Import Integrity—ensuring that organic imports are indeed authentically organic and not fraudulent. 
2. Organic Dairy Integrity—which includes enforcement of the Pasture Rule and Clarity in the Origin of Livestock Rule.
3. Organic Production Integrity—Honoring the integral role of soil in organic production and prohibiting the organic certification of hydroponic operations
Meeting Panel Discussion: Organic Integrity Priorities for 2019
April 23, 2019
Presented by Kate Mendenhall, Organic Farmers Association
Additional Panel Members:
Laura Batcha, Organic Trade Association
Abby Youngblood, National Organic Coalition

Organization History, Mission, Who we represent in our policy work
Good morning! Thank you for the opportunity to participate on this panel. I am looking forward to hearing how our three organizations’ policy priorities align and diverge around organic integrity.

The mission of the Organic Farmers Association is to provide a strong and unified national voice for domestic certified organic producers. We are organic farmer-run and farmer controlled. Only certified organic farmers determine our policy positions and have the power of a vote on our farmer-elected leadership committees. Our vision for the future is that organic agriculture is the basis of a viable United States food and agricultural policy and production system.

We officially launched in the fall of 2016, after three years of farmers and farm organizations meeting regularly to determine what was needed in the organic farming movement to ensure that organic farmers’ policy needs were heard and rising to the top of the conversation around organics. Organic Farmers Association launched under the fiscal sponsorship of the Rodale Institute, so while we have political autonomy in our positions and process, the Rodale Institute provides a lot of organizational capacity to support this work. Rodale has been an advocate of organic farming in the United States since 1947 and so it is a perfect partnership to our work to represent organic farmers nationwide.

The focus of our work at Organic Farmers Association is to build and support a farmer-led national organic farmer movement and national policy platform by:

  • developing and advocating policies that benefit organic¹ farmers;
  • strengthening and supporting the capacity of organic farmers and organic farm organizations;
  • supporting collaboration and leadership among state, regional and national organic farm organizations; and
  • welcoming support and cooperation with like-minded individuals and organizations.

Describe the top 3 issues that you think should be the priority in the next year to protect organic integrity
Our top organizational policy priorities focus specifically on organic integrity. This is at the top of almost all organic farmers’ minds. OFA’s priorities align with two stages of our policy development process—Every year we survey all certified organic farmers nationwide to ask them to identify their policy priorities and to offer policy positions for Organic Farmers Association to consider. Our certified organic farmer members then vote on the vetted proposed policies. The top organic integrity policies identified in our 2019 wide-net survey serve as the focus for our 2019 policy work:

  1. Organic Import Integrity—ensuring that organic imports are indeed authentically organic and not fraudulent.
  2. Organic Dairy Integrity—which includes enforcement of the Pasture Rule and Clarity in the Origin of Livestock Rule.
  3. Organic Production Integrity—Honoring the integral role of soil in organic production and prohibiting the organic certification of hydroponic operations.

Throughout all three of these priority areas, the element most crucial and universal is sufficient and consistent National Organic Program enforcement of the National Organic Standards and ensuring the standards uphold the intention and written words of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990—the law defining organics.

Organic Import Integrity
Our first integrity priority is ensuring that organic imports are in fact legitimately organic—following the same standards our domestic certified organic farmers are held to. Organic Farmers Association was supportive of the Organic Farmer & Consumer Protection Act, which was included in the 2018 Farm Bill. This portion of the Farm Bill gives additional authorities to the National Organic Program to better monitor the organic integrity of imports as well as improve their database to better track the organic import audit trail. We understand that the NOP is working on incorporating the components of this into their Enforcement Rule this spring and we will be eager to see the new regulations and their swift implementation.

Domestic organic farmers work hard to follow the national organic standards and they deserve fair competition. We will be monitoring the implementation of the rule to ensure that fraudulent organic imports cease so that U.S. organic farmers are not undercut by fraud. This is a top priority of certified organic farmers because it is crucial that organic consumers trust that all organic products are raised according to the standards and that the USDA organic seal ensures the integrity of the standards. We want swift correction and implementation on this
problem—especially focused on organic grain imports since the lack of enforcement here has been most egregious. We feel that risk assessment will aid the targeting of small resources to focus on countries that present higher risk.

Organic Dairy Integrity
Organic farmers nationwide have also placed a high priority on rectifying the current problems we are seeing in organic dairy. Organic dairy continues to be an entry-point for new organic consumers and we cannot lose consumer trust on what is inside that carton. We want better guidance and enforcement by certifiers and overall enforcement by the NOP during the accreditation process on the monitoring of pasture rule compliance and consistent interpretation of the origin of livestock for bovine dairy transition.

The Organic Farmers Association encourages the USDA to take effective actions to ensure that organic dairy products meet consistent standards for all producers, large and small, domestic and foreign. We believe that risk assessment should be a priority when conducting inspections and accreditation. Organic Farmers Association has shared with the USDA our concern about a lack of consistency in the enforcement of the Access to Pasture rule. There are physical and biological limitations to grazing milking cows daily and bringing the cows back to the milking facility. As herd sizes increase, it becomes increasingly difficult to meet the grazing requirement, “that ruminants derive not less than an average of 30 percent of their dry matter intake (DMI) requirement from pasture grazed over the course of the grazing season.” Experienced organic dairy farmers have expressed concern that when milking herds reach or exceed 1000 cows, it becomes difficult to meet the NOP grazing rule, especially for operations that practice more than two milkings a day. It may not be difficult to grow enough pasture to meet the DMI requirements, but to logistically get the cows to the pasture to graze the living pasture out of the field to reach the 30%DMI requirement and then back for milkings presents particular challenges for larger herds. Organic Farmers Association (OFA) has asked the NOP to strengthen its enforcement of the Access to Pasture rule by instructing certifying agents to identify high risk dairy operations as those with over 1000 milking and dry cows and farms that regularly land just at the minimum 30%DMI mark. Specific recommendations for these operations include: • Requiring certification file review staff and organic inspectors to have documented training and experience in livestock nutrition and grazing. • Requiring a calculation matrix to verify meeting the grazing requirement documenting: average animal weight, individual and verifiable unique identification of each animal, milk production, daily DMI requirement, daily non-pasture dry matter consumption, acres of pasture, forage yield of pasture, and maximum distances cows walk to pasture.
• Confirmation that DMI is calculated as an average over the entire grazing season for each type and class of animal and that milking and dry cows are not being mixed in those calculations.

• Two inspections during the grazing season, one announced and one unannounced.

Origin of Livestock Rule
The other priority dairy issue for us is Origin of Livestock. There currently is a two-track interpretation being allowed under the current regulations and it is a major contributor to the existing dairy crisis, along with pasture rule compliance. We are asking the USDA to release the final rule to the 2015 Origin of Livestock Rule in 2019. They have sufficient comments from the 2015 rule, they want and need clear standards to be able to do their job of enforcement, and they have the legal authority to be able to issue a final rule this year. While it may be more comfortable for the administration to release a 2nd rule and ask for additional comments and economic analysis, not moving to a final rule would be a mistake. This nation’s organic dairy farmers cannot wait for two more rounds of rule-making especially heading into an election year—which could result in additional delays. The NOP’s prediction of a clarified origin of livestock standard by 2021 to 2022 is unacceptable and irresponsible. We know with proper attention USDA can get it done this year. The organic community is aligned on the need for this voluntary regulation, which is simply a fix to a poorly written old regulation.

Organic Certification of Hydroponics
The third priority identified by U.S. certified organic farmers is keeping soil as the keystone to organic certification. This is not a priority pushed solely by our elected policy committee or our elected governing council—this is a priority that has been identified over the past two years consistently by certified organic farmers nationwide from our annual surveys. Participants have asked that OFA prioritize its work and resources on opposing the organic certification of hydroponic systems. In 2018 it was the #4 priority and in 2019 it moved up to farmers’ #3 priority. In 2018 our farmer members proposed and passed two strong policies regarding hydroponics:

1. OFA OPPOSES organic certification of hydroponic production.
2. OFA urges the National Organic Program (NOP) to revoke the organic certification of currently certified hydroponic systems and cease certification of new hydroponic operations.

The first policy opposing organic certification of hydroponic production passed with a national organic farmer vote of 90%. It also passed in each of OFA’s six regions: Organic farmers in California passed it by 78%; organic farmers in the Western Region by 86%; in the North Central Region by 92%; in the Midwest by 96%; in the Northeast by 89%, and in the South by 92%. Organic farmers are united in their concern regarding the organic certification of hydroponic production.

Organic Farmers Association feels that there is a place for hydroponic production within sustainable agriculture; however, we DO NOT think it can nor should be certified organic. It does not and cannot meet the USDA definition of organic nor the standards if it is not grown in soil.
This organic movement was created and based on soil health as the foundation to all future standards. We cannot waiver from that foundational principle. Farmers will not stand for it. Organic Farmers Association will challenge this until the USDA does what is right---revoking organic certification of hydroponic systems and returning to a commitment of organic soil health and biological systems that contribute to a cleaner and healthier food system.

Organic Farmers Association has signed a petition with many other organizations written by the Center for Food Safety challenging the USDA NOP’s statement that it is and always has been allowed. The NOSB’s historical discussion, debate, and thousands of work hours discussing and researching the topic clearly supports that this has never been a clarified subject and we will not accept the NOP’s simple statement hoping to quiet certified organic farmers on the subject. We will be creating a comprehensive strategy this Spring and welcome organic farm organizations to join us in this campaign to defend organic integrity here on U.S. soil.

1 OFA acknowledges that across the country different terms are used within the agricultural community. When OFA uses the term “organic farmers,” it includes certified organic farmers and ranchers as well as organic producers exempt from certification (grossing under $5,000 annually).

OFA urges USDA to close dairy loopholes

Update from Mark Rokala, Policy Director

Sixty-two organizations joined the Organic Farmers Association asking that USDA prioritize implementation of an Origin of Livestock Final Rule in 2019 to restore stability to the dairy industry.  A Rule is the legal document that guides USDA’s day-to-day operations of its programs.

Our members told National Organic Program (NOP) staff during its March Fly-In that organic dairy farms need the loopholes fixed immediately to provide consistent enforcement and fair competition.

NOP acknowledges that organic dairy farms are experiencing significant duress.

But, the NOP believes the dairy industry has changed significantly since the Origin of Livestock Rule was proposed in 2015.  NOP is saying they need to complete another economic analysis to determine if that rule fixes the industry problems. That process could take up to two-years. OFA responded that its members cannot afford a fix that takes that long to implement.

In OFA’s follow up letter, the we highlighted the organic dairy crisis resulting from USDA’s inconsistent implementation of the current Rule.  The organization members also point out that USDA has enough comments to implement a final rule.

The current Administration has focused on reducing regulations—but for organic farmers—we are asking for these voluntary regulations.  Federal agencies must eliminate two prior rules or regulations for every new rule released. USDA is still working to determine how this Executive Order will impact implementation of the farm bill, much less the needed Origin of Livestock changes.

Finally, we are working with Congress to insert bill language in the Appropriation’s Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies telling USDA to implement the Final Rule in 2019.

Requested Bill Language: Not later than 180 days after enactment of this section, the Secretary of Agriculture shall issue a final rule based on the proposed rule entitled “National Organic Program; Origin of Livestock,” published in the Federal Register on April 28, 2015 (80 Fed. Reg. 23455). The final rule shall incorporate public comments submitted in response to the proposed rule.

OFA sends letter to Secretary Perdue regarding Origin of Livestock

Organic Farmers Association sends letter to Secretary Perdue regarding Origin of Livestock. Read the letter below:

April 4, 2019

The Honorable Sonny Perdue
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, D.C. 20250

Dear Secretary Perdue,
The Organic Farmers Association, along with the undersigned organizations, is concerned that the current Origin of Livestock standards are creating unfair and inconsistent interpretations of the standards and inconsistent implementation by certifiers across the country. We respectfully ask that USDA prioritizes implementation of an Origin of Livestock Final Rule in 2019.

The current rule is inhibiting the National Organic Program’s ability to provide consistent and fair enforcement; leaving our nation’s organic animal standards unfair and inconsistent. The effect of this is market instability which has resulted in an organic dairy crisis nationwide. Organic dairy farmers cannot wait for the USDA to reintroduce the Origin of Livestock rule in the format of a second proposed rule. We urge you to issue the Final Rule as soon as possible.

The USDA has sufficient comments to make a final rule now, and we urge you to move quickly and efficiently on behalf of family farmers across the United States that need clarification on the standards so that enforcement can be fair and consistent across the country. Since the 2015 rule was issued, the organic dairy industry has not changed significantly—it has only begun to crumble with the lack of regulation clarity as certifiers have been interpreting the rule inconsistently; thus, allowing practices that were not allowed in the past. The lack of uniform interpretation of the existing standards has led to a lack of consumer confidence in the domestic organic dairy industry. We find this unacceptable and within your immediate power to rectify.

We ask that USDA fix these inequities by issuing the Origin of Livestock Final Rule within the 2019 year.

We would be happy to talk with you and your leadership within Agricultural Marketing Service more about origin of livestock and the pressing need for a final rule. We urge you to move swiftly as family organic dairy farmers are suffering because of the lack of uniform and strict enforcement. We know you share this priority for strong enforcement and integrity and look forward to hearing from you.

David Colson
President, Organic Farmers Association

Supported by the following Organizations:
A Bee Organic Baystate Organic Certifiers
California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Center for Environmental Health
Center for Food Safety Community Alliance with Family Farmers
The Cornucopia Institute
Dr. Bronner's
Dolan Family Biodynamic Farms Ecological Farming Association
Ecology Center Equal Exchange
FairShare CSA Coalition
Farm Aid Friends of the Earth
Food & Water Watch
Food Democracy Now! Green America
Hanover Co-op Food Stores IFOAM North America International Organic Inspectors Association Iowa Organic Association
Kings River Produce Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-op
The Land Connection
LSAdderson, Inc.
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance, Inc.
Midwest Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (MODPA)
Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) Montana Organic Association
MOSA Certified Organic
National Center for Appropriate Technology
National Family Farm Coalition National Farmers Organization
Natural Food Certifiers Inc
Natural Grocers
National Organic Coalition
New England Farmers Union
Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA)
Northeast Organic Farming Association/Massachusetts Chapter (NOFA/Mass)
Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY)
Northeast Organic Farming Association of Rhode Island (NOFA-RI)
Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT)
Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association
Oregon Tilth
Organic Advocacy Organic Consumers Association
OFARM - Organic Farmers Agency for Relationship Marketing
Organic Pastures Dairy PCC Community Markets
Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA)
Pennsylvania Certified Organic (PCO) PrimusLabs
Provender Alliance
Real Organic Project
Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Thirteen Mile Farm
Valley Organic Growers Association
Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (WODPA) Wild Farm Alliance
CC: Gregory Ibach, Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs
Jennifer Tucker, Director, National Organic Program Honorable Collin Peterson, Chairman, House Committee on Agriculture, U.S. House of Representatives Honorable Stacey E. Plaskett, Chairwoman, Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research Subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture, U.S. House of Representatives Honorable Pat Roberts, Chairman, Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, U.S. Senate

Earth Day 2019: Natural Grocers raises money for Beyond Pesticides with Ladybug Love pledge

Throughout the month of April, and in celebration of Earth Day on April 22, Natural Grocers is inviting the community to pledge to protect one of nature’s most beloved beneficial insects—the ladybug. From April 1st through the 22nd, Natural Grocers will donate 10 cents to Beyond Pesticides for every pledge taken on their website, up to $25,000. Pledge takers will commit to never use chemicals that are harmful to ladybugs and other beneficial insects, and to support 100% organic produce. The stability of our food web depends on insects, but recent studies suggest they have declined by more than 75 percent in the last three decades.[i] Agricultural pesticide use has steadily increased since 1960.[ii] According to the most recent EPA report (2012), estimates of annual pesticide use in the United States topped 1 billion pounds[iii] in 2011 and 2012, and 88 million U.S. households use pesticides at home.[iv] Natural Grocers is excited to partner with Beyond Pesticides to keep the public informed about the threat toxic pesticides pose to human health, insect health, and the health of the planet. Take the pledge today at https://www.naturalgrocers.com/ladybuglove/!

[i] Hallmann, Caspar A., et al. “More than 75 Percent Decline over 27 Years in Total Flying Insect Biomass in Protected Areas.” PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0185809.

[ii] Fernandez-Cornejo, Jorge, et al. “Pesticide Use in U.S. Agriculture: 21 Selected Crops, 1960-2008.” Https://Www.ers.usda.gov, May 2014, www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/43854/46736_eib124_summary.pdf?v=41830.

[iii] Alavanja, Michael C R. “Introduction: Pesticides Use and Exposure Extensive Worldwide.” Reviews on Environmental Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2009, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2946087/#R1j.

[iv] “Pesticides Industry Sales and Usage 2008-2012 Market Estimates.” Https://Www.epa.gov, 2016, www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2017-01/documents/pesticides-industry-sales-usage-2016_0.pdf. pages 9 and 21


Administration Releases its Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Priorities

Update from Mark Rokala, Policy Director

The Administration proposed one of the largest-ever cuts to domestic spending in a $4.7 trillion fiscal year 2020 budget proposal.

USDA would be cut 15 percent by limiting the producer subsidy to farmers for crop insurance, limiting crop insurance to farmers with a gross income less than $500,000, capping crop insurance company gains, and significant reform to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  The Administration also proposes creating new user fees to fund food safety and inspection work, animal welfare, biotech and veterinary biologics work.

What does this proposal mean for programs important to Organic Farmers Association members at USDA?

The budget proposal cuts a number of programs we care about.   We will need to work with our Congressional champions to restore funding for the Organic Produce and Market Data Initiative and the much needed technology update for NOP.

While the Budget Resolution does not carry the force of law, it starts the discussion of funding the federal government.  Once the top-line spending amount is set for 2020, the Appropriations Committee will divide the funds among its subcommittees. That process results in determining funding levels for USDA programs, like the National Organic Program.

Organic Farmers Association has requested the following 2020 Budget Appropriations to support our important organic programs that do not have baseline funding (we have to ask for funding each year):

  • National Organic Program: $18 million
  • Organic Transitions Program (ORG): $8 million
  • Organic Data Initiative: $1 million

We will continue to advocate for adequate organic funding through the budget proposal process.

Update from Mark Rokala, Policy Director

House and Senate conferees passed and the President has said he will sign, H.J. Res. 31, the 2019 omnibus spending package that includes funding for the FY 2019 Agriculture programs. The appropriations bills had been delayed by the disagreements over wall funding and the government shutdown.

Funding for USDA including the National Organic Program, was included in the omnibus package. Congress included a $2 million increase for the National Organic Program ($14.1 million).  At a time when the organics industry is growing at an extremely rapid pace and imports of organic foods are increasing significantly, this funding will assist with oversight and enforcement to ensure the organic seal keeps pace with consumer expectations.

Congress also included $6 million for the Organic Transitions Program (ORG) which supports the development and implementation of research, extension and higher education programs that improve the competitiveness of organic livestock and crop producers, as well as those who are adopting organic practices.

Farm bill implementation has started.  USDA Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey announced that USDA is hosting a listening session for initial input on the 2018 Farm Bill on February 26 in Washington, DC. They are accepting public written comments from farmers and other stakeholders until MARCH 1 via the federal register. USDA is seeking public input on the changes to existing programs implemented by the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Risk Management Agency.

Organic Farmers Association staff will be following the USDA's work as they implement the Agricultural Marketing Services work on the National Organic Program.

Newly-Elected Governing Council and Policy Committee

Results are in for the newly-elected 2019 Governing Council and Policy Committee.  Members will serve 2-year terms, up to 3 consecutive terms (no more than 6 consecutive years). Newly elected members begin their terms at the annual meeting on March 13, 2019.

2019 Governing Council

The Council includes 19 members. From each of the six regions, the council includes 2 certified organic farmers and 1 organic farm organization.  In addition, Organic Farmers Association's fiscal sponsor, Rodale Institute, also has a seat on the council. All Council Members have identical rights and responsibilities, except that only farmer members have the right to vote. The fiscal sponsor, if it has a certified organic farm, also has a vote.
* = Newly elected.

Farmers- Voting

California Farmer Representatives
*Judith Redmond, Full Belly Farm, Guinda, CA
Steve Beck, Kings River Produce, Inc., Hanford, CA
Midwest Region Farmer Representatives
*Dave Bishop, PrairiErth Farm, Atlanta, IL
Joannee DeBruhl, Stone Coop Farm, Brighton, MI
North Central Region Farmer Representatives
*Mike Kelly, High Meadow Farm, Johnson Creek, WI
Harriet Behar, Sweet Springs Farm, Spring Valley, WI
Western Region Farmer Representatives
*Nathaniel Powell-Palm, Cold Springs Organics, Bozeman, MT
Jessica Gigot, Harmony Fields, Bow, WA
Southern Region Farmer Representatives
Jennifer Taylor, Lola's Organic Farm, Glenwood, GA
*Loretta Adderson, Adderson's Fresh Produce, Keysville, GA
Northeast Region Farmer Representatives
David ColsonNew Leaf Farm, Durham, ME
*Maryrose Livingston, Northland Sheep Dairy, Marathon, NY

Advisory Non-Voting

California Organization Representative
Phil LaRocca, Chair
California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF)

Midwest Region Organization Representative
Renee Hunt, Program Director
Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA)

North Central Region Organization Representative
*John Mesko, Executive Director
Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES)
Western Region Organization Representative
Becky Weed, Board of Directors
Montana Organic Association (MOA)
Southern Region Organization Representative
*Michael Sligh, Program Director
Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI-USA)
Northeast Region Organization Representative
*Ed Maltby, Executive Director,
Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA)
Sponsor Seat
Jeff Tkach
Rodale Institute

2019 Policy Committee

The elected Policy Committee is made up of 12 voting certified organic farmer members and six advisory organizational members. Committee members are regionally diverse and reflect the national diversity of organic farms. The Policy Committee will facilitate OFA's policy platform, created by certified organic farmer members. From its start in the fall of 2016, Organic Farmers Association has been working to build and support a farmer-led national organic farmer movement with a strong voice advocating for organic farmers.
* = Newly elected.


California Region Farmer Representatives
*Kenneth Kimes, Greensward / New Natives, LLC, Aptos, CA
 Mark McAfee, Organic Pastures, Fresno, CA

Western Region Farmer Representatives

*Nate Lewis, Oyster Bay Farm, Olympia, WA
 Pryor Garnett, Garnetts Red Prairie Farm, Sheridan, OR

North Central Region Farmer Representatives

*DeEtta Bilek, Tom and DeEtta Bilek Farm, Aldrich, MN
 Harriet Behar, Sweet Springs Farm, Gays Mills, WI

Midwest Region Farmer Representatives

*Michael Adsit, Plymouth Orchards, Plymouth, MI
 Hannah Smith-Brubaker, Village Acres Farm & FoodShed, Mifflintown, PA

Southern Region Farmer Representatives

*Laura Freeman, Mt. Folly Farm, Winchester, KY
 Jennifer Taylor, Lola's Organic Farm, Glenwood, GA

Northeast Region Farmer Representatives

*Luke Gianforte, Gianforte Farm, Cazenovia, NY
 Dave Chapman, Long Wind Farm, East Thetford, VT

Advisory- Non-Voting:

California Region Organization Representative 

David Runsten, Policy Director, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Davis, CA

Western Region Organization Representative 

*Cara Loriz, Executive Director, Organic Seed Alliance, Missoula, MT

North Central Region Organization Representative 

Matthew Miller, Policy Committee Member, Iowa Organic Association, Ames, IA

Midwest Region Organization Representative 

*Mallory Krieger, Farmer Training Program Manager, The Land Connection, Champaign, IL

Southern Region Organization Representative 

Michael Sligh, Program Director, Rural Advancement Foundation International, Pittsboro, NC

Northeast Region Organization Representative

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

Organic Farmers Association Statement on Farm Bill


December 11, 2018 (Kutztown, PA) – The Organic Farmers Association applauds Farm Bill conferees for completing work on the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, which includes organic programs important to our members.

The Organic Farmers Association would like to thank Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Conaway and Ranking Member Peterson for addressing our priorities by

  • improving the integrity of the organic supply chain, providing much needed organic research funds,
  • continuing the organic certification cost share program, and other fixes to programs important to our members.

With these changes, our members will be able to respond to consumers’ demand for more local, organic food. The farm bill provisions will equip American farmers with what they need to meet that demand through increased domestic production.

“Organic farming is at a critical junction,” said Dave Colson, President of Organic Farmers Association. “American commodity farmers need support to diversify their production and enter new markets, like organic, and the domestic organic market needs more supply. This farm bill will help to enhance USDA’s enforcement of the organic label so that all producers are farming within consistent and fair standards. It will also support programs to grow our domestic production to meet the increasing demand for local, organic food. Organic Farmers Association looks forward to working with Congress and the USDA to support American organic farmers.”

Organic Farmers Association thanks our members—including many organic farmers from across the country who reached out to their elected officials during construction of the farm bill to voice their policy needs and priorities while the committee was in negotiations. We will continue to work with our members as USDA works to implement new programs and changes to existing programs important to our members.

Organic Farmers Association priorities that were included in the final bill include:

  • Commitment to organic integrity by providing USDA with the additional authorities needed to track organic imports from around the world by including the Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act in the final language. One important change requires products to have an electronic import certificate. The current system was created when the U.S. organic market was a smaller, domestically supplied industry. USDA’s system needed updating. This is a win for organic farmers.
  • Mandatory funding for the organic certification cost-share program, which supports farmers to enter the organic market by reimbursing some of the annual fees for organic certification. Carry over and new funding will secure $40 million for the program. This is a win for organic farmers.
  • Permanent mandatory funding for organic research in the bill incrementally increases funding for the Organic Research and Extensive Initiative (OREI) program from its current $20 million per year to $50 million per year by 2023. Organic research is imperative to support farmers’ ability to overcome organic production challenges and to continue to meet the growing consumer demand for organic food. Increased organic research benefits all American producers by gaining new knowledge to grow more sustainably. This is a win for organic farmers.
  • Organic Data Initiative (ODI) received $5 million in funding for USDA's organic data collection program that provides accurate market and production information for the organic community. Accurate data is needed to better understand and predict the growing organic food and farm market, and we look forward to working with USDA and Congress to make sure data collection is extended across all organic commodities. This is a win for organic farmers.

Despite the organic community’s united opposition, conferees made two changes to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) that we do not support. The first changes NOSB voting procedures that affect decisions about allowed synthetic materials and the second will allow farm employees to represent a farm on the NOSB farmer seat. We will continue to work with Congress to help them appreciate the NOSB’s role to the organic farming community. We express our disappointment that changes were made to the operation of the Board. The NOSB facilitates a valuable public arena for all sectors of the organic community to have input on the direction of its future. It’s important we have strong farmer representation and protect the foundation of the Organic Foods Production Act.

“Working with our membership to reach their Farm Bill goals has been a very rewarding process,” said Mark Rokala, Policy Director of the Organic Farmers Association. “While we still have work to do educating Congress on the NOSB, the bipartisan work and support of Senators Roberts and Stabenow was crucial to our success.”

Organic Farmers Association will continue to analyze the other 807 pages of the conference report and provide more insight and analysis to our members in the coming days.

To view the full Farm Bill click here.

OFA sends letter to OTA in response to voluntary checkoff

Organic Farmers Association sent a letter to the Organic Trade Association in response to their announcement on the voluntary checkoff. Read the letter below:

November 29, 2019

Laura Batcha, CEO
Organic Trade Association
444 N. Capitol St. NW, Suite 445A
Washington, D.C. 20001

Dear Ms. Batcha,
Organic Farmers Association is committed to supporting the voice of certified organic farmers—they
continue to play a crucial role in growing and supporting the organic market nationally, and they must
be included as leaders in shaping the future of organic. We encourage you to
● invite certified organic family farmers to join your GRO Organic Leadership Committee,
● continue to solicit input from certified organic farmers on the proposed voluntary organic
checkoff, and
● share the collected results of your questionnaire with the organic community.
Organic Farmers Association has and will continue to share your request for feedback among our
organic farmer members up until the April deadline.

Organic Farmers Association will submit formal responses to your GRO Organic questions. We do
encourage you, as you continue to develop this program, to require that the majority of the board be
principal owner/operator farmers, and that they represent the diversity of commodity and size found
throughout the U.S. A farmer-majority board would appropriately reflect the composition of certified
operations in the U.S. and would ensure that research and technical assistance reach where we need it
most—at the farm gate. Farmers are committed to the values inherent in the organic market and need
strong processors and retailers that share that commitment to organic principles all the way through the
market chain. Including farmers in this capacity would go a long way toward ensuring the development
and implementation of a successful voluntary organic checkoff.

Farmers are the bedrock of the U.S. organic movement and market, and we hope that Organic Trade
Association includes a diversity of farmers in the leadership and creation of your voluntary checkoff.
While the gross sales of farmers may not compete with processor and retail sales, the number of
farmers far outweighs the number of either processors or retailers. Farmers are a key component of the
national organic movement and it is essential that real family farmers are invited to the table. From our
conversations with organic growers nationally, organic farmers want to have a place in the driver’s seat
to direct the future of the organic market, organic research priorities, and organic technical assistance
and education. A voluntary checkoff could be the opportunity for them to do so.

We look forward to seeing more certified organic family farmers engage in the development of the
Organic Voluntary Checkoff. We know you will agree that organic farmers are a crucial piece of the
movement and we hope the checkoff design will keep their best interests in mind.

Kate Mendenhall

CC: GROideas@ota.com