Organic assessment possibility draws fire

05/24/2012 05:40:00 PM
Coral Beach

Discussions about an organic checkoff reached the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry recently when a Pennsylvania Democrat sponsored a related amendment in the farm bill.

The Organic Trade Association has been “exploring” the concept since July 2011 when it spent $50,000 to create its own feasibility plan, according to OTA’s 2012 winter report.

Miles McEvoy, deputy administrator of the National Organic Program, said the OTA approached the NOP about creating an assessment program.

Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., initially wanted an amendment in the Senate committee’s version of the farm bill to establish an assessment. During committee work the amendment was pared down to a sentence fragment requiring a feasibility study. The bill awaits consideration by the full Senate.

Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt Growers LLC, Wenatchee, Wash., said the company opposes an assessment on organic produce.

“We really believe in organics. We will go 100% organic in our stone fruit soon,” he said. “… Commodity boards have been on the downslide for a while now. Generic promotions help no one.”

Charles Sweat, chief executive officer at Earthbound Farm, San Juan Bastista, Calif., said a checkoff has potential to help, but would need careful consideration.

“It will be important to ensure that it’s designed equitably, responsibly and with results-based accountability built in,” Sweat said May 24.“Earthbound Farm is involved in the exploratory process…”

The OTA contends all organic producers would benefit.

“OTA views its role as facilitating the industry to look at the possibility of a program,” said Laura Batcha, executive vice president.

Batcha said OTA plans “town hall” meetings on the topic, and it plans to make a decision by the end of this year on whether to pursue assessments.

The organization is now in Phase 2 of its checkoff work, which includes “grassroots buy-in, legislative development and defining parameters of such an order,” according to an OTA newsletter. “OTA will advocate for removing current barriers by establishing such an order by proposing necessary technical fixes.”

The “fixes” would include significant revisions of federal law. Currently producers can be compelled to pay into only one assessment program. Whether that would be an existing commodity program or a new organic checkoff would have to be defined, among other details.

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Theodore G Weydert    
DeKalb, IL  |  June, 06, 2012 at 12:23 PM

Checkoff programs assessed at the Producer level have been a disaster. Money collected has not been accountable, and has had the opposite effect of benefit to the grower. There are less farmers today than at any time period in history, thnks to the checkoff propaganda. As President of the Midwest Organic Farmers Cooperative, we say if you want money for your agenda, get it at the other end of the food chain, not the farmer.

Mary-Howell Martens    
Penn Yan, NY  |  June, 06, 2012 at 12:38 PM

Its very interesting that organic farmers are loudly objecting to the checkoff, for many well developed reasons. I certainly hope our legislators are listening. There is a big problem if the 'WE' planning the spending is not the same 'WE' doing the paying!

Mischa Popoff    
Osoyoos BC Canada  |  June, 10, 2012 at 04:13 PM

The reason the leaders of the organic mvoement are thinking of moving to a checkoff program is because the current "royalty" program used by many USDA-accredited organic certifiers is a huge conflict of interest. Name any other enforcement agency out there that collects 1.5 - 3% from the gross revenue of the very people they're supposed to be overseeing. What incentive does an organic certifying agency really have to get tough with an organic farmer or processor who might not be following the rules when the lion's share of the money some agencies collect comes in the form of what amounts to a hefty commmission? Royalty payments, also referred to euphemistically as "management fees" or "user fees," are really nothing more than franchise fees, the same as those which a McDonalds Restaurant owner pays to McDonalds head office. For the sake of objectivity, all organic certifiers should stop collecting royalties from the clients they're supposed to be watching over. But moving to a checkoff system is really no better. After all, law-abiding citizens don't pay the police for not harassing us, do we?

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