Laura Batcha, executive vice president of the Organic Trade Association, discusses why the OTA likes this idea.
NFM: How can a research and promotion order benefit the organic industry?
Laura Batcha: There are real unmet needs in terms of research: both applied-on-the-farm research and research into the benefits of organic food and farming. Unmet needs are also enormous on the public education and the promotion sides. Having the ability to speak with one voice, break through the clutter of lesser claims and reach mainstream audiences are what will take organic to the next level. So it’s not a question of if there’s a need, but rather how to structure this order so it’s fair, equitable and meets these needs.
NFM: Why are some organic producers opposed to the idea?
LB: We’ve heard some concern about check-off programs, in general, in terms of oversight and impact on farmers and ranchers. However, all parameters of an order are determined by the sector stakeholders and are subject to referendum, so organic producers, handlers and processors are actually in the driver’s seat. Organic has always grown and operated in its own way, both in terms of stakeholder participation and oversight, so we wouldn’t expect our order to simply mimic existing programs, but to be uniquely organic.
NFM: How soon could a research and promotion order get off the ground?
LB: The process of evaluating the opportunity, defining the parameters and petitioning USDA to establish the order is a marathon, not a sprint. Currently, OTA is facilitating dialogue about the opportunity. This includes webinars and town hall meetings held across the country, at which we give a short “research and promotion orders 101” presentation and then open the room to questions and input. These will run through late-winter 2013. From there, if there’s support to go forward, it could take as long as 24 months to get a research and promotion order up and running.
NFM: What do you hope comes from the upcoming town halls and webinars?
LB: We hope the sector comes together for a real dialogue about the future of organic—how to solve problems and create opportunities together. This is an opportunity to move beyond old divisions and chart a common course. In short, we’d like to answer the question: If we can create an entity that everyone who can contributes to and that pools resources, and we can determine a way to fairly govern the use of that money and use it to promote, educate and support research where we need to, is this something we should do?
NFM: If an order doesn’t happen, what will be the consequences?
LB: We’d be left with the same challenges we have today: How can we invest in research, education and promotion in a way that’s coordinated, fair and equitable?