WASHINGTON, July 11, 2017 (PRNewswire-USNewswire) — The voice of producers just got amped up by over a thousand notches at the Organic Trade Association with the recent new memberships of Pennsylvania Certified Organic and Georgia Organics into the Organic Trade Association's Farmers Advisory Council.
The two membership-based non-profit organic organizations represent almost 1,200 certified organic producers in 15 states stretching from the Mid-Atlantic and Southern U.S. to the Midwest. The new strategic alliances with the Farmers Advisory Council will significantly expand cooperation among organic farmers and stakeholders, and strengthen the engagement and input of organic producers in helping the Organic Trade Association advance its policy priorities to protect and promote the organic sector.
"It is always great to bring more farmers and organizations to the Farmers Advisory Council," said Perry Clutts, who holds the farmer seat on the trade association's Board of Directors and chairs the Farmers Advisory Council. He added, "Opinions and good dialogue will be necessary to move organic forward, and having Pennsylvania Certified Organic and Georgia Organics as part of the conversation will highlight their important geographic producer perspectives."
Pennsylvania Certified Organic is a U.S. Department of Agriculture-accredited organic certifying agency that educates and certifies growers, processors and handlers of organic crops, wild crops, livestock and livestock products in Pennsylvania and 13 other states throughout the nation. Since its beginnings in 1985 with 27 members, the organization has now represents over 1,000 organic farmers.
Georgia Organics was established in 1997 as a non-profit organization with its mission to champion organic agriculture and healthy families "by empowering farmers to thrive … and making organic and local food accessible to all Georgians." It now represents 121 certified organic producers in Georgia, with the goal to grow that number to 200 by 2020.
Both Pennsylvania Certified Organic and Georgia Organics have farmer-controlled governance boards—a requirement for membership to the Farmers Advisory Council. Council member organizations independently select their representation on the council.
Becoming Part of a Bigger — and Stronger Community
Georgia Organics Director of Farmer Services Michael Wall welcomed the opportunity for increased engagement with the Organic Trade Association: "Agriculture is everything in rural parts of Georgia, and great food is everything in urban areas, but these two distinct Georgias rarely interact. Organic food grown in Georgia can bridge these two communities closer together, and provide the economic activity rural Georgia desperately needs. We look forward to working with the Organic Trade Association to help make this case to growers, to organic businesses, and to policymakers."
Cliff Hawbaker, Board President of Pennsylvania Certified Organic, also stressed the value for the organization's members and of the organization by becoming part of the council. "The Farmer's Advisory Council will give our members the opportunity to join the Organic Trade Association at a lower rate, and allow them to take a seat at the table concerning decisions it makes," he explained.
The new alliance with the Organic Trade Association opens the opportunity of Pennsylvania Certified Organic and Georgia Organics members to join the association under its Farmstead Membership category. This membership category makes association membership available for just $50 per year to organic farmers whose annual income from organic sales is less than $250,000 and who have current membership in one of the organizations with which the Farmers Advisory Council has formed a strategic alliance. Farmstead membership farmers get the full benefits of a membership to the trade group, including the right to vote in its annual Board of Directors election.
Pennsylvania Certified Organic joined the Farmers Advisory Council in March, and almost immediately became actively engaged. Its farmer members participated in Organic week in D.C. in May and engaged in Capitol Hill visits with lawmakers. The organization quickly signed up to be a member of the trade association's recently formed Global Organic Supply Chain Integrity Task Force, selecting its Certification Director Kyla Smith to be its representative on the task force. Georgia Organics became a Farmers Advisory Council member in May. Since its beginning, it has shared the common goal with the Organic Trade Association to increase organic production and organic farmers. Both Pennsylvania Certified Organic and Georgia Organics helped to get the word out to their members on the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices regulation, and both are active in assisting farmers to transition into organic agriculture through mentoring and other educational programs.
Enabling Organic Farmers to Have Input
The Organic Trade Association established its Farmers Advisory Council in 2013. The council creates a stronger voice for organic farmers, and fosters two-way communication between the trade association and the organic farming community while providing a network to share relevant and timely information to growers. The council's member organizations have brought numerous issues to the table for research, discussion, and deliberation. Some of the group's notable accomplishments:
- Its members were instrumental in pushing out a comprehensive farm bill survey conducted by the Organic Trade Association early in the year to their membership communities. Due, in large part, to the support of the council's member organizations, the survey received over 500 responses from certified organic producers and handlers across 45 states, and has been critical in shaping the policies of the Organic Trade Association in the lead-up to the 2018 Farm Bill.
- The Farmers Advisory Council weighed in on CCOF's effort to amend California's Organic Products law to reduce duplicative paperwork for California-based organic businesses, and to make organic registration fees in California more commensurate with what organic farmers can afford.
- Council members provided input on major issues affecting organic farmers like the Department of Agriculture's decision to move the cost-share program out of Agricultural Marketing Service and into the Farm Service Agency. It was input from the Farmers Advisory Council that Organic Trade Association staff brought to Washington, D.C., in April 2016 for a stakeholder meeting with the Farm Service Agency on organic cost-share. The association was able to communicate what elements of the cost-share program are working and what elements could be changed to increase participation. Farm Service Agency was receptive to the input, and the trade group's positions were largely shaped by discussions among council members.
In addition to Pennsylvania Certified Organic and Georgia Organics, participating organizations include CCOF Inc., Organic Egg Farmers of America, Oregon Tilth Certified Organic, Western Organic Dairy Producers Association, CROPP Cooperative, Montana Organic Association and Washington State's Tilth Alliance. Any organic farmer-governed organizations are welcome to join the Farmers Advisory Council to elevate the voice of their producer membership and should contact Organic Trade Association's Farm Policy Director Nate Lewis for more information (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is the membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products in North America. OTA is the leading voice for the organic trade in the United States, representing over 9,500 organic businesses across all 50 states. Its members include growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers' associations, distributors, importers, exporters, consultants, retailers and others. OTA's Board of Directors is democratically elected by its members. OTA's mission is to promote and protect ORGANIC with a unifying voice that serves and engages its diverse members from farm to marketplace.