NOSB member, Harriet Behar been working extensively in the organic industry for 27 years as an organic farmer, advocate, teacher and technical specialist. She shares her thoughts on the current state of organic, working with the NOP and NOSB’s work plan for hydroponics.
OPN Connect: Your many years in the Industry give you a good perspective on the movement. How do you feel organic is doing in 2018? What re the challenges and opportunities we face?
I tend to be an optimistic person. I just came from a two day conference called OGRAIN which was focused on organic grain production. We had people from 11 states and two-thirds of those people were in transition or newly organic with only one-third of the group already in organic production.
There was a lot of discussion about organic as a production system and not just input substitution. It’s about looking at your entire ecosystem, the environment, asking what more you do to meet that basic definition of organic which is about conserving biodiversity and recycling nutrients. The attendees really got it!
When you can reach out to the farming community and at least half of the people in the room are under 35 years old, there is a lot of hope for the future.
More farmers can see that organic offers a long term solution, not just to their economic plight but to improving their long term resiliency on their farm. By learning the foundational organic production practices, they provide themselves with the tools they need for extreme weather events, market fluctuations, protection of soil and water quality. As well as passing along a stable farming system to future generations.
On the downside, while the NOP states they consider enforcement to be a priority, there continues to be numerous instances and negative publicity surrounding incidents of fraud on imports, lack of pasture compliance on dairies, fraudulently labeled organic pineapple and more. We as an industry cannot tolerate fraud in the marketplace, and the resulting degradation of consumer trust in our label. The vast majority of organic producers meet or exceed the standards. It is a great disservice to these operations who meet the rule, to not have a label that protects their hard work and commitment
The community is strong and passionate and wants the best for the label. At the federal level, their bureaucracy and lack of enforcement and protection of organic integrity is having an impact.
OPN Connect: You have served on the NOSB since 2016. What changes do you see from this administration USDA/NOP?
They are many empty seats at the NOP; Miles McEvoy and several other people have left the program. They have held interviews but haven’t hired anyone- so that’s distressing- We have an acting AMS administrator who is doing other jobs, so she doesn’t have adequate time to put into the program. Everything is moving extremely slowly as a result.
We don’t have a replacement for Francis Thicke’s’ producer seat so the board only has 14 people. The Secretary of Ag hasn’t appointed anyone for that seat so I am concerned. We have work to be done and all 15 seats are important. I feel that stakeholders are getting short changed.
In essence they aren’t providing us with the institutional help we need to do our job. They should prioritize having the NOP at full staff; they have the money allocated by Congress to do it.
OPN Connect: You were recently elected to be Vice President of the NOSB after a much divided vote on the Hydroponics issue. What are the ramifications of this vote to the organic community?
We want to look at artificial lights, recycling of containers, use of petroleum based mulches etc. Right now there is an uneven implementation between different certifiers, regions and companies who are using these production methods. One reason hydroponics was so divisive is this new system of farming was allowed without clear standards, we are looking at aspects of both container and field production that are not currently reviewed differently by various certifiers to bring consistency to our label.
We are behind the industry as it’s developed and that’s what caused the division. Rather than have a willy-nilly thing let’s get standards with feedback form the community that’s practical, enforceable and verifiable.
The NOP has stated they will review the NOSB recommendation to prohibit aeroponic production as certified organic, but has not given a timeline for that possible implementation.
OPN Connect: What next steps will NOSB take up to clarity the hydroponics issue? Is a labeling solution on the work plan?
We did start talking about labeling but the NOP was reeling from the controversy and as far as I’m concerned it should be discussed. NOP basically told us not to work on labeling of these production methods. So the NOSB has interest but the NOP has not been encouraging us not to go down this path. It is something that may come up again in the future.
OPN Connect: What’s the most important message you have for organic farmers who want to be involved in the NOSB process?
Consumers, retailers, environmentalist should all get involved. If you have a passion for organic you bring something valuable to the table. Your public comments DO matter, we read them and NOP reads them too. We rely on your wording and comments to inform what we are doing on the board. We encourage more engagement rather than less.
Producers pay attention to their certifier’s communications that gives advice on changes coming on allowed materials or practices. They have good information to keep you informed.