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OPN Connect Newsletter 4 · March 24, 2017

GRO Organic – The Buzz – What Others Are Saying


The debate to create a federally mandated marketing order for the organic industry to fund promotion and research for organics continues.    In previous OPN Connect stories, we offered background on the proposed legislation, background on the proposal and provided information on its impact to the organic produce industry.  The following is an overview of what some industry leaders are saying.

Matt McLean, founder, Uncle Matt’s Organics, Clermont, FL:  As an organic citrus grower for almost two decades, I support the organic check-off.  This is a helpful tool for continued growth in both organic marketing and research.  Organics have grown without any support from a check-off program.  GRO will enhance our ability to sustain growth.  What would our industry do if we had multiple years of negative growth rates?  GRO would give us the tools to be proactive instead of reactive.

Nature Safe

Mark Carroll, vice president of merchandising for produce and floral, The Fresh Market:  I believe that this is a checkoff program. These programs are often beneficial as they promote the use and sale of their commodity, fund research to help grow it and educate consumers on the benefits. I believe this could help increase the supply of organics and potentially the sales of organics.

Vic Smith, CEO, J.V. Farms, Inc:  My first reaction is to support it because research is important in any food support concept.  I do have concerns about how it’s going to be executed.  As a larger producer, I’m concerned about funding a program which could promote things I oppose----- like if it focused on differentiating organic from conventional.  Instead, GRO needs to focus on the positive aspects of organic – the benefits of eating organic, not what’s wrong with conventional food.  I believe research is the most important aspect and we can feed more people if we use our technological abilities.

Mark Lipson, research associate, Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Farming Systems, University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC):  As a 34-year organic farmer, I support the assessment.  GRO Organic is absolutely essential.  I worked with on the research provisions with on the final proposal, so I believe the critical needs will be met.  I’ve always thought that there is a disproportionate amount of funding for research not going to organic based on its market share.  

Organic Ag Products

Gary Hirshberg, chairman, Stoneyfield Farm/Just Label:  A check-off would strengthen the voice of the organic sector.  The entire sector will benefit from promotion and research programs that provide consumer education, on-farm and regional research solutions, and ultimately, increase the number of organic farmers.  It would be a game changer for organic, for our children and our planet.

Howard Nager, vice president business development, Sun Pacific:  The entire industry needs to work together to promote the advantages of organic products

Jeff Fairchild, produce director, New Seasons Market:  I doubt that most of this revenue would go to produce.  Meat, seafood, grains and dairy will get the bulk of it because of their strong presence in politics and deep-rooted networks.  The large players will get the most benefit.  If I were a grower and could vote, I’d vote no.  Organic shoppers are committed to the category and this would jeopardize the small retailers and farmers.  If it does happen, it must be sustainable and fair. 

Ocean Mist

Brigette Rau, founder, Brigit True Organics, Charlottesville, VA:  As a certified processor, we are vehemently against an organic check-off.  If a company wants to invest in marketing and research, this is their choice. We do not want to pay into this and would rather discontinue our NOP certification. 

Andy Leppert, owner, Leppert Farm, Lansing, IA:  As an organic farmer I do not support an organic check off.

Rick Hood, owner, Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market, Richmond, VA:  As a significant organic grocer, we do not support the organic checkoff proposed rule. It does not fairly represent smaller local organic farmers. Please do not approve it.

Various Produce Industry Associations and Commission are also weighing in.

Mary Coppola, senior director, Marketing Communications, United Fresh Produce Association:  We’ve encouraged our members to review the proposal and make their views known.

Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director, California Strawberry Commission:  The organization does not have a position on the check-off program.  We are a quasi-government organization representing all California strawberry farmers, shippers and processors.  The commission promotes both conventional and organic.  The research we sponsor, like the study of soil borne diseases also benefits both. 

Melody Meyer, vice president of corporate social responsibility, policy and industry relations for United Natural Foods Incorporated (UNFI) and OTA Board Member:   Now more than ever, with funding cuts imminent, we need to generate resources for organic. It’s important to build a strong record of support for GRO Organic if we are to convince the new administration to establish it.  An organic check-off will carry organic agriculture soaring to new heights.

Terry Humfeld, executive director, The Cranberry Institute:  Currently, U.S. grown organic cranberries are a small part of the marketplace.  It’s growing, but not as quickly as overall organic and remains a niche market.  Most of those impacted by the proposed assessment will fall under the $250,000 exemption.  The majority of interest in organic cranberries is in Quebec.

Kathleen Nave, president, California Table Grape Commission:  Our comments focus on the proposal to give certified organic producers and handlers a credit of "up to 25 percent" for certain "fees paid to Qualified State Commodity Boards required by State law."  The Commission appreciates this effort to address the interaction of Federal and State mandates, but respectfully suggests the credit should be increased to 100 percent to avoid disadvantaging Qualified State Commodity Boards and uniquely burdening certified organic producers and handlers who are subject to State requirements. 

What’s next?

As one of the next steps, USDA must review and analyze 3,069 website comments (as of March 22) before a decision to move forward with a referendum is made. 

OPN Connect encourages you to share your comments with USDA before the deadline of April 19.  It’s easy.  Just click here.

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