OTA Kicks Off GRO Program at Expo West


The Organic Trade Association (OTA), in partnership with Organic Voices (OV) and over 70 organic brands and businesses, gathered at Natural Products Expo West to unveil their immediate action plan for a voluntary “check-off-like” program to promote organic products.

Following the demise of an attempted USDA mandatory research and promotion check-off program, the OTA, Organic Voices and supporting companies decided to take matters into their own hands.

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The check-off-like voluntary program, “GRO Organic” stands for Generate Results and Opportunity.  The group has collectively raised $1.5 million for this year and next, aimed to activate immediate programs that will advance organic food and farming in the US.

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GRO Organic funds are intended to activate research projects that show organic practices can fight climate change as well as creating a marketing campaign all organic companies can use to help reduce consumer confusion about organic.

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Besides launching a national campaign to reduce consumer confusion about organic, GRO Organic has three other specific areas of focus in the first year.

  • Consumer Research: Harnessing the expertise of health and wellness specialists at NMI, they are conducting research that will provide insights on what consumers are hearing about organic and how it affects their buying habits. This research will be publicly available for all companies to gain insight on messaging.
  • Technical Assistance for Organic Farmers: This pilot initiative will train agricultural professionals working with organic or transitioning farmers. The Organic Agronomy Training Series (OATS) will initially operate in 9 states with the ultimate goal of connecting technical specialists with organic farmers in every state.
  • Soil Health and Climate Change: In conjunction with The Organic Center, plans are underway to convene research on how organic agriculture is part of the solution to soil health and climate change.

The immediate research projects for 2019 include the University of Maryland reviewing the science that evaluates organic methods for building soil health, the University of Maryland investigating the impact of organic farming on carbon sequestration, and the University of California, Berkeley, quantifying how environmentally friendly practices can impact a farmer’s economic bottom line.

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The group held a “fishbowl discussion” on last Friday, March 8 at Expo West, that provided an update on program specifics from the GRO Organic Core Committee. Participants had the opportunity to engage with stakeholders about the latest consumer insights, messaging plans and ideas about potential governance structures for the future of GRO.

One of the participants was Rodger Wasson, from Idea-Farming, Inc., a consulting, communications and market development company.


Rodger Wasson, Idea-Farming Inc.

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Besides hosting his Farm To Table Talk Podcast, Rodger has experience setting up a voluntary check off program with the American Pistachio Growers.

He told the group that “There are 15 processors and over 800 growers supporting the voluntary checkoff of 3.5 cents per pound.  It’s about a billion-dollar industry and they bring in $10 - $12 million per year. Checkoff programs are important to many industries, especially the Pistachio industry because they are planting trees that will be producing for the next 120 years.”

One participant commented that, “If the pistachio growers are a $1 billion industry and can raise those funds, think what organic can do at $50 billion.”    

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GRO Organic is implementing immediate programs as working examples that can be expanded into even more ambitious future initiatives.

To gain the best thinking from stakeholders on how to set up this industry-wide voluntary program, the core committee is seeking input. They are asking everyone interested to provide detailed thoughts in writing on a series of key questions on funding, participation and governance.

They’re also asking for everyone to share their “big idea” that would positively impact organic.

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