An exclusive interview with National Organic Program (NOP) Deputy Administrator Jennifer Tucker on the growth of organic in 2020.
Why did the growth of organic continue to be so robust in 2020?
The continued growth can be credited to consumer demand and the dedication and resilience of the organic community. More than 45,575 certified organic operations worldwide—including 62 percent in the United States—achieved or maintained their certification in 2020.
We continue to see the greatest number of certified farms and businesses in California, with the Great Lakes Region, Pacific Northwest, Iowa, and Vermont also showing continued growth to round out the top ten. The greatest percentage growth between 2019 and 2020 was seen in states like Arkansas, Kansas, Montana, West Virginia, Connecticut, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Indiana. It’s great to see growth in so many different parts of the country. Every new farm and business matters!
What direction and priorities with the new administration do you see, and how do they link to organic?
COVID relief, economic recovery, climate-smart practices, and equity and inclusion are clear priorities for the Biden administration—and organic touches all of them. We often talk about the role of the National Organic Program in protecting compliant organic farms and businesses, and this administration’s priorities highlight why that protection matters so much.
It’s great to see growth in so many different parts of the country. Every new farm and business matters! -Jennifer Tucker
As supply chains reoriented last year, we saw organic buyers and sellers find each other through organic associations, certifiers, and tools like our USDA Organic Integrity Database, which publicly lists every USDA-certified organic farm and business and their products. These connections across the many hands of the organic community help build economic resiliency.
Dr. Jennifer Tucker, National Organic Program (NOP) Deputy Administrator
By growing organic, farmers choose to invest extra time and resources in the foods families love, and that extra work has a direct positive impact on the environment in their communities and regions. Organic practices foster resource cycling, promote ecological balance, maintain and improve soil and water quality, minimize the use of synthetic materials, and conserve biodiversity. All these activities have a role in fighting climate change and lead to both economic premiums and environmental benefits.
The latest USDA Organic Survey highlights significant growth in almost all organic commodities, with more than $9.9 billion in farm gate sales of apples, lettuce, vegetables, nuts, legumes, other specialty crops, corn, and fibers.
“By growing organic, farmers choose to invest extra time and resources in the foods families love, and that extra work has a direct positive impact on the environment in their communities and regions.” -Jennifer Tucker
The National Organic Program works with organic groups to build our talent pool of organic inspectors and certification staff. Having a strong, diverse team of qualified organic oversight professionals is essential for building the strong organic control systems that protect the USDA organic seal that farmers and consumers trust.
What are the National Organic Program’s focus points moving forward?
Continuous improvement and certifier consistency continue to be key priorities for the National Organic Program based on feedback from organic farmers and business owners, certifiers, and organic community groups. This includes clarifying requirements through standards such as the Strengthening Organic Enforcement Rule, Origin of Livestock Rule, and ongoing National List rules.
Dr. Jennifer Tucker
Continuous improvement and consistency also mean continuously adding new training to the Organic Integrity Learning Center, which helps make the organic option more accessible to new and diverse communities.
“Continuous improvement and certifier consistency continue to be key priorities for the National Organic Program.” -Jennifer Tucker
It is always a priority to continue to build certifier consistency through our accreditation audits and to protect the market through our work in Compliance and Enforcement. Robust collaboration with law enforcement partners and other government agencies extends our reach around the world. This many-hands approach to worldwide surveillance is helping us take the profit out of fraud.
Finally, we continue to invite engagement from the community through the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). Be on the lookout this spring for the call for nominations to fill four seats on the Board that come open in January 2022. We always want the Board to reflect the rich diversity of the organic community, from farm size, location, and type to experience in organic production, research, marketing, and supply chains. We’re also actively reaching out to historically underserved communities to bring different perspectives and ideas to the table. This year, we will be seeking an organic farmer; an individual with expertise in areas of environmental protection and resource conservation; a public interest or consumer interest group representative; and an individual with expertise in the fields of toxicology, ecology, or biochemistry.
Dr. Tucker implores all organic stakeholders to “check out the agenda and join us for the public comment sessions and Spring 2021 NOSB Meeting starting on April 20.”