Tom Chapman is CEO and Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association (OTA), a membership-based organization for organic agriculture and products that’s headquartered in Washington DC. OPN recently caught up with Tom to find out how his first year with OTA has been going, the organization’s priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill, its recently released “Organic Opportunity Communications Toolkit,” and more.
Tom Chapman, CEO and Executive Director, Organic Trade Association
What is your background in the organic industry—and particularly the organic produce industry?
I have more than 20 years of experience in the organic industry, helping advance certification and compliance; successfully managing global supply chains and multimillion-dollar contracts; and working closely with diverse brands, growers, and other organic stakeholders. I'm a skilled policy setter with years of experience at both the state and national levels and served on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) for five years, including two as Chair.
While much of my expertise comes from the consumer packaged goods sector, I have direct experience in the organic produce sector from my background in certification, including serving on the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) Management Committee.
How has your first year as CEO and Executive Director of OTA been going, and what have your priorities been?
My tenure at OTA has been action-packed and forward-looking. My priorities are centered around how OTA can help expand the organic market and best support our member companies.
Organic is a fast-changing marketplace with stringent and ever-changing rules and regulations and ongoing consumer confusion. OTA is focused on providing education and resources to help our members stay up to date with new regulations like the Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) final rule and communicate the benefits of their organic products to consumers with tools like our new Organic Opportunity Communications Toolkit.
This year is also a critical one for our policy work as the Farm Bill is up for reauthorization and will set the agenda for agriculture policy and spending for years to come. OTA is putting in a tremendous effort to advocate for organic throughout the legislative process to ensure the continuous improvement of our industry.
OTA CEO Tom Chapman at Organic Week 2022
What are OTA’s main focus areas for the 2023 Farm Bill?
Based on the consensus of our Farmers Advisory Council, which represents more than 9,500 growers, OTA has determined that to continue growing the organic marketplace, the next Farm Bill must include financial and policy investments to ensure:
- Organic standards are responsive to marketplace demands, meaning NOP is properly resourced and staffed and that the US Organic standards have a predictable and practical method for being updated based on developing science and consumer expectations.
- Research and risk management tools are practical, accessible, and equitable in their support of organic producers.
- Conservation, pollinator, and climate-smart programs recognize the historical contributions of organic producers in protecting natural resources and utilize paperwork and recordkeeping already in place for organic certification.
- Organic supply chains are resilient in the face of known and unknown risks, such as disease, weather, and increasing costs.
- Increasing export promotion for US organic products. Produce has historically been a big fraction of our Customs and Border Protection tracked organic exports, and we need to continue to invest in this area to develop market opportunities for our organic producers.
"Organic is a fast-changing marketplace with stringent and ever-changing rules and regulations and ongoing consumer confusion. OTA is focused on providing education and resources to help our members stay up to date with new regulations." - Tom Chapman
Can you share more about OTA’s recently released Organic Opportunity Communications Toolkit?
We are incredibly proud of the Organic Opportunity Communications Toolkit and the impact it has already delivered for our membership and the industry. The data-driven toolkit empowers our members to effectively educate on the multiple beneficial attributes of organic when communicating with Congress, retailers, and consumers alike.
The suite of resources, including the Organic Sustainability Wheel, are backed by a comprehensive resource guide that we compiled in collaboration with our sister science organization, The Organic Center. The guide serves as a living, regularly updated encyclopedia of science and references of the human health, environmental, and community benefits of organic. Our members are already using the toolkit to communicate the value-add of their products in presentations, social media, impact reports, and on-package claims.
Organic Sustainability Wheel
Are there any other new OTA initiatives or developments that you’d like to mention?
The organic industry recently saw the largest-ever update to the organic regulations in the Strengthening Organic Enforcement final rule. OTA is working with our members to support their successful implementation of this rule by the compliance deadline of March 2024 by providing resources, briefings, and other training opportunities. We also have an Organic Fraud Prevention Solutions program that provides step-by-step guidance to develop and implement an organic fraud prevention plan as mandated by the rule.
In addition, our flagship annual event is just around the corner. We are convening members, industry stakeholders, and coalition partners for Organic Week in Washington, DC, on May 9–11. Organic Week is all about collaborating to solve the complex issues surrounding organic food and farming. This year, we’re partnering with The Organic Center to host the 2023 Organic Confluences Conference to explore how we can reduce plastics along the entire organic supply chain. Our members will also work in small teams to attend hundreds of pre-scheduled meetings across Capitol Hill to put democracy in action by advocating for our 2023 organic Farm Bill priorities.
OTA CEO Tom Chapman at Organic Grower Summit 2022
What are OTA’s future plans as it relates to organic produce?
The produce sector accounts for 20 percent of our membership, and OTA is dedicated to working to increase demand and consumption of organic produce as well as expand and diversify production. Specifically, we are working with our Produce Council to:
- Develop additional consumer education resources on the benefits and value of organic produce.
- Identify international trade issues unique to fresh produce imports and exports.
- Resolve incompatibility of food safety rules with organic regulations, farming practices, and approved inputs.
"The produce sector accounts for 20 percent of our membership, and OTA is dedicated to working to increase demand and consumption of organic produce as well as expand and diversify production." - Tom Chapman
What is your outlook for the organic produce industry in terms of both challenges and opportunities?
Current inflation-related price pressure as well as the cost and availability of labor and ongoing supply chain issues are contributing to constrained growth in the sector. But organic is, and always has been, about long-term thinking and investment. Organic’s fundamental values remain strong, and consumers have demonstrated they will come back time and again because the organic system is verified and better for people, the planet, and the economy.
Organic is the only agriculture system and eco-label that is federally defined, certified, and enforced. While inflation and economic recessions come and go, the long-term consumer trends show an increasing focus on both personal and environmental health—and organic sits at the heart of these two values. By staying steadfast and focused on communicating the benefits of organic, the produce sector will be prepared to weather this short-term economic disruption and continue to capture growing consumer demand as the market returns to normal.