Todd Linsky and Organic Trade Association on USDA Check-Off Program

Tue. January 17th, 2017 - by Jordan Okumura

WASHINGTON, DC - The USDA is moving forward on an organic-specific check-off program referred to as GRO Organic (Generic Research and Promotion Order for Organic) that could serve as a milestone for the growing sector.

The department is looking for feedback from the public on nationwide research and promotion of the system, which the Organic Trade Commission (OTA) said in a recent press release could have important and long-lasting benefits for organic farmers, businesses, and consumers alike.

Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director, OTA“We applaud USDA moving forward on this proposal that was authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill with strong bipartisan support,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of OTA. “OTA led the drive for this check-off because the organic industry is at a critical point. This organic check-off will provide research and key tools to encourage more farmers to go organic and help all organic farmers be more successful. It will educate consumers in a positive way about what that organic seal really means. For the benefit of all of us, this proactive program will further the success of organic agriculture for the long term.”

Organic industry veteran Todd Linsky of Todd Linsky Consulting also reacted to the announcement in his account “The organic journey: We’ve come a long way but we’re just getting started.”

Todd Linsky, Principal and Owner, Todd Linsky Consulting“Thirty years ago when I started in the organic produce industry it was called a trade. It was a cottage industry whose participants had no inkling of what it would become today. Back in the day there was no formal way to cool and ship product, no salad mix, and a handful of apple varieties,” Todd begins. He continues to describe the “uphill battle to establish credibility in a market that asked for quick and easy and didn't want to know where their food came from,” and says that a check-off program designed “specifically for the organic sector and supported purely by funds raised from organic stakeholders would target resources into vital organic research, consumer education, and more.”

To read Todd’s complete story on the organic journey and what the check-off program would mean, click here.

The application, originally submitted by the OTA officially to the USDA in May of 2015 and then updated last year, the proposed organic check-off would be progressive and reform-based:

  • The Check-off Board would be made up of 50 percent producers and 50 percent handlers.
  • Producers will select their regional representatives through direct balloting.
  • Every single certificate holder subject to an assessment will have a direct vote–there is no bloc voting.
  • Assessments would be made throughout the value chain: producers, handlers, processors, retailers.
  • Farmers and handlers with gross organic revenue below $250,000 will choose whether or not to pay into the program.
  • At least 50 to 75 percent of the funds would be earmarked specifically for research, or for activities that work hand-in-hand with research, like technical assistance and widespread dissemination of research findings.
  • Twenty-five percent of the assessment from producers would be required to be used for local and regional research. A Board sub-committee of regional seat holders would recommend how those funds would be used.
  • All of the research, inventions, and innovations resulting from organic check-off programing would remain in the public domain.
  • A referendum is required every seven years to decide whether or not to continue the program.

The organic industry proposal estimates the organic check-off could raise over $30 million a year to spend on research to help support organic transitions and education.

Organic stakeholders say now is the time, with U.S. organic product sales up to $43.3 billion in 2015. Keep checking in with AndNowUKnow as we continue to track this and other key moves in the industry.

Organic Trade Association Todd Linsky Consulting