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Home > About OTA > 2020: YEAR IN REVIEW + A LOOK AHEAD

2020: YEAR IN REVIEW + A LOOK AHEAD

We are a connected community of innovators and pioneers working to shape the future for organic food and farming. Together, with our members, we are focused on solutions.

Organic Reaches Deeper During the Pandemic
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2020 brought a year like no other. A global pandemic disrupted nearly every aspect of life, we experienced intense social unrest, and the election was fraught with controversy. Despite the challenges, the U.S. organic sector and Organic Trade Association showed incredible resilience. We pivoted to the new reality, taking measures to keep the organic supply chain moving, workers safe, and consumers stocked. As a trade association, we were there for our members. We reached out to them early in the pandemic, and we were able to deliver deep value to our membership, providing resources and engagement opportunities from virtual fly-ins to webinars to networking events. We developed new strategic priorities related to climate change and diversity and advanced long-standing priorities like standards development and fraud prevention. We were engaged in conversations of national importance and didn’t let up on organic advocacy, education, or trade.

Climate Change
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Organic Takes on Climate Change

Fifty-seven members joined our Climate Change Task Force to elevate the voice of organic in climate policies, advance organic as a solution, and protect organic from the risk of a changing climate. Fifty members participated in our first flyin devoted solely to climate action. They met virtually with 28 lawmakers—six Republicans and 22 Democrats—from 19 states to advocate for our climate priorities. Our Board of Directors unanimously endorsed 10 core principles for good climate policy. 1. Advance organic agriculture 2. Be science-based, data-driven and verifiable 3. Focus on outcomes and continuous improvement 4. Promote soil health and carbon sequestration 5. Lower the use of fossil fuel-based chemicals 6. Provide solutions for mitigation and adaptation 7. Incentivize farmers and businesses 8. Decarbonize the economy 9. Foster agricultural diversity and innovation 10. Address equity and inclusion. Built on these guiding principles, we published a white paper with recommendations for policymakers to support organic farmers and encourage transition to organic farming as a key strategy for climate change mitigation.

 

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Organic Commits to Improvement and Accountability

Three hundred and sixty-nine farmers and businesses responded to a comprehensive survey from us on the need for continuous improvement and advancement of organic standards. The valuable input from these organic stakeholders helped us prioritize short-term needs and shape our ongoing advocacy efforts to improve organic standards. We also drafted bipartisan legislation that will keep standards development in pace with the changing market and evolving consumer. Our 2021 policy platform, supported by the creation of a new member task force: • Requires USDA to issue an Organic Improvement Action Plan comprised of the backlog of NOSB recommendations that have not been implemented. • Requires USDA to issue a final rule implementing National Organic Standards Board recommendations within one year. • Requires USDA to report annually to Congress on whether certifiers have implemented new rules and guidance and identify if there are any inconsistencies.
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Organic Makes Historic Strides in Oversight and Enforcement

Fifty-five member companies, representing a diverse cross-section from farmers to retailers, participated in our Strengthening Organic Enforcement task force. They met regularly to analyze the proposed rule and inform our positions. Ultimately, we submitted a 188-page technical comment on the Proposed Rule. Our regulatory team also worked closely with many of our member communities and partners. As a result of this extensive outreach, hundreds more businesses weighed in on our comments.


The proposed rule is the outcome of our successful legislative work. It is the largest single piece of rulemaking since the organic regulations were first implemented. On behalf of our members, we have been in the driver’s seat with Congress since the 2018 Farm Bill debate leading up to this historic rulemaking. The focus now is to move swiftly to a final rule and provide the support and resources needed to ensure successful implementation.

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Organic Fights for Strong Standards and Integrity

At the end of 2020, the court granted our request to revise the timetable for future consideration of our animal welfare standards case until the Biden administration was in place. This legal battle is of major significance to all organic farmers, businesses and consumers. The issue still before the court is USDA’s repeated refusal to act on a thoroughly vetted Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule that would improve livestock living conditions and care, including requiring access to the outdoors. A decision in our favor means the organic sector can continue to advance, and that consumers can continue to trust in the USDA Organic seal. We are hopeful for a successful outcome under the new Administration.
 

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Meanwhile, twenty-five dairy companies, farmers, national and farming groups representing over 90 percent of the organic dairy market and nearly 8,000 organic farmers sent a letter demanding USDA issue a final rule on Origin of Livestock. We had expected to secure a final rule in 2020 after we took the issue to Congress the year before and lawmakers mandated that USDA act. We continue to fight for an end to this devastating economic disadvantage after NOP announced it intends to rewrite and publish another proposed rule instead of moving to a final rule.
 

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Organic Expands Fraud Prevention Solutions

During 2020, U.S. organic businesses gained access to our groundbreaking Organic Fraud Prevention Solutions initiative and a fraud-fighting training package from USDA. Our member Pipeline Foods was the first certified organic business to successfully complete the nine-step enrollment process for the program. At year’s end, there were 33 other companies making their way through the process, and more than 80 companies actively learning more about this first-of-its-kind organic program. There are now 12 hours of on-demand training content available. USDA added two free online courses designed for organic inspectors and certifiers to complement our fraud-fighting program.

Among the provisions in the Strengthening Organic Enforcement Proposed Rule, certified operators will be required to maintain a fraud prevention plan. Our Organic Fraud Prevention Solutions is a private sector initiative that addresses this need and 2021 is focused on enabling our members to have a tested plan already in place when the final rule publishes.

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Organic Research, Promotion, and Education GROs to New Heights
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Our voluntary industry-invested GRO (Generate Results and Opportunity) Organic programs continued their cooperative efforts to advance organic research, grow organic acres, and understand the organic consumer.

GRO Details
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Climate Research

A new study conducted by the University of Maryland in collaboration with The Organic Center, and supported by GRO Organic, provides a big-picture understanding of the organic techniques that have the most impact on soil health. The review of more than 150 studies from around the world on the benefits of organic farming to soil health and climate change mitigation illuminates specific organic farming practices that are the best of the best in supporting healthy soils. The findings were published in the scientific journal Organic Agriculture.

Climate Research
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Technical Assistance

The Organic Agronomy Training Service (OATS) train-the-trainer program, sponsored by GRO, targeted agricultural professionals working with organic and transitioning farmers. OATS completed 3 trainings for 95 attendees in Idaho in partnership with CCOF and Anheuser Busch's Contract for Change Program; attendees included a cohort of 21 Anheuser-Busch staff agronomists. OATS also completed a review of pilot program outcomes and developed a 3-Year Strategic Plan for growth, development, and evaluation of impact.

Technical Assistance
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Consumer Messaging

The GRO funded consumer research project, the largest ever of its kind, yielded a new level of understanding about today’s shoppers and the messaging they need to create or strengthen their commitment to organic. Findings were converted into a Consumer Messaging Toolkit available to Organic Trade Association members. 185 copies of the document have been downloaded, in addition to those distributed at Webinars, and during the approximately 20 presentations made directly to member companies and sector councils.

Consumer Messaging
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Organic Export Promotion Delivers Results

Our international organic program yielded $16.7 million in projected sales in 2020. There were 31 companies participating across these activities taking place in Europe, Asia, and the UAE.


Pre-pandemic, 14 companies exhibited in our booth at BioFach in Germany, with commodities ranging from grains and flours to functional beverages, nuts, and baby food. We also participated in the BioFach Congress, presenting in six panels and seminars and furthering ties with European partners. We exhibited at Gulfood, Dubai, UAE, for the first time, with food ingredients and organic snack foods demonstrating strong market potential. Later in the year, we held two virtual trade missions: one on produce with buyers from across Asia, and a second for processed product companies with buyers from Asia, Europe, and the UAE. More than 100 virtual meetings took place, with over $2.1 million in projected sales – a huge success for a first time virtual event, with 17 US supplier companies and 15 foreign buyers.

 

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Organic Engagement Skyrockets in Virtual Environment

In 2020:
  • Our education program reached more than half of our member organizations. Over 4,500 individuals registered for our live webinars. Another 309 accessed the recordings.
  • Sector Councils and Task Forces benefit from direct participation by about 475 individuals from across the membership!
  • We made our annual Organic Industry Survey available as a member benefit. In a year with so much market uncertainty and economic difficulty, the tangible benefit of providing the survey to members was huge. 425 individual copies of the data package have been downloaded.
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Organic Farmers Sweep the Leadership Awards

Three outstanding organic farmers—one operating an exemplary small dairy and livestock farm, one overseeing over 45,000 acres of certified organic vegetable production, and one leading other farmers to join the largest U.S. organic cooperative— were recognized with the Organic Trade Association’s 2020 Organic Leadership Awards. Sharing their passion for organic farming, they are leading by example to foster further growth for the sector, whether on a small scale or by something way bigger. 2020 award honorees were Jim Wedeberg of CROPP Cooperative/Organic Valley for Growing the Organic Community, Meg Plucinski of D&M Family Farm for Rising Star, and Jeff Huckaby of Grimmway for Organic Farmer of the Year.

 

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We Do All This And More On A Small But Mighty Budget
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This year our budget shifted from our historical breakdown due to Covid disruption. Our personnel expenses increased as a percentage of the whole because of the decrease in overall expenses tied to events and travel. We still focused every dollar of our approximate $5M budget on ensuring a bright future for organic. Thanks to the Organic Trade Association members that invest in a strong organic sector.

LOOKING AHEAD
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Looking Ahead

In late 2020, we delivered a transition packet to the Biden-Harris team outlining our priorities for organic. It included advancing organic at USDA, with a more prominent seat at the table for organic agriculture, including in climate change discussions. Moreover, with the change in governmental administrations, we are calling for the restoration of an Organic and Sustainable Agriculture Policy Advisor role within USDA, along with steps to promote organic agriculture within USDA research programs and integrate organic into federal nutrition and procurement programs. Another priority is to restore full governmental funding for organic certification cost-share.

>>  On the regulatory front, we are fighting for the reinstatement of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule (OLPP), and still seek the publication of a final rule on Origin of Livestock. The organic sector is asking for action to address the backlog of standards that have been recommended yet not acted on by USDA during more than a decade. We are awaiting a new framework for standards development through the advancement of the Strengthening Organic Enforcement and Enforcement rule.

>>  Continuing our work as an industry leader and the voice of organic, we have joined the JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) Collaborative and established a Diversity and Entrepreneurship Fund for socially and economically disadvantaged owned businesses that are interested in transitioning to organic.

>>  Meanwhile, as we finish working on our 2021 Organic Industry Survey, we can’t overstate the ways organic has been impacted by the upheavals of 2020. Our survey will examine ways in which shopping patterns shifted, and the impact those shifts had on organic. It will be available in Spring 2021.

>>  We will launch the Organic Market Basket as new data product that will track a typical grocery shopping list over time, and allow us to observe differences in a variety of factors, such as price, volume and regional sales differences.

>>  With COVID-19 still a significant part of our reality in 2021, we recognize the importance of staying resilient and open to the evolving needs of our members and our markets. Based on our experiences during 2020, we are optimistic the organic industry will continue to thrive.

Connect with our Expert Staff
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Finally, together again.

If you commit to one event to reconnect with the organic community, make it this one.

Organic Week in Washington, D.C.
January 31- February 2, 2022

Join us for 72-hours in the nation’s capital to work on solutions for the complex issues surrounding organic food and farming. We will focus on continuous improvement in organic, celebrate organic leaders, and advance organic policy priorities.

The InterContinental Hotel provides an all-inclusive experience with enhanced sanitation procedures to limit contact in public spaces and keep guests safe during Organic Week events.

Three days in one location, reunited again!

 

Connect with our Expert Staff

Meet our team and let us know how we can help you address the range of critical issues facing your organic business.

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