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Home > Supporting Organic Farms and Businesses Through the COVID-19 Crisis

Supporting Organic Farms and Businesses Through the COVID-19 Crisis

This page will be updated regularly as new information about COVID-19 and possible impacts to the organic industry and the people who work in this trade becomes available. Stay tuned and stay healthy.

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Advocacy

Advocacy 

Our letter to USDA on COVID-19 impacts to the organic sector

The Organic Trade Association sent a letter to Secretary Perdue outlining impacts to the organic sector due to COVID-19. In the letter, we highlighted the unique supply chain challenges the organic sector is experiencing with certification and inspections, requested that certification cost-share funding be released in a timely manner, and advocated for the release of the Strengthening Organic Enforcement proposed rule. In addition, we requested that emergency assistance to farmers include adequate funding to cover losses for organic producers and that personal protective equipment be provided to the food and agriculture workforce. We also requested that the agency prioritize purchasing local and regional food for emergency food assistance programs.


TAKE ACTION!  Ensure Federal Recovery Efforts Include Assistance for the Organic Sector

As the entire U.S. economy is being impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19, it is important that organic businesses communicate directly with your elected federal representatives and senators. This is a difficult and challenging time for businesses of all sizes. Sharing your unique perspective on how this disruption is affecting your farm or business is crucial to informing federal recovery efforts. Congress is working around the clock to pass multiple stimulus packages worth trillions of dollars to assist workers and businesses. 

The passage of these massive bills is only just the beginning.  As the situation evolves, Congress is introducing hundreds of bills to respond to the needs of various sectors of the economy including food and agriculture. Many of these bills will become law in the coming months, so it is never too late to communicate with Congress on your needs. In addition to controlling the federal purse strings, Congress plays a critical role in the oversight of federal agency responses to the crisis, and its Members need to hear from you, their constituents.

TAKE ACTION NOW     


SURVEY: Organic Food Supply Chain Issues

The Organic Trade Association is working with USDA’s External Affairs office and collecting information to make sure their office is aware of any specific Organic Food Supply Chain issues the industry is experiencing. If your company is currently encountering any export or import delays for organic products, ingredient supply shortages, or other disruptions, please complete this short survey. We will compile all the information received and provide this to the USDA. Please note that this survey provides an option to identify yourself and your company, but we will not provide identifying information to USDA. Please contact Gwendolyn Wyard if you have questions or additional information to share.

TAKE SURVEY NOW     


Organic, Ag, Small Business Recovery, and Federal Stimulus Priorities

Policy solutions are needed. We are working with lawmakers and regulators to mitigate potential economic harm to the organic sector, federal agencies and Congress must prioritize:

  • Assistance to farmers whose supply chains have been severely disrupted including those that sell direct to consumers, institutions, restaurants or farmers markets.
     
  • Ensuring that support for farmers whether through loans, disaster relief or direct payments serve the entire U.S. agriculture sector reflecting the diversity of our food and farm system. A focus must be placed on providing assistance that is specialized for the specialty crop and organic sectors as well as small and medium-sized farms.
     
  • Minimizing disruptions in the transportation, supply and distribution channels and providing assistance to redirect distribution to emergency food banks and retail outlets
     
  • Providing grants, not just loans, to small businesses, farmers and food start-ups that will be particularly hit hard during this crisis
     
  • Communication and coordination from the National Organic Program and accredited certifiers  on inspections to protect the safety of certifiers and farmers
     
  • Immediate release of certification cost-share funds to certifiers and State Departments of Agriculture to help organic farmers offset the cost of their annual inspections
     
  • Protecting export markets for U.S. organic. Provide flexibility for interrupted international market activities through the administration of the Market Access Program (MAP), Agricultural Trade Promotion (ATP) and Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) grants. Ensure timely reimbursements for canceled activities and/or rollover funding for 2020 grants when normal business and international travel resumes.
     
  • Ensuring an adequate supply of agricultural workers to prevent further labor shortages. Prioritize and designate the processing of H2-A visas as an emergency service.
     
  • Providing flexibility for research and extension grants and awards for 2020 so that activities may continue when academic institutions reopen.

TAKE ACTION NOW     

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Market Research / Consumer Data

Market Research / Consumer Data

The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic this year -- and its enormous impact on our everyday lives – has already had dramatic consequences for the organic sector in 2020. As shoppers search for healthy, clean food to feed their at-home families, organic food is proving to be the food of choice for home. Read our press release and watch the State of Organic video from our CEO/Executive Director, Laura Batcha.

All Organic Trade Association members are eligible to receive an exclusive Data Package including a digital copy of our 2020 Organic Industry Survey and our COVID-19 Supplement Report. Please contact Angela Jagiello to learn more.


Poll shows consumers value organic more than ever in pandemic

As the initial pantry-loading phase of the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, households of all sizes have begun to settle into longer-term routines and shopping patterns. For those shoppers who prioritize organic, their commitment to the label remains strong, even as so much has changed within their daily lives. 
 
To help organic businesses understand how demand for their products may evolve in the near term, the Organic Trade Association conducted an online consumer poll of 3,188 “likely organic” shoppers from Tuesday, April 28, to Wednesday, May 6, 2020. READ MORE

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COVID-19 Forums

COVID-19 forums available on demand

Our COVID-19 webinar for farmers, ranchers, and producers to learn about new and existing aid programs designed specifically to assist them is available on demand. Register now.

Our COVID-19 webinar on financial stimulus and cash management strategies is also available on demand. Register now.

In the coming weeks, we will continue our series of COVID-19 informational webinar forums with topics germane to organic, including navigating inspections during social distancing, and ensuring a healthy – and ample – workforce. For more information, contact Angela Jagiello.

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USDA Farm Program Flexibilities

USDA Farm Program Flexibilities

  • Risk Management Agency announced that it is modifying the Dairy Revenue Protection sales periods for when milk producers can purchase quarterly coverage endorsements.
  • Risk Management Agency announced that policyholders applying for organic price election policies can report acreage as certified organic, or transitioning to organic, for the 2020 crop year if they can show they have requested a written certification from a certifying agent by their policy’s acreage reporting date. RMA has provided a Q&A with additional details.   
  • Risk Management Agency announced it is now authorizing self-certification on replant inspections for certain crops for the 2020 crop year, and waiving witness signatures in certain situations through July 15.
  • Risk Management Agency announced clarification on how to account for dumped milk toward the Dairy Revenue Protection Program or Livestock Gross Margin for Dairy programs to minimize inappropriate penalties caused by disruptions in the milk market. RMA has also extended deadlines into the summer for inspections for perennial crop insurance programs, and waived 2021 crop year inspection requirements under certain conditions for the Nursery Crop Provisions and Nursery Value Select programs. RMA has also expanded permissions on using of electronic and phone information submissions
  • Risk Management Agency announced it is allowing electronic notifications for required reports, extending the date for production reports, and providing additional time and deferring interest on premium and other payments.
  • Farm Service Agency announced extended deadlines for new loan applicants and producers responding to loan servicing actions. Accommodations are made for preparing or closing loans in cases when lien and record searches can’t be conducted because of closed government buildings. Guarantee lenders can self-certify in certain cases.
  • Farm Service Agency announced that loan maturity for Marketing Assistance Loans is temporarily extended to 12 months for active loans and new loans by September 30, 2020.
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USDA Organic Inspections

USDA Organic Inspections

The organic regulations require certifying agents to conduct annual on-site inspection of each production unit, facility, and site that produces and handles organic products. This includes an initial on-site inspection. The on-site requirement obviously brings about challenges given the rapidly changing status of the COVID-19 pandemic and the national, state and local directives to help slow the spread of the virus and keep everyone safe.

If you are a certified organic operation, you may have already received a COVID-19 communication from your certifier outlining the steps they are taking to ensure safety, along with updates on inspection scheduling and cancellations. If you have not heard from your certifier, please contact them immediately with any questions or concerns you may have.

The Accredited Certifiers Association (ACA) and the International Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA) have developed Best Practices for Contingency plans for Verifying Organic Compliance When On-site Inspections are not Possible.

General recommendations include:

  • Certifiers should use a risk-based assessment to determine what combination of remote inspection and records audit should be used to verify compliance for each existing (already certified) operation. When on-site inspections are possible, certifiers should also use a risk-based approach to prioritize.
  • For existing operations who are seeking the addition of new products, land, or facilities, certifiers should evaluate whether a remote inspection can be sufficient to assess compliance.
  • New applications for certification should be prioritized for on-site inspections once they become possible, as new operations cannot obtain initial certification without an onsite inspection.
  • Accredited certifiers are urged to communicate regularly with their clients, including sharing directly the contingency plan for inspections.
  • Certifiers, inspectors, and operations should continue to remain inspection-ready and maintain good documentation of their procedures.
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Food Safety and other Organic Inspections

Update Food Safety and Other Organic Inspections

There are similar concerns about ensuring the safety of food along with the safety of workers and communities. In short:

  • FDA will temporarily not enforce FSMA supplier verification on-site audit requirements if other appropriate supplier verification methods are used instead (March 17, 2020)
  • FDA has postponed most foreign facility inspections through April, and inspections outside the U.S. deemed mission-critical will be considered on a case-by-case basis as the outbreak continues to unfold (March 18, 2020)
  • FDA has temporarily postponed all domestic routine surveillance facility inspections. All domestic for-cause inspection assignments will be evaluated and will proceed if mission- critical. FDA will continue to respond to natural disasters, outbreaks and other public health emergencies involving FDA-regulated products (March 18, 2020)
  • USDA has moved to enhanced telework posture, however USDA continues to be “open for business” and is committed to ensuring the health and safety of its employees while still providing the timely delivery of services to maintain the movement of a safe food supply. (March 17, 2020)
  • FSIS meat, poultry and processed egg inspection services continue as normal and APHIS and AMS continue to provide critical inspection and grading services. More information can be found here.
  • USDA’s Livestock and Poultry Program had directed its staff to conduct off-site audits until travel restrictions are lifted and ensures AMS can continue to provide uninterrupted service to customers of the USDA Process Verified Program, USDA Export Verification Programs, Commodity Procurement and other quality systems verification programs (QSVP) (March 23, 2020) 
  • FDA has shifted to remote inspections for its Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP) for Importers of Food for Humans and Animals. FDA has determined that most routine on-site inspections are temporarily impractical to conduct at this time. (April 3, 2020) More information can be found here.

The Organic Trade Association is also monitoring how organic inspections are being conducted under international and private organic standards.

  • The EU Commission has authorized certification bodies (CBs) to postpone physical inspections until May 30. In the meantime CBs are authorized to do remote inspections (including new operations) that includes a combination of virtual inspection, distant physical checks, and desk document audits. Full on-site inspections for high risk operations later in the year.
  • The CFIA has postponed all planned audits under the Canada Organic Regime (COR) until restrictions on non-essential travel are over. They have developed criteria for remote audits to provide flexibility & reduce the need for on-site audits. More details can be found here.
  • The Global Organic Textile Standard has developed guidelines and is taking a risk-based approach to conducting virtual audits based on certifier assessment. Virtual audits are possible for recertification of existing entities & initial certification of operations that do not include wet processing. Extensive GUIDANCE was provided by GOTS. More information can be found here.
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Organic-Approved Cleaners, Sanitizers and Disinfectants

Organic-Approved Cleaners, Sanitizers and Disinfectants

Currently, there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. The Environmental Protection Agency has listed the registered disinfectants for COVID-19

Organic-approved active ingredients for use on food contact surfaces include:

  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Peroxyacetic acid
  • Isopropanol
  • Ethanol
  • Sodium hypochlorite
  • Hypochlorous acid
  • Check with your certifier for approval of any brand-name products
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Workforce Safety

Workforce Safety

H-2A
 

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International

International

The Organic Trade Association is monitoring how organic inspections are being conducted under international and private organic standards.

  • The European Union has authorized temporary, exceptional measures for Member States, Competent Authorities and Control Bodies to continue to operate under the restrictions imposed by Member States during the COVID-19 crisis. These measures, in effect until June 1, are intended to minimize serious disruptions to control systems while complying with restrictions on travel, in-person inspections, and anticipating overloads on certain systems including TRACES. Concurrently, the EU issued other amendments to the 2018 EU organic regulations which will have implications for EU-certified organic production and processing. More information will be shared with our EU Task Force as we complete the analysis. Contact Alexis Carey to join the EU Task Force.
  • The CFIA has postponed all planned audits under the Canada Organic Regime (COR) until restrictions on non-essential travel are over. They have developed criteria for remote audits to provide flexibility & reduce the need for on-site audits. More details can be found here.
  • The Global Organic Textile Standard has developed guidelines and is taking a risk-based approach to conducting virtual audits based on certifier assessment. Virtual audits are possible for recertification of existing entities & initial certification of operations that do not include wet processing. Extensive GUIDANCE was provided by GOTS. More information can be found here.
  • Statement on US-Mexico Initiative to Combat the COVID-19 Pandemic
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General Resources        

General Resources                          

U.S. Department of Agriculture

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

U.S. Small Business Administration

Department of Homeland Security

General Farm & Food Sector Resources

Produce sector

Dairy sector

Retail sector

State Resources

We’re also interested in collecting community-sourced resources that you have found helpful so we can share with other members. Please let us know about any additional resources we should share with the community. 

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Organic Businesses are Stepping Up

Organic Businesses are Stepping Up

In spite of this new reality, it is encouraging to see our members come together to support each other through this crisis. Organic businesses are stepping up to help our communities and to protect the health and safety of the American people. Here are some examples of what we’re seeing. Let us know if there’s notable news from your business.

In early April, organic wholesale produce company Organically Grown Company (OGC) launched a giving initiative called “Project HOPE” (Healthy Organic Produce for Everyone). Project HOPE’s goal is to get fresh organic produce to the hundreds of thousands of Northwest residents facing food insecurity because of COVID-19 related job loss, school closures, and other hardships.  As a result, organic produce growers donated more than 46,000 pounds of nourishing fruits and vegetables for five Northwest-based hunger relief agencies. Among the companies taking part in Project HOPE were Organic Trade Association members Driscoll’s, Wholesum Harvest, Grimmway Farms, Bridges Organic Produce, Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo, Braga Fresh Family Farms/Josie’s Organics, and Homegrown Organic Farms.

Tanimura & Antle will begin shipping HarvestSelect boxes with an assortment of field-packed fresh produce to retail partners as part of grocery pickup and delivery programs. Each box will include a minimum of eight different fresh vegetable products, as well as a weekly recipe card with usage ideas.  Tanimura & Antle first started contributing their mixed boxes of produce to their employees and local community organizations. In addition to its retail sales of the HarvestSelect box, Tanimura & Antle will expand its availability to the foodservice and wholesale markets to address speed, consistency and food safety to organizations that plan to distribute food under the new USDA Food Box Distribution Program.

 

A Greener World (AGW) certification group based in Oregon has launched a nationwide community-based fundraiser to help farms with excess supplies due to disappearing markets. The funds from public donations and AGW membership will go to Help Farmers Feed Hungry Families, which will help deliver these products to food banks, schools, homeless shelters and others in need.

General Mills has developed a “manufacture to donate” initiative that will provide $5 million worth of food—including whole grain cereals, frozen whole grain waffles, and granola bars—for Feeding America to distribute within its network of 200 food banks in response to the pandemic. It also is creating an option for employees to work at food-related charities in the Twin Cities while retaining their regular pay.

Western grains and pulse supplier Columbia Grain International is ramping up production across its markets along the Northern tier of the U.S. to meet increased demand for shelf-stable bean protein. The processor and distributor of high-quality bulk grains, pulses, edible beans, oilseeds and organic products for the Pacific Northwest has found the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred an increased demand for shelf-stable foods, especially beans and lentils. CGI, which has the largest processing capacity of any singular processing company in the U.S., has experienced a 40% increase in demand for the shelf-stable protein, and its plants are working around the clock to fulfill an ever-increasing number of orders.

Organic Trade Association member Dole Fresh Fruit International and its parent company, Dole Food Company, have donated more than 2 million pounds of produce thus far to U.S. food banks and communities in Latin America during the pandemic. In Latin America, where Dole grows its tropical fruits, such as bananas and pineapple, the crisis is also hitting hard, and the company is supporting those rural communities where food security is most at risk. In Honduras, for example, in addition to fruit Dole is distributing household staples such as rice, beans and cooking oil to employees and local communities. Beyond food, the company is also providing masks, sanitizing gel, testing kits and other health supporting supplies. Similar support is happening for communities in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala and Colombia including the provision of over 15,000 personal hygiene kits to aid in the prevention of infection.

U.S. certified organic mattress and bedding manufacturer Naturepedic is now producing 5,000 organic facemasks a day for the general public. The washable masks are made with two layers of 100% organic cotton fabric, certified to the GOTS organic standard, and designed for everyday consumer use. The company has donated the masks to the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, and other local facilities in Ohio. The Naturepedic facemasks are produced and sold at cost, and are not for profit. 

Cal-Organic/Grimmway Farms is donating fresh carrots to Kern County residents and California food banks during the pandemic. Company president Jeff Huckaby delivered baby carrot snack packs to six hospitals as well as clinics throughout Bakersfield to aid healthcare workers. The company has also committed to helping establish temporary pop-up grocery stores on hospital campuses to provide products to healthcare staff.

Driscoll’s is donating more than $4 million in global charitable funds to health clinics and food banks, as well as fresh berries and other community resources. This includes $2.5 million for the U.S. and Canada, $1 million for Central Mexico and Baja, and $500,000 for Europe and Morocco. Meanwhile, it is providing $500,000 worth of fruit berry donations to first responders and hospitals in New York City. Driscoll's is also matching donations up to $200,000 for its employees and independent growers to encourage further giving.

Organic Valley has donated almost 1,600 N95 protective masks and 700 protective gloves to Vernon County Emergency Management in Viroqua, Wisconsin. The supplies are for emergency managers to help supplement scarce personal protective equipment.
 
Clif Bar announced that CLIF, CLIF Kid, and LUNA bar donations total 14 million bars in an additional wave of donations to help feed families affected by food scarcity made worse by the current pandemic. This is twice what it first donated to frontline health care workers and first responders. It is also distributing another seven million bars to food banks and community organizations in U.S. counties most in need as summer begins. Meanwhile, the company is opening its employee café at its Emeryville, CA, headquarters to prepare up to 450 meals per week to distribute to volunteers serving the Oakland Unified School District.
 
CCOF has debuted a new blog series, “We are Essential.” The series explores how the organic community is navigating the coronavirus pandemic. CCOF says, “Our farms, ranches, and businesses deliver truly essential services, staying open and in the field to provide nutritious food to our communities.” The first post is written by Jamie Collins, owner of Serendipity Farms near Monterey, California.

In a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, representatives of leading companies within the organic dairy sector have urged that an equitable share of COVID-19 relief payments dedicated to agriculture be assigned for dairy programs like Dairy Margin Coverage. The companies also urged Secretary Perdue to work with congressional leaders to find a path that continues to support dairy produces. “These are unprecedented times requiring a review of all we in the private sector and the government can do to help farmers and citizens through this period of economic uncertainty.” The letter was signed by representatives from CROPP Cooperative | Organic Valley, Danone North America, Stonyfield Farm Inc., Maple Hill Creamery, and Westby Cooperative Creamery.

Danone North America is increasing production and distribution to ensure shelves are stocked during this time of need. The company is offering enhanced benefits for all hourly employees: a pay premium on top of their base hourly rate for all hours worked, as well as paid quarantine leave and paid childcare support for eligible employees through April 30. Also, the company is donating $1.2 million in funds, plus an additional $300,000 in product donations to organizations making a local impact on food access in communities in need across the country.

Thrive Market has requested its retailer members keep orders under $100 and to delay orders to better serve others in more critical need. Its members have donated over $50,000 to the Thrive Market COVID-19 Relief Fund, with 100% funding shopping credit for families or individuals financially impacted or at risk. Meanwhile, the Thrive Gives philanthropic arm is matching these donations up to $100,000 and brands are coming alongside to help.

United Natural Foods Inc. has established additional flexibility and provided incentives for the front line distribution center associates to continue essential services during the COVID-19 emergency. The company told employees it would temporarily increase all of its hourly teammates' wages. Hourly teammates wages will increase by $2 per hour for all hours worked. In addition to the $2 per hour temporarily added to all hourly wages, the company will increase overtime rates to double the new rate per hour, rather than time and one-half rate.

The Organic Produce Network recently reported the latest insights on sales of organic fruits and vegetables. For more on the organic produce supply chain, including why loose greens aren’t selling, why the growing season transition from the desert to the coast matters, and what to expect for demand at the retail and foodservice levels, read their story Organic Sales in COVID-19 Era.

Due to the current crisis, White Lotus Home has added "Organic Alternative Face Masks" to its production line. They are now available for retail and they plan on giving as many as possible away for free. They are hand making these organic washable face masks, using 3 layers of 100% Organic (GOTS) Barrier Cloth on top of each other.

Oregon Tilth will hold a COVID-19 webinar this Thursday at noon Pacific on using lean tools to keep food business safe (and running). Lean manufacturing tools like “Gemba Walks” and “Poka Yoke” can be used to quickly evaluate your operation and identify the most effective ways to integrate specific practices. The webinar will feature two experts from Northwest Food Solutions who will share techniques and answer questions to help businesses operate safely during the COVID-19 crisis.

Georgia Organics is one of the sponsors of The Farmer Fund, a fund originally established in the region to support local farmers during natural disasters. Now, deeming COVID-19 a severe natural disaster, The Farmer Fund is collecting funds to support farmers impacted by the pandemic.

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We’re Here For You

Please take a moment to share your concerns, questions, or comments in regard to the effect of COVID-19 on your operations and resources. Let us know how we can best help you navigate these challenging times. As the organic sector responds to a rapidly changing landscape we will provide ongoing updates and resources to help you plan for the future. Do you have additional resources that you’ve found to be helpful? Share them with us so we can share them with the organic community. Our team has gone virtual, but we are fully up and running to serve the needs of our members around the clock. Reach out, we’re here for you.


A Letter from our CEO

So many Organic Trade Association members are on the frontlines as cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continue to spread throughout the United States and the rest of the world. During this challenging time, organic farms and businesses are working hard to get food out of the fields, to load the trucks and to keep the supply chain filled so that our communities can continue to have access to clean food. Thank you all for the important role you play in keeping people healthy.

The organic sector is facing new challenges now, and is going to need support from the government to continue feeding our communities. Congress and USDA are working on solutions to deal with the devastating impacts to the economy including the agriculture sector. If you are experiencing challenges that could be supported through federal assistance from USDA or Congress as they consider various stimulus packages, please share your insight into what is happening on the ground.

Our staff teams are working remotely on policy solutions to support organic and to advocate for essential support for the sector.

We will continue to monitor the developments and keep everyone updated on our list serves, in our News Flash and through this web page. Please reach out with questions and share your experience and let us know how the Organic Trade Association can best support you and your markets. We’re also interested in collecting community-sourced resources that you have found helpful so we can share with other members. 

It is a tough time and the disruption is difficult, but we are a resilient community. You are all in my thoughts.

Laura Batcha
CEO/Executive Director
Organic Trade Association