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OTA welcomes organic pioneer Tilth Producers to Farmers Advisory Council

Organic farmers’ council confronts supply challenges with creative solutions

Maggie McNeil
(202) 403-8514
(202) 615-7997
Washington , DC
April 23, 2015
) — 

For forty years, Tilth Producers of Washington has been educating and advocating for organic farmers. Committed to policies from its beginning in 1974 that promote organic farming, Tilth Producers this month further strengthened the voice of its 500-plus grower members by voting to become the newest member of the Organic Trade Association’s (OTA’s) Farmers Advisory Council (FAC).

“Tilth Producers is committed to making organic agriculture a viable option for beginning and experienced growers alike. Producers want their voice to be heard, but the reality is that time away from the farm is costly, and it often isn’t practical for them to advocate on their own behalf,” said Tilth Producers Executive Director Michele Catalano. “We look forward to being involved with the OTA’s Farmers Advisory Council and providing direct input on behalf of our small- and medium-sized grower members.”

OTA established the Farmers Advisory Council in 2013 to give organic farmers and regional organic producer organizations across the United States a stronger voice to directly influence policy impacting the organic sector. Since then,  the council has cast new attention on the challenge and need to boost domestic organic production. Tilth Producers is joining a national council whose participating farmer-driven organizations include the Organic Egg Farmers of American, the Montana Organic Association, CROPP Cooperative, CCOF Inc., Oregon Tilth Certified Organic, and the Western Organic Dairy Producers Association, together representing 8,500 certified organic producers throughout the nation. 

“FAC’s energy and momentum will be further enhanced by the addition of Tilth Producers,” said FAC chair and member of OTA Board of Directors Perry Clutts, organic dairy farmer and owner of Pleasantview Farm in Ohio. “Tilth Producers is one of the nation’s first creators of organic certification standards. It is a model of peer-to-peer educational programming that provides growers with the tools and information they need to succeed. We are proud to have them at the FAC table, and we know they will greatly contribute to our goal to support the success of organic production in America.”

It’s become an increasingly common story: the organic dairy farmer or egg producer struggling to make do with tight organic feed supplies, the organic food processor scouring the countryside and the world for sufficient organic ingredients, the retailer running short of organic products in the grocery store.

Finding Solutions

Meeting in conjunction with OTA’s annual Policy Conference in the nation’s capital this past week, the Farmers Advisory Council led talks with a gathering that represented the entire organic supply chain-- farmers, certifiers, manufacturers, handlers and retailers--in order to confront the organic supply problem from an industry-wide perspective.

Upgrading crop insurance for organic farmers, providing more financial stability during the organic transition period, and improving the organic knowledge base through hands-on apprenticeship training programs for aspiring organic farmers were a few of the ideas singled out by OTA’s farmer-led group to address supply challenges.

“Convening as diverse a stakeholder group as possible--from farmers to manufacturers and retailers--drove the success of these discussions,” said OTA’s Senior Crops and Livestock Specialist Nate Lewis.

Organic producers continue to be at a disadvantage when trying to obtain adequate crop insurance for their crops. OTA and FAC members developed recommendations last week for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its Risk Management Agency (RMA) to potentially fix these problems.A group of organic farmers led by OTA then delivered the list to key RMA staff. Along with the set of recommendations was the request that RMA fulfill its congressional mandate from the 2014 Farm Bill to provide organic producers with the same safety net that conventional producers enjoy in U.S. agriculture.

Also often cited as a significant hurdle to going organic is the three-year transition period to organic required by the National Organic Program. The concept of a more organized transitional certification to help with supply chain management, provide a mechanism to build partnerships during the transitional years, and through which farmers would have full access to USDA programs during that time was discussed. Perspectives from that session were then presented to the National Organic Program and USDA during a question and answer listening session with NOP Deputy Administrator Miles McEvoy and USDA’s Organic Policy Advisor Betsy Rakola.

In another session, participants agreed on forming a steering committee to act as an umbrella for apprenticeship opportunities and other efforts to provide farmers with training needed to grow acreage. Apprenticeship programs can provide a crucial role in bringing new farmers into organic, and energy is needed to support apprenticeship programs for all scales and types of production--small to large, vegetables to grain to livestock.  

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is the membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products in North America. OTA is the leading voice for the organic trade in the United States, representing over 8,500 organic businesses across 50 states. Its members include growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers' associations, distributors, importers, exporters, consultants, retailers and others. OTA’s Board of Directors is democratically elected by its members. OTA's mission is to promote and protect the growth of organic trade to benefit the environment, farmers, the public and the economy.