The voice of organic farmers rang loud and clear at this year's Organic Trade Association's Annual Policy Conference in discussions convened by OTA's new Farmers Advisory Council on how to address increasing concerns over short supplies in the rapidly expanding organic sector.
"The FAC exemplifies that OTA recognizes that farmers are the backbone of the organic sector," said Perry Clutts, co-chair of the FAC and an organic farmer from Ohio. "The amount of participation we were able to get in our discussions on the challenge of tight organic supplies was just beyond expectations."
"We convened the FAC to discuss alternate relationships between crop producers and processors," said FAC member Doug Crabtree, organic farmer from Montana. "The goal is to increase the acreage, production and number of farmers producing organic crops. More farms, more acres, more good."
OTA's Farmers Advisory Council was established in 2013 to formalize two-way communication between OTA and member producers, as well as regional organic producer organizations across the United States. Through dialog and input, FAC gives organic farmers a voice to directly influence OTA's policy and provides an avenue for OTA to share information and advocacy work with this stakeholder group.
The FAC convened a two-day summit on May 21 and 22 as part of OTA's Annual Policy Conference to focus on ways to expand the domestic supply of organic ingredients and acreage necessary to support long-term growth in the industry. The summit brought together food companies and grain growers, livestock producers and other interested parties.
Consumers are increasingly choosing organic products when they go to the store. The organic industry reported record high sales last year in the United States of over $35 billion, a jump of over 12 percent from the previous year. But as demand for organic has increased, producers have struggled to keep up with America's growing organic appetite, and organic supplies have been tight.
"This summit has been an important first step and a testament to the value of a trade association with diverse membership to convene stakeholders from across the supply chain to problem-solve together," said Laura Batcha, OTA's executive director and CEO.
"The organic farmers across our nations do not currently have a centralized forum to voice their concerns and engage with the larger industry," said Nathaniel Lewis, OTA's senior crop and livestock specialist and primary staff support for FAC. "We hope that by increasing capacity through direct member involvement and our alliances with regional farming organizations, OTA's FAC will continue to serve as a forum for organic producers from all corners of the organic sector."
The Summit began with a meeting to identify the need and begin assessing options for entering long-term risk-sharing contracts.
"If farmers can shift the risks through contracts or other relationships, it's very helpful, because if we can shift our risks, we can expand," Crabtree said.
The FAC meeting continued with producer-focused sessions on crop insurance and the proposed organic research and promotion program, and discussion on how to keep the organic sector thriving in the future. The second day ended with a visit to congressional offices to advocate for policies that support organic food and agriculture, followed by a wrap-up discussion for stakeholders to identify outcomes and possible next steps.
For further information about OTA's Farmers Advisory Council, contact Nathaniel Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.