Washington D.C. — On the surface, Minnesota organic dairy farmer Ruth Buck and California organic almond grower Steve Koretoff might not have that much in common.
Taking care of a 120-cow dairy herd in Southeastern Minnesota and managing a 500-acre almond farm, processor and packager in Central California don’t have a lot of overlap, except in this case one critical component – a deep and unwavering commitment to organic agriculture. That commitment was on prominent display earlier this week when Ruth and Steve joined 20 other organic producers from across the nation to take part in the Organic Trade Association’s second Farmers Advisory Council fly-in.
“I love to talk about the importance organic farming has had on the stability of our family farm, allowing us to stay small and hopefully pass it on to the next generation,” said Buck. “It is important to continue to support organic research and to regulate organic farming so the USDA seal means something to the consumer. My hope is that by talking to our lawmakers, it puts a face to organic farming. I hope it is just the beginning of the conversation, and hope to extend an invitation to our farm so that our new Rep can see it in person.”
“We want to get freshman Congressional members to commit the same or more support to agriculture and the organic industry than the members they have replaced. Engaging elected officials is crucial for the agriculture industry. Many members of Congress do not personally know any farmers or have any experience with the agricultural industry, even more so for the organic agriculture industry,” said Koretoff. “Capitol Hill needs to hear directly from farmers on issues such as trade, the ways organic agriculture can help mitigate climate change, and of course the Farm Bill.”
The 20 members of the Organic Trade Association’s Farmers Advisory Council who participated in the two days of advocacy on Feb. 5 and 6 in the nation’s capital were a wide-ranging group representing 11 states, and organic operations ranging from a five-acre produce farm in South Carolina to a 4,000-plus acre grain farm in Montana, from a first-generation cattle-raiser to a fifth-generation dairy producer. The diverse group included growers of grains, citrus, vegetables and other specialty crops, dairy farmers, egg and livestock producers. The Farmers Advisory Council represents over 8,000 certified organic farmers nationwide.
Almost 50 lawmakers and a standing-room-only organic roundtable
The focus of the fly-in was to meet with new and incumbent members of Congress, to familiarize the freshmen lawmakers with organic, and to discuss the implementation of the organic provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill. The farmers met with House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Michael Conaway, visited the offices of 48 other Senators and Representatives, and had meetings with a half dozen agricultural associations including the National Farm Bureau Federation, the National Young Farmers Coalition, and the National Farmers Union. The group also hosted a standing-room-only organic farmer roundtable for congressional staff on important organic issues.
“This second fly-in has been a fantastic opportunity for FAC farmers to be able to share with policymakers and staff the current issues that organic farmers face across the country,” said Perry Clutts, co-chairman of the Farmers Advisory Council and organic dairy farmer from Ohio. “Through our direct contact, we can help our lawmakers understand how present federal programs are working, what changes might work better at the farm level, and what new programs would best assist farmers directly.”
Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association, stressed the importance of meeting with freshmen lawmakers: “Our new lawmakers might not have a full understanding of the important public/private partnership that has supported organic and enabled the organic sector to flourish. They need to understand the role that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (NOP) plays in maintaining and enforcing the strict federal standards that guide the organic sector, and in Congress’s role in its oversight of NOP.”
Megan DeBates, Director of Legislative Affairs and Coalitions for the Organic Trade Association, said that providing NOP now with the adequate funding to carry out and implement all the 2018 Farm Bill provisions relating to organic, especially those dealing with enforcement and oversight, is critical.
“NOP’s budget is funded by annual appropriations determined by Congress, and we need Congress to fund organic the levels authorized in the Farm Bill and make sure that appropriations legislation is passed on time,” said DeBates. “Also, USDA has not taken action on rulemakings for organic that have been stalled like the origin of organic livestock. We need this administration to support organic by allowing these voluntary regulations and standards to move forward. The industry depends on the regulations evolving with consumer expectations.”
The member organizations of the Farmers Advisory Council include California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), Georgia Organics, Organic Egg Farmers of America, Montana Organic Association, Oregon Tilth Certified Organic, Organic Valley/CROPP Cooperative, Pennsylvania Certified Organic, Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance and Tilth Alliance of Washington.
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 9,500 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 ORGANIC with a unifying voice that serves and engages its diverse members from farm to marketplace.