Given everything that is taking place in the world right now — the insect apocalypse, the industrial ag machine getting much more aggressive with its pollinator-killing chemicals and our losing the war on climate change — the organic industry cannot sit still.
With organic comprised of approximately 5.5% of overall U.S. food sales, it is just not enough.
We need to be at a dramatically higher percentage. And very soon.
But to get there, we’ll need to educate millions of consumers about the importance of the organic seal and we will also have to establish a much more comprehensive support system to expand our organic farming base — both of which are addressed in the Organic Trade Association’s GRO Organic Voluntary Research, Promotion, and Education Program (GRO Organic).
FOUR KEY AREAS
For several years, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) and others had been pushing for a mandatory check-off program in organic — where, with some exceptions, all industry participants would have been obliged to donate a percentage of their sales to a shared pool for marketing and research purposes.
Yet, when the USDA struck down this proposal last May, the OTA switched gears and changed it to a voluntary program a few months later.
“We made a decision that when the USDA terminated the check-off, we had to get going because we do not have time to wait,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association.
The voluntary GRO Organic campaign, which has raised $1.5M so far, has four main components:
1) The launch of a national branding campaign to reduce consumer confusion about organic
Organic Voices, led by Stonyfield Co-Founder Gary Hirshberg, and the OTA have collaborated to fund a two-year nationwide campaign to promote organic. $1 million has already been raised in the first year and another $1 million is on target for year two of the campaign, with the goal to raise more.
The initial creative direction of the campaign (below), which was developed over a 12-month period with input from 20 organic firms, is “Skip all the chemicals and just go with organic.”
According to Laura Batcha, the creative direction of this campaign is not set in stone, and GRO Organic will make necessary changes if it is required. Much will depend on the effectiveness of this campaign and the market research that GRO Organic is now gathering.
2) Six-phase research project to understand what motivates organic consumers
The OTA is in the midst of finishing a 9-month, six-phase robust research project to better understand what drives a consumer to choose organic, what messages penetrate deeper than others, and what attributes of organic are the most valued by today’s diverse organic customers.
Key findings, learnings and a communications “toolkit” developed from this research are expected to be delivered in July.
3) Technical assistance program to help farmers go organic and stay organic
Unfortunately, organic farmers and the ones who want to transition to organic do not have a well-established and reliable set of agronomists and technical service providers that they can turn to in a time of need.
The ultimate goal of GRO Organic is to connect technical specialists with existing and transitioning organic farmers in every state, and year one of GRO has already launched a pilot project called the Organic Agronomy Training Series (OATS), with a specific emphasis on the organic grain market.
Three OATS regions have already been established in nine states — Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota.
4) Research programs to help organic mitigate climate change
Given that organic farming can be part of the climate change solution, funds are earmarked for research purposes to help farmers in the following ways — to understand best management practices, to investigate the impact of organic farming on carbon sequestration, and to study how environmentally friendly practices can impact a farmer’s economic bottom line.
FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION
While there had been some animosity in the past about a mandatory check-off program, it is in the best interest of our industry if those lingering sentiments were left behind.
This is a voluntary program. No one is forced to give or do anything.
Yet, the ultimate goal is to grow the market share of organic, support our farmers, and pursue important research — something that we can all get behind.
“There is a need for everyone in the industry to come together to identify and support solutions that grow the position of organic as a viable solution for all of our food and fiber needs. I believe that GRO Organic is that movement,” said Grant Lundberg, CEO of Lundberg Family Farms.
But time is of the essence, and we have to get this right. The stakes are simply too high.
“This campaign comes at a critical time for organic, and all of us need to step up and pool our resources to promote organic,” echoed Gary Hirshberg, Co-Founder of Stonyfield.
If you have any ideas that you’d like to share about GRO Organic, the OTA is requesting that they are submitted to GROideas@ota.com by April 30th.
For more information on how to invest in GRO Organic, please contact Cassandra Christine (email@example.com) at the Organic Trade Association.
Max Goldberg, Founder
The Real Organic Project has reported that some large organic hydroponic operations, especially in the berry industry, are being built on land that was recently sprayed with the cancer-causing glyphosate.
Mondelēz's SnackFutures has made an investment in organic and Non-GMO snack brand Hu Products, which will help the company scale and reach more people.
A federal appeals court has given the EPA 90 days to justify why the dangerous pesticide chlorpyrifos should stay on the market.
An op-ed from Rose Marcario and David Bronner, the CEOs of Patagonia and Dr. Bronner's, respectively, on how regenerative organic agriculture can help save the planet.
30 environmental and farm advocacy groups have urged the EPA to deny Monsanto's request to increase the spraying of dicamba.
Environmental scientist and ecologist Francisco Sánchez-Bayo talks about his new research on the global insect decline and its under-reported connection to agriculture.
Yogurt maker Stonyfield and the minor league baseball team New Hampshire Fisher Cats are converting the Fisher Cats' home field to organic grounds management -- the first professional baseball stadium of its kind.
In a recent study, it was found that 68% of online grocery shoppers say that using coupons and discounts to save money is the most important factor when shopping.
Strong distribution gains for kombucha and other fermented beverages drove sales up 21% in the past year, but retailers are facing a sharp decline in velocity.
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* Until cannabis is approved on the federal level, which is preventing “organic cannabis” to exist, a new gold standard for growing this plant has been created — Sun+Earth Certified. This is a program inspired by and aligned with the Regenerative Organic Certification standard but tailored to the way cannabis is grown and produced.
On a related note, David Bronner, CEO (Cosmic Engagement Officer) of Dr. Bronner’s, has unveiled a new venture called Brother David’s, a non-profit brand platform to elevate this regenerative standard for growing cannabis.
* Artifishal, Patagonia’s documentary that explores wild salmon’s slide toward extinction and threats posed by fish hatcheries and fish farms, will have its world premiere this week at the Tribeca Film Festival in NYC.
On Friday morning, Patagonia’s founder and the film’s executive producer Yvon Chouinard will be speaking about Artifishal and his company’s efforts to save the planet.
* Center for Food Safety scored a huge legal victory against the EPA, and 12 toxic, bee-killing “neonic” pesticides will soon be withdrawn from the market.
* Congrats to Liana Werner-Gray on her excellent and important new book Cancer-Free with Food.
She’ll be launching her book tonight at the Barnes & Noble in NYC at 7pm.
* Annie’s was named the Innovation in Responsible Sourcing winner by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.
* Eminence Organics, which made the announcement in 2012 that it would plant a tree for every retail product sold, is now celebrating its 12 millionth tree that it has added to the planet. Wow!