It was good news for the Organic Trade Association (OTA) when it held its annual policy conference in Washington from 9-11 May. At the gathering, members and attendees received news from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that the industry would benefit from an estimated $185 million in funding.

In a big win for industry stakeholders across the United States, the USDA’s secretary Tom Vilsack announced the figure and said it would go to programmes to support the growth of the organic market as well as to help food producers with transitioning to organic, including certification.

The great and the good of the industry – represented by businesses from across the supply chain, coalition partners, scientists, advocates and policymakers – heard Vilsack outline details of the plan.

Grant applications open

The agency pledged $75 million to help improve domestic supply chains with pinpointed market development through its Organic Market Development Grant (OMDG) programme, and officially invited stakeholders to apply for the funding.

The grants will strengthen the supply chain and expand organic processing capacity to create important new paths to market for ‘climate-smart’ farmers. In turn this would increase consumer access to organic foods and products. There are two funding levels: simplified equipment-only grants ranging from $10,000 to $100,000, and larger market development and promotion grants ranging from $100,000 to $3 million.

Some USDA programmes are targeting young farmers.

The OTA is encouraging its members – and all industry stakeholders – to take advantage of this opportunity from the USDA as soon as possible by applying to become part of the programme. The agency is accepting applications until 11 July, 2023.

Young farmers a target

Secretary Vilsack also shared that the Organic Certification Cost Share Programme (OCCSP) was restored to the previous reimbursement level of 75% of certification costs, up to $750 per certification scope. An estimated $10 million in funding will be distributed through the project, which is critical for attracting new, young farmers into organic.

The application period for the programme remains open until 31 October, 2023, for costs incurred during the year 1 October, 2022, through to 30 September, 2023. Farmers need to contact a local USDA service centre to apply. Both OMDG and OCCSP are part of the USDA’s historic $300 million Organic Transition Initiative announced in 2022.

During the conference week, Vilsack also announced that the agency’s Organic Dairy Marketing Assistance Programme (ODMAP) will be accepting applications to the end of May and would be expediting payments to producers. ODMAP was originally announced in January after efforts from the OTA – working with Congress and the USDA – to address a growing crisis in dairies.

The programme will provide $100 million in support to organic dairies as they face dwindling supply and rising costs of feedstuff due to unprecedented shocks to global trade, partly reflecting the war in Ukraine. As the programme is implemented, OTA and USDA will review it to ensure the $100 million reaches the dairy farmers who need it most.

Resilient supply chains

Elsewhere during the conference, leaders in farming, business and science discussed complex issues including plastics in the supply chain, cultivating diversity in the sector, and projects to maximise the industry’s climate benefits. Attendees also met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to discuss their priorities and the upcoming Farm Bill about which the OTA outlined its position earlier this year.

OTA members representing 34 states met with more than 160 congressional offices to promote policies centered around ensuring that standards keep pace with marketplace demands and provide supportive research and risk management tools to organic farmers.

OTA organic food sales to 2022
Sales have continued to increase.

They also called for conservation and climate-smart programmes to acknowledge the contributions of organic farming practices in protecting natural resources, and policies that strengthen the resiliency of the supply chain. This messaging is said to have resonated with both Democratic and Republican offices.

In 2022, organic food sales in the US continue to rise according to the OTA’s 2023 industry survey. Sales in 2022 reached $61.7 billion breaking the $60 billion barrier for the first time. This was despite supply chain disruptions and inflationary pressures leading to higher retail prices, while consumers tightened their spending.

The Organic Trade Association’s CEO Tom Chapman, commented: “Organic has proven it can withstand short-term economic storms. Despite the fluctuations of any given moment, Americans are still investing in their personal health, and, with increasing interest in the environment, organic is the answer.”

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