Just before the MOSES conference I was lucky enough to catch Betsy Rakola, USDA Organic Policy Advisor, for a chat. It was exciting because Betsy took the role just last August. She also serves as the chair of USDA’s Organic Working Group. This position was created by Secretary Tom Vilsack two years ago, and it’s the first of its kind at USDA. Now it is a permanent position so the focus on organic is here to stay. Betsy is no stranger to the National Organic Program and her commitment to growing organic agriculture was evident in every answer. Following is the second half of our discussion:
What challenges do you hope to address for the organic community?
Products that are locally produced and not certified organic continue to be an issue. We are devising new strategies to provide outreach and information, especially at farmers markets, to producers to ensure they know the organic requirements. This is where the NOP sees the majority of complaints on non-compliance – producers making the organic claim without the certification. The end goal is to uphold the integrity of the organic seal, and make it easier for small producers to come certificated organic.
We need to increase the number of certified organic operations because, as you know, domestic supply issues are acute right now. The supplies aren’t there to meet the current demand and through growth we can provide more opportunities and better options for American consumers looking for a vast array of organic products year-round. We have an internal goal to increase the number of certified organic operations. We currently have 18,500 certified entities and the market is expected to grow 12-15% per year, so perhaps we mimic that growth. This of course doesn’t capture the growth of new organic acres. The producer survey can help us bridge that knowledge gap so USDA can help organic production grow.
How can stakeholders get more involved with NOP and USDA?
If you are a producer there is specific assistance from the EQIP or conservation stewardship program. Make sure you take advantage of the Organic Certification Cost Share Programs where organic operators can receive up to 75% of their certification costs. Be sure to complete the 2014 Organic Survey, your responses will provide important, detailed, unbiased information to help determine the economic impact of organic production at the national and state level.
I encourage all organic stakeholders to submit public comments on policy rules and recommendations. We need to hear how proposed rules will affect producers and handlers. This is super important to help shape guidance and recommendations from the NOSB. Organic insiders – sign up! Through the Organic Insider you will receive updates from the USDA, including how to comment on proposed rulemaking. The USDA has rulemaking underway for various topics, and this is your opportunity to let your voice shape the future of organic agriculture.
Take a look at our training modules, Organic 101, fundamentals of organic agriculture and Organic 201, standards, certification, and enforcement. Check out the Organic 101 blog series and check out the Organic Integrity Quarterly Newsletter. You can check out the November 2014 edition here. Become an organic insider and sign up for the insider mailing list.
It is important to get involved with the USDA. We want to ensure that our programs and services fit the needs of the diverse organic community.