I trundled to Washington DC on my annual pilgrimage to attend OTA’s Policy Conference & Hill visit days. Dubbed “Organic Week” in Washington, it’s a 4-day extravaganza of organic industry leaders gathering to confirm our priorities and take action on the hill. This year the climate in DC was unique, awash with new leadership and new philosophies. It became apparent that as the organic sector continues to grow, it’s important that we pay attention to federal policy and show up for our fair share of funding.
With a new Administration and Congress in place, there is a real opportunity to educate all on the economic engine organic represents for our economy. The industry continues to grow at a tremendous pace creating jobs and prosperity in rural and urban America.
New data unveiled at the conference from OTA’s 2017 Organic Industry Survey showed that total organic sales (food and non-food) in the U.S. were over $47 billion in 2016. This is up almost $3.7 billion from the previous year.
Sales of organic food alone made up the bulk of those sales, totaling $43.7 billion in 2016. This is the first time the organic food market has burst through the $40-billion bubble. Organic food sales were up 8.4 percent, or $3.3 billion, from the previous year, blowing away the lackluster 0.6 percent growth rate of the overall food market. Organic food now accounts for 5.3 percent of all food sales in the country!
Protein and produce lead the way in organic food sales.
Organic fresh produce held its lead in 2016 with $15.6-billion in sales. Produce now accounts for almost 40 percent of all organic food sales in the US and increased at an 8.4 percent growth rate; almost triple the 3.3 percent growth of total fruit and vegetable sales.
Organic fruits and vegetables now make up almost 15 percent of all the produce that Americans eats!
Sales of organic protein-rich meat and poultry skyrocketed by more than 17 percent in 2016 to $991 million. This is the category’s biggest-ever yearly gain. The growing awareness of antibiotics, hormones and animal welfare are spurring consumer interest in organic meat and poultry. It’s expected that organic meat and poultry will exceed $1-billion in 2017.
The organic sector is creating jobs and real prosperity in food and agriculture. The survey found that more than 60 percent of all organic businesses with more than 5 employees reported an increase in full-time employment during 2016, and said they planned to continue boosting their full-time work staff in 2017.
This data was enough fuel to send us onto Capitol Hill the next day to spread the word on America’s leading agricultural sector. It was time to meet with Congressional leaders and let them know that the industry is an economic powerhouse that needs more organic farmers to meet the growing demand. We need the necessary tools to grow and compete on a level playing field. We need federal, state and local programs that help support organic research that provides the organic farmer with a fully-equipped toolkit to be successful.
The day after the Policy Conference over 100 organic souls donned suits and sensible shoes to storm Capitol Hill. The organic contingent visited 163 offices from both sides of the aisle including leadership and House and Senate Ag Committee members. OTA members helped to educate new members and their staff on the benefits of this growing agriculture industry. OTA legislative and Farm Bill priorities were also discussed. I was assigned to be the leader of six Congressional visits with Republicans and Democrats, Senators and House Representatives. Organic knows no side of the hill or the aisle. Economic growth is everyone’s priority.
The talking points were clear:
- Organic is good for the economy: It creates growth, jobs and rural development and increases domestic production and net farm income.
- Organic is a choice: It’s a market base consumer driven elective standard. Organic farmers choose to be regulated and certified!
- Organic relies on a strong USDA: The National Organic Program is critical to the integrity of the organic seal.
The “asks” were simple:
- Support full funding for the National Organic Program.
- Facilitate domestic transition to organic.
- Support the Organics Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule – (read more here).
- For House Members, cosponsor HR2436 – the Organic Agricultural Research Act.
- Also for House Members, cosponsor HR2321 – the Cultivating Revitalization by Expanding American Agricultural Trade and Exports (CREAATE) Act.
Speaking with our elected leaders was a powerful experience. Some just needed a little education about the organic regulations and the process in place with the National Organic Program. Many members were excited to hear about the continued growth and were supportive of our “asks.”
If you care about the growth of this dynamic industry, please consider attending next year’s OTA Policy Conference and Hill Visits. In the meantime, you can take a few minutes now and contact your representatives at https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials. Go over the talking points and “asks” listed above to make your voice heard. Remember they depend on constituents like you for reelection.
If you want to know more about OTA’s 2017 Organic Industry Survey, executive summaries of the survey are available upon request. The full report can be purchased on this page.
It’s time to make organic food policy a greater part of the political agenda.