From their home offices, kitchens, fields or tractor cabs, a diverse group of organic farmers from across the US last week met – over Zoom, naturally – with members of Congress and USDA policymakers brief the new administration on the array of challenges facing the organic sector and how to keep organic agriculture advancing.
The Organic Trade Association says participants in its first virtual Farmers Advisory Council (FAC) fly-in mirrored the diversity of organic – a young African-American former college football star turned organic peanut farmer in Georgia; a Nebraska farmer working with her husband to grow almost a dozen organic and transitioning crops on their farm; a sixth-generation California cattleman and the founder of the largest grass-fed beef company in the U.S.; and a North Carolina dairy farmer who shifted to organic on his 150-year-old family farm to rebuild a healthy ecosystem, to name just four.
The issues they and 20 other organic producers from a dozen states discussed were equally expansive: ensuring continuous improvement and accountability in organic standards; increasing funding for organic research; providing organic farmers, businesses and workers with adequate support and protection to help deal with COVID-19; restoring full funding to help organic farmers cover their certification fees; and investing in federal programs to support farmers in successfully transitioning to – and staying in – organic production.
Speaking ahead of the event, Megan DeBates, OTA vice president of government affairs, said: “We have a broad list of issues and policy ‘asks’ to discuss,” said. “There are plenty of spaces now where our ‘asks’ can come in – the next farm bill, climate change policy, COVID recovery – so this is a great time to be presenting the organic case.”
Perry Clutts, co-chairman of FAC and owner of organic dairy farm Pleasantview Farm in central Ohio, added: “I’m more excited than ever about this year’s FAC fly-in, as more and different types of farmers will have the opportunity to be represented in a virtual format and have their voices heard in D.C”. Clutts, who in the 1990s converted his great-grandfather’s conventional grain farm to an organic grass-based dairy farm, noted, “It’s important that we reach out to the new administration early. The organic sector continues to be resilient, but we need to move forward on rules, specific to organic production, that will help organic farmers compete fairly.”
“I’m looking forward to discussing how organic is Climate-Smart Agriculture, and how growing organic is key to reinvigorating rural economies,” said Doug Crabtree, co-chairman of the advisory council, organic farmer and co-owner of Vilicus Farm in northern Montana. Crabtree, who with his wife Anna owns and operates the diverse organic dryland crop farm that produces 12 to 15 crops a year, said, “We will share how our organic farms are building healthy soils, capturing carbon in our soils, mitigating the climate crisis, expanding to meet consumer demand, putting new farming on the land, and contributing to our local economies.”