Washington, D.C.—USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack kicked off the Annual Membership Meeting of the Organic Trade Association (OTA), according to a press release, laying out his agenda for the organic sector.

Vilsack spoke live to over 250 members of the organization, and stated that he appreciates the importance of the organic animal welfare issue. “We understand, appreciate the concern of getting this done, getting it done right, getting it done in a way that preserves the brand…I am committed and I committed our team to an accelerated approval process.”

Actions he announced:
  • Working to finalize the Origin of Livestock rule in 2021;
  • Re-establishing the position of USDA Organic Policy Advisor;
  • Increasing by “tens of millions of dollars” the funds available through USDA’s Organic Certification Cost Share program to help farmers transitioning to organic;
  • Expanding the procurement for USDA’s emergency feeding programs to “small- and medium-sized distribution systems,” and giving “socially disadvantaged producers” access to more federal procurement dollars;
  • Significantly expanding processing capacity in the U.S. through a soon-to-be-announced USDA initiative to “provide resources that could be leveraged with state economic development, resources, private sector investment, and others” to build out processing capacity, boost competition and provide value-added products with more processing outlets;
  • Beefing up organic enforcement and “expanding the number and the diversity of those who will be involved in inspections and certifications;”
  • Prioritizing climate-smart agriculture and regenerative practices, and creating "new revenue streams for producers who are embracing climate-smart agricultural practices in a way that is beneficial to farmers.”
“We are working hard to protect the [organic] brand and to expand a number of issues and opportunities for the organic industry…all designed to provide a strong message of the significance and importance that I place personally, and that the department places on this industry,” Vilsack added, according to the press release. “We recognize the importance of it, we recognize the value-added opportunities that it presents, and we think it is an important—a very important part of the industry that will help us to a much better, climate-friendly agriculture.”

Related: OTA Asks Court to Reinstate Animal Welfare Standards Senate Passes Bill Containing “Costly,” “Duplicative” Country-of-Origin Labeling Langauge COVID-19 Drove Organic Sales in 2020, According to 2020 OTA Industry Survey

Additionally, OTA has announced its Board of Directors, which will see two new members: Matthew Dillon, VP Government Affairs & Advocacy at Clif Bar & Company, and Javier Zamora, Grower/Owner at JSM Organics. The election saw a record turnout, with 42% of eligible trade member companies voting.

“I am very passionate about organic,” said Dillon, attending from his home in Nebraska. Citing such challenges as addressing sustainability, global injustice, farmer needs, and consumer education, he pointed out, “We still have much work ahead.” Collaboration, he said, is important in moving forward. “I am always interested in dialog.”

Zooming in from his office in Monterrey Bay, California, Zamora said that serving on the Board “is an excellent opportunity for me to bring the small diversified family farm point of view” to help bridge a gap in the sector. He added, “We need more small farms. Organic is a way to get into farming for the new generation.”