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Organic farmer and rancher leaders meet in Washington DC to discuss forming a national organization

By Ed Maltby, Executive Director, NODPA

Added July 24, 2014. Building an effective political voice for organic farmers and ranchers throughout the United States was the subject of a multi-organization mid-June 2014 meeting in Washington DC.  Representatives from organic farming and supporting associations from the East, Midwest, Northwest, South, Upper Great Plains and mountain regions representing approximately 1/3 of organic farmers nationwide attended this exploratory meeting (see below).

While many organic farmers belong to organizations and trade associations that already engage in valuable policy focused coalitions or they do this work on their own, this group came to the conclusion that there is a need for a national organization representing organic farmers and ranchers. They believe it is time for a network or organization or federation that would bring together existing organic farmer organizations and farmer caucuses within existing organic or sustainable agricultural organizations that already exist with a more general mission. This organization would be a forum where organic farmers can debate and formulate national organic farm policy reflecting the needs and concerns of organic farmers plus represent organic farmer’s interests and concerns in broader issues where the voice of the organic farmer was needed or desired.  A national organic farmer forum would build upon the successes of individual farmers and the organizations to which they already belong to influence decision making as well as inform the other sectors of the organic community of the unique issues faced by the organic farmer community.  A national organization would assist with educating farmers on the complexities of policy issues that directly affect their operations so they can develop informed opinions, as well creating a forum where they, as their own group, could share how current and proposed agricultural policy and market circumstances are affecting their own operations. This would be the basis for developing their own policy which could be applied to regional and national concerns where appropriate. Having a place where the media, elected officials, and regulatory agencies can find the undiluted voice of the organic farming community would provide the clout and influence that organic farmers lack at this time.

Unique areas of farmer and rancher concern were clearly expressed such as farm gate profitability, organically certified seed, crop insurance, transition to organic, farm and crop financing, regulatory burdens and consistent, rigorous and practical implementation of our organic law to protect the value of our organic label. To give just a taste of some of the discussion from this first day long meeting, we can report that there was agreement on the need for a national organic farmer and rancher voice controlled by organic farmers and ranchers; that initially the organization would be open to organizations or caucuses within organizations that represent  certified organic farmers and exempted organic farmers; that in order to be successful it must represent a large percentage (hopefully the vast majority) of organic farmers across the country and that there be some type of balanced regional representation at the national level so that one group or region of the country does not dominate all the rest. 

This conversation is just beginning, and there is a desire to know how the rest of the organic farmers in the country feel about this concept.  It was not the goal of the exploratory meeting to design a fully developed program, network or organization but it did discuss many ideas and concepts. This group wants to hear from as many farmers or farmer-based organizations as possible from all over the country and to know if they would be willing to participate in the development of a confederation, network or organization to provide for a strong and effective farmer voice in the U.S.  Please contact Ed Maltby at emaltby@comcast.net with your comments/ ideas/suggestions and to get more information on how to be part of the larger discussion of forming an organization.

Present at the June exploratory meeting:
Harriet Behar – MOSES, NOC, OTA - (WI)
John Bobbe – OFARM, OTA – (WI)
Lynn Coody – OGC, NOC, – (OR)
Dave Colson – MOFGA, NOC - (ME)
Steve Gilman – NOFA Interstate, NOC – (Conn/NY)
Elizabeth Henderson – NOFA NY, NOC, DFTA, AJP, OTA - (NY)
Renee Hunt – OEFFA, NOC – (OH)
Liana Hoodes – NOC, NOFA NY – (NY)
Ed Maltby – NODPA, MODPA, NOC, (MA)
Camille Miller - NOFA NJ, NOC - (NJ)
Bob Quinn – MOA, NPSAS, OTA, OTA farmer advisory council - (MT)
Ted Quaday – MOFGA, NOC – (ME)
Barbara Rose – NOFA NJ, NOC – (NJ)
Michael Sligh – RAFI, CFSA, NOC, DFTA, AJP –(NC)