OTA’s Farmers Advisory Council (FAC) enters into its third year stronger and broader than ever. Its membership includes OTA farmer members and organic farmer- governed organizations from coast to coast and across all sectors of the industry. Discussions at FAC meetings are going more in-depth than ever before, eliciting thinking and solutions to some of the world’s most pressing agricultural related issues. With the strong and diverse participation, 2016 is shaping up to be an ambitious year for FAC.
The warming of our planet is posing unpredictable and unprecedented challenges for farmers. Farmers are facing droughts, rainfall, pests, and transportation challenges that they have never experienced, and the resiliency of their farming systems are being pushed to the breaking point. Despite their commitment to building soil and integrated pest management, organic farmers are not immune to these climatic shifts. However, organic farming techniques and philosophies hold promise for slowing the warming trend and sequestering the carbon emissions causing climate change back into the soil. FAC will be looking at various ways to plug into the global discussion on climate change, and to showcase organic farming as a solution to this worldwide crisis.
The organic industry is steeped in a debate on whether hydroponic production is aligned with the philosophy of organic farming. Organic is based on the concept that farmers feed the soil, which, in turn, feeds the crop. Can a system that eliminates soil be considered organic? NOSB has chartered a Hydroponic Task Force to provide recommendations that attempt to answer this very question. FAC is dedicating time at each of its meetings to discuss progress at the task force level, and how the outcomes from the task force and NOSB recommendations will affect organic growers, both hydroponic and soil-based, across the country.
Democrats and Republicans both struggle with how to provide comprehensive immigration reform that will balance the needs for labor in U.S. industries with the unyielding waves of foreign workers looking to make a better life for themselves in the United States. Organic farmers are disproportionally affected by agricultural labor shortages, as organic production relies more heavily on hand labor for planting, weed control, and harvest. This issue is much bigger in scope than just the organic industry, but organic producers need to have a voice in developing immigration reforms that keep farms in business. FAC is looking at short-term and long-term solutions to this complicated issue, and will likely bring recommendations on policy changes to lawmakers in D.C. and state capitals to ensure that organic farmers maintain access to the labor they need to bring their crops to market.
As FAC extends its reach across the nation and the diversity of organic cropping systems, the issues it takes up are expanding as well. Global challenges are affecting organic farmers, and FAC is positioned to elevate the voices of these producers in the conversations to hopefully find solutions to these challenges. Affecting real change for organic farmers is the underlying goal of FAC, and the growth in FAC’s participation and the global issues that have been added to the annual work plan reflect farmers’ confidence in FAC’s ability to achieve this goal. //