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Collaboration and Innovation are Keys to Organic Success

For years, the organic industry has experienced enormous growth, defying expectations and creating exciting opportunities for producers and entrepreneurs around the world. 2014 was another record year for the organic community, with 19,474 certified organic operations in the United States and nearly 28,000 certified organic operations from more than 120 countries around the globe.

The retail market for organic products is now valued at more than $39 billion in the U.S. and over $75 billion worldwide. With its rapidly growing market and high consumer interest, USDA is focused on helping this area of agriculture achieve even greater success. In May 2013, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued guidance that identified organic priorities for the Department, including training and outreach, growing the organic sector, reducing paperwork, improving research, and gathering data.

A European Take on Food Security

Just like America, Europe is trying to address the challenge of how to feed the 9 billion people who will populate the world by the year 2050. In fact, the theme of ExpoMilano2015 – the world’s fair being held in Milan, Italy, this year – is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” On May 1, the European Union kicked off the Expo with a series of meetings, lectures and discussions surrounding that theme, and I was invited to take part.

The agricultural sector in the EU must produce food for more than 500 million consumers. At the meeting I attended, discussion focused largely on what research priorities should be established to inform the EU’s centralized agricultural policy, specifically on how to achieve three goals:

2015 Agricultural Outlook Forum Preview: International Trade

USDA is committed to addressing the challenges of international trade, and providing solutions.  As we look forward to USDA’s annual Agricultural Outlook Forum, Feb. 19-20, 2015, in Arlington, Virginia, speakers and attendees will have the opportunity to discuss relevant issues on a wide range of international as well as domestic topics.

We live in a world where domestic agriculture and international trade are inseparable.  We can’t talk about one without discussing the other. In 2014, American ag exports soared to a record $152.5 billion, and accounted for 20% of U.S. agriculture income.

Trade and foreign market access affect not only rural economies, but the overall economic health of nations - including ours. In that spirit, I’m happy to welcome Phil Hogan, the European Commissioner of Agriculture and Rural Development, to the 2015 Agricultural Outlook Forum.  He will join our own Secretary Tom Vilsack during the plenary session for a discussion that promises to be insightful.

Successful Meeting Helps Take Produce Marketing Efforts to Next Level

The fruit and vegetable industry is an integral part of our country. Besides helping increase access to healthy foods, the industry generates $40 billion in sales and empowers communities by creating jobs and stimulating economies. While it’s great to notice the strength of the produce industry, it is important to remember that it is the result of careful research and planning. I had the chance to watch the industry rekindle this energy as I visited with leaders from each of our marketing order boards and committees during a management conference last week.

There were some great takeaways from the meeting. We heard an update about the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) from Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor. He ensured us that FDA is looking to collaborate with partners like USDA to help the industry comply with the FSMA regulations when they become final. We also heard from our Commodity Procurement Program Director Dave Tuckwiller, who encouraged everyone to take advantage of new opportunities to sell food to USDA. Thanks to new National School Lunch standards, my agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) purchased 20 percent more fruits and veggies in 2013 than in the previous year.

Organic Trade in the Americas: Inter-American Commission for Organic Agriculture

Over the past decade, the production and market share of organic agriculture has increased globally, with significant growth in South and Central America. In 2008, the Inter-American Commission for Organic Agriculture (ICOA) was founded to support organic agriculture in the Americas and facilitate the trade of organic products. 

ICOA consists of agriculture officials from 18 member countries in Latin America and aims to harmonize organic standards, strengthen control systems and support market development in Latin America. The United States sources many organic products from Latin America including bananas, apples, pears, wine, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, coffee, mangoes, papayas, winter vegetables and more.

The Global Exchange of Organic Products: Expanding Markets at Home and Abroad

Last week, we celebrated another victory for the global organic community – the announcement of an organic equivalency agreement between the U.S. and the Republic of Korea. We are thrilled with the outcome!

Beginning July 1, 2014, processed organic products certified in Korea or in the U.S. may be sold as organic in either country, eliminating significant barriers and creating opportunities for American businesses across the organic supply chain as well as setting the foundation for additional organic agricultural trade agreements. Consumers in Korea will now be able to enjoy a wide range of U.S. organic exports including condiments, cereal, baby food, frozen meals, milk, and other processed products.

US - EU Organic Equivalence Trade Arrangement Opens New Markets

Two years ago this month, the United States and the European Union (EU) implemented an organic equivalence arrangement, meaning products that are certified as organic in the U.S. can also be sold as organic in the EU, and vice versa. This arrangement broke down many of the barriers that organic producers, especially small and medium-sized farmers, were facing in exporting their goods to one of their largest markets. It has also proved to be a good example of how we can recognize each others' systems and work together across borders to arrive at beneficial agreements.

The U.S. and EU have some of the strongest regulatory protections in the world, and the organic equivalence arrangement recognizes these standards and uses them for everyone’s benefit. Before the agreement, growers and companies wanting to trade products on both sides of the Atlantic had to obtain separate certifications to two different standards, which meant a double set of fees, inspections, and paperwork. Now, if a product is certified organic by one party, it can bear both the USDA organic seal and the EU organic logo, without going through that second certification process. This is possible because the EU and the U.S. have recognized that though our regulatory systems are different, they both produce high quality organic food and agricultural products under rigorous programs. Secretary Vilsack, while addressing the EU agricultural ministers earlier this week, had the same message of cooperation in regards to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP).

Secretary's Column: A New Farm Bill to Carry On America's Record Agricultural Trade

Over the course of 2013, we’ve seen yet another banner year for U.S. agricultural exports. Exports of U.S. farm and ranch products reached a record $140.9 billion in 2013 and supported about a million U.S. jobs. In fact, compared to the previous five-year period from 2004-2008, U.S. agricultural exports from 2009-2013 increased by a total of nearly $230 billion.

All told, the past five years represent the strongest five-year period in our nation’s history for agricultural exports.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has focused on two key factors in recent years to help make this success possible. First, an unprecedented effort by USDA and our Federal partners to expand and grow markets around the world. Second, a commitment to make sure our farmers and ranchers have the tools to grow more, even in the face of uncertainty.

Organic 101: Organic Trade Basics

This is the fourteenth installment of the Organic 101 series that explores different aspects of the USDA organic regulations.

Are you a certified organic operation looking to increase your market presence? USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) recently published two fact sheets that explain the basics of importing and exporting organic products to assist organic producers and processors in accessing new markets for their products.

Expanding trade for U.S. organic products creates opportunities for small businesses and increases jobs for Americans who grow, package, ship and market organic products. During this Administration, USDA has streamlined trade with multiple foreign governments.

Expanding the American Brand

The American brand of agriculture is surging in popularity worldwide. The last four years represent the strongest in history for agricultural trade, with U.S. agricultural exports exceeding $478 billion. This international success is critical to achieving one of USDA’s core missions – fostering economic opportunity and innovation that will continue to help American agriculture grow and thrive in a global economy.

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) plays a key role in this area by opening new markets for American producers. We enjoy a close working relationship and collaborate on many projects with our colleagues at USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS).  Through our export certification and verification programs, we create opportunities for American farmers and businesses to succeed by connecting them with foreign markets.