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Organic Farmers Guide to Contracts


Farmers' Legal Action Group, Inc. (FLAG), with a two-year, $109,200 grant from the USDA/NIFA Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), will research, write, produce, distribute, and provide outreach for a farmer-friendly legal guide, Organic Farmers' Guide to Contracts. <P>This Integrated Project Proposal will provide current and transitioning organic farmers with a critical, concise, and accessible guide to the interpretation and management of the legal contracts with the processors, distributors, and retailers that increasingly dominate farmers' ability to market organic agricultural products successfully. <P>The organic sector uses contracts at a much higher rate than the conventional sector. There is, however, little independent, reliable legal information available to the nation's 20,000 organic farmers when they are presented with or hope to propose a production or marketing contract. <P>This project's goal is to develop and demonstrate education tools for best practices that will enhance the ability of agricultural producers to make informed decisions and manage their risks when agreeing to contracts for the sale of their organic agricultural products; and to encourage a marketing system in which producers, as well as processors, distributors, and retailers, can thrive.

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Non-Technical Summary: Contracts play an increasingly important role in the lives of all farmers, but particularly those in organic farming. While these contracts can provide welcome risk management for some producers, they can also impose legal complexities that can affect issues ranging from required investments to the conditions under which agricultural products can be produced and delivered. For more than 20 years, FLAG has approached the legal needs of farmers in the belief that sound, independent, accessible information benefits everyone in the agricultural marketplace. Good contracts are those that share risks and benefits evenly. We have been proud, for example, that one of our most popular farmer guides, Understanding Farmers' Market Rules, is used by both farmers and market managers. And farmers and developers alike order copies of FLAG's popular 293-page Farmers' Guide to Wind Energy. We believe that an Organic Farmers' Guide to Contracts, produced in an objective, concise, and accessible form, and distributed through NIFA extension offices, online through the eXtension library and FLAG's website, along with FLAG's network of organic communities and organizations, would find a similarly wide audience among producers, as well as distributors, processors, and retailers. We have at least anecdotal evidence that, in addition to farmers, some processors, retailers, and distributors in the organic trade are genuinely searching for contract language that would apportion risks fairly. Expected outcomes from the project are that FLAG will create a resource produced by research and outreach to organic producers that will provide organic farmers with knowledge of their rights and responsibilities in marketing contracts that will allow them to solve critical legal agricultural issues, priorities, and problems, agricultural professionals will have a greater knowledge of farmers' rights and responsibilities in contracts, and be in a position to share that knowledge with wider populations of organic producers, more organic farmers will negotiate and sign contracts that evenly share risks and opportunities with processors, distributors, and retailers, and more organic producers will successfully grow and market high-quality organic agricultural products. <P> Approach: The first six months of the project's projected timeline include research and outreach to producers and producer groups to ascertain trouble areas in contracts and to obtain sample contracts; the second six months will include research, writing, and review by the advisory panel, farmers, and farm organizations; and the first six months of the second year will include design, publication, and initial outreach and distribution; and the last six months will include outreach and farmer contacts. To create this first edition of Organic Farmers' Guide to Contracts, FLAG will review relevant federal and common laws and regulations that govern production and marketing contracts in organic agriculture, solicit sample contracts through our networks, and maintain the confidentiality of producers who share the contracts with us, review the contracts that distributors, processors, and retailers are offering farmers, consult our review panel and collaborating organizations for their guidance to make sure that the publication will be as helpful as possible for the largest numbers of organic farmers, write the guide with an intention to use approachable, straightforward language, publish and strategically distribute the guide in paper and electronic versions that will be available to farmers and agricultural professionals without charge (online) or for costs of shipping (paper).

Krueger, Jill
Farmers' Legal Action Group, Inc (FLAG)
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