The Organic Trade Association appointed Laura Batcha as its new chief executive officer and executive director -- the fourth person to hold the position in the association's 29-year history. The announcement was made in a Jan. 7 press release.
Batcha replaces Christine Bushway in the position.
Barbara Haumann, senior writer and editor for the OTA, told The Produce News that Bushway submitted her resignation last September, and while the board of directors was searching for a replacement,Batcha and David Gagnon, the OTA's chief operating officer, served as interim chief operating officers.
"The board, in the meantime, realized that we already had a great person on board who knew a lot about the organic industry, and so they asked Laura if she would take the position," said Haumann. "Laura has been with OTA for six years, part of which she served on the executive team. This choice made perfect sense because she already has such a strong background in the organic category."
Batcha most recently served as the OTA's executive vice president as well as interim co-executive director. Prior to this appointment, she served the OTA in multiple capacities. She was first hired as marketing and public relations director, and then became chief of policy and external relations. In addition to her work at the association, Batcha brings 20 years of direct experience as a certified-organic producer and handler, and more than 10 years of hands-on experience in the private sector of the organic industry.
"I am certain that with Laura's executive leadership at OTA, we are well positioned for success in the coming years," Melody Meyer, president of the OTA's board of directors, said in the release. The association has achieved many major milestones during the past few years, including establishing a farmers' advisory council, creating a bi-partisan political action committee and bringing The Organic Center under the OTA umbrella. The organization also has begun the critical conversation of exploring the potential for an organic research and promotion program."
"Organic food and farming, with their entrepreneurial spirit and proven benefits to public health and the environment, make a real difference in the lives of both farmers and consumers," Batcha said in the release. "At the same time, organic commerce is making an increasingly significant contribution to the economy as a whole. I look forward to working directly with OTA's members and its board to strengthen the integrity of organic, enhance the business climate to support the increasing consumer demand for organic products and advance the goal of increasing acres under organic production."
Batcha also currently serves as the chair of the OTA's political action committee. She has been appointed by the secretary of agriculture and has served as a representative of the organic industry on two separate federal advisory committees. The first, AC21, advises on issues related to coexistence of biotechnology and organic and identity-preserved agriculture. The second, APAC, is the agricultural policy advisory committee dedicated to international trade. In her new role, Batcha also will serve on the board of trustees for The Organic Center, an independent nonprofit research and education organization operating under the administrative auspices of the OTA.
Having worked across all parts of the organic sector including organic farming, processing and business development, she looks forward to strengthening the OTA's position as a unifying voice for the industry.
"An engaged OTA membership of farmers, ranchers, handlers, manufactures and retailers -- large and small -- can achieve great things when working together," said Batcha.
In other OTA news, Haumann said that the association was still holding its breath on the farm bill.
"Our people have been walking the [Capitol] Hill and discussing the importance of the organic sector and its needs with senators and representatives," she said. "We're just hoping to get the final bill out there as soon as possible."
In the meantime, the OTA is making plans for its annual policy conference in Washington, DC, on May 21.
"We hold a reception and serve organic food and beverages for government and agency officials on the Hill, and we hold Hill visit days where we make appointments for our representatives to meet with officials," Haumann added. "We have seen a lot of movement and recognition by the secretary of agriculture and other government representatives. Progress is being made, but sometimes it is slower than at other times."
Haumann added that there is still a lot of confusion among people about genetically modified and non-genetically modified foods, as well as the difference -- which is sometimes major -- between natural and organic. She acknowledged that there remains a lot of work to be done to educate policy makers and consumers about organics and exactly what it means.