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AOPA Founders Conference Report

American Origin Products Association

Report of Founders Conference

October 13, 2012

Fayetteville, Arkansas

A copy of the final program for the first national meeting of the American Origin Products Association is available in the AOPA Dropbox. Producer groups represented at the meeting included:

Ginseng Board of Wisconsin Sally McCarthy Godlewski

Idaho Potato Commission Pat Kole

Intertribal Agriculture Council Nathan Notah

Kona Coffee Farmers Association Colehour Bondera, Bruce Corker

Missouri Northern Pecan Growers Joe Wilson

Napa Valley Vintners Association Rex Stults

Maine Lobstermens Association Patrice McCarron

(A representative from the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, Zach Taylor, was also present to represent Arkansas products.)
Overall, the meeting was a great success. While the AOPA board wished to have more producer groups represented, the participation of those present and the valuable presentations offered by the guest speakers resulted in the following accomplishments:

  • Re-energizing the commitment of the members who had worked together on the first AOPA board to set up the organization as a 501c6 trade association.
  • Generating enthusiasm among additional producer groups for growing the association and moving it forward
  • Attracting several new members in the AOPA
  • Electing a new, expanded board of directors representing more product sectors
  • Supporting learning objectives of the AOPA through the information shared by speakers on the systems that exist in other countries, as well as through sharing by producer group members of the situations faced by their particular product in domestic and international markets.
  • Deepening existing relationships of the AOPA with supportive government and private sector offices and broadening contacts by forming new outside relationships
  • Sharing knowledge among AOPA members about the goals, objectives and current challenges faced by their producers in both domestic and foreign markets
  • Setting new action goals for the coming period, to include:
  • Organizing a meeting in Washington, D.C. in the spring of 2013, perhaps in late May or early June (member feedback on dates will be gathered)
  • Seeking funding from outside sources to help bring producer group representatives without sufficient funds to the next meeting
  • Establishing contact with strategic members of Congress to raise awareness of AOPA issues and build a case for their support
  • Work on AOPA sustainability issues: attracting more members; building financial resources to support office functions; creating a website to enable member education and interaction over shared objectives

Activities and outcomes at the meeting are summarized here:

Guest Speakers during the morning included:

  • Colehour Bondera, presenting as Vice President for North American for oriGIn on how that organization supports origin product producers worldwide
  • Giulio Menato, Agricultural Counselor for the European Union Delegation, Washington, who spoke about how third countries can register a geographical indication on the EU registry
  • Christophe Malvezin, Agricultural Counselor for the Embassy of France in Washington, who discussed how origin products and quality signs are managed in France, including the roles of producer groups, government and researchers, and the impact of these systems on producer revenues
  • Sam Heitner, Bureau of Champagne, U.S.A. in Washington, who discussed the remarkable history and quality control of Champagne, as well as how the producers have worked to protect the recognition of their product as originating in their home region
  • Katsuhiro Saka, Counselor for Agriculture at the Japanese Embassy in Washington, who discussed the reflections underway in Japan on how geographical indications for their origin products might positively impact the future of Japanese rural regions currently in decline

Their presentations were all excellent and interactive with question and answer periods and good supporting PowerPoints, as well as a useful handout from the EU Commission (PDO-PGI Guide for Applicants from Non-EU Countries, which helps producer groups understand how to apply to place their product on the EU registry which accepts third country products (i.e., from countries outside of the EU). These PowerPoints and the handout will be placed in the AOPA member Dropbox for access by members and those groups invited to join.

There was clearly not enough time to respond to all of the questions asked and to allow sufficient discussion. One possible outcome would be a meeting in Washington, D.C., organized by the EU, that would take place before or after the anticipated D.C. meeting of the AOPA. This would allow more time for members who attended to hear about EU systems, as well as for new members who could not attend to access this valuable information. The AOPA board will be working on this with the EU Commission offices in D.C. The board would welcome continued participation by the Japanese Embassy in such a meeting so that we could have an update on progress in that country.

Another option that will be pursued is the possibility of holding online webinars with each of the invited speakers that AOPA members can participate in live. This would allow them to present their PowerPoints in person along with Q&A, and the resulting webinar could be recorded for later listening by those who cannot attend live online. Member interest in this option will be gauged and costs evaluated.

Luncheon Panel discussion with U of A Academic Team: brief presentations from some of the members of the academic team assembled by Beth Barham to help provide and coordinate research for the AOPA were planned over the lunch hour. Beth spoke briefly about three areas of importance for researcheconomic impact of products, the legal situation for each product, and a social assessment of products to include documenting their history and reputation, among other things. Beth is a rural sociologist and will lead on social research. Two faculty members could not attend the meeting but have been working with Beth on the economic and legal aspects.

A key factor to keep in mind for all research is that we need an agreed upon and consistent research protocol across each area (economic, etc.) so that we can roll the results up to the national level at the end of the day. A frequent question Beth receives is, What is the total economic impact of AOP products on the U.S. today? She explained that no one can truthfully answer that question today, as no complete list has ever been developed and studies have only been carried out for a few products, such as Napa Valley wine. These studies were paid for by the producer groups requesting them but were not coordinated so the same methods may not have been used. The AOPA will continue working with the academic team to develop a consistent approach to documenting each product.

Three of the academic team speakers were on hand, however. They included:

  • Dr. Marty Matlock, professor of ecological engineering in the University of Arkansas Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department. He discussed the importance of thinking holistically about sustainability in agriculture and meeting producer groups where they are to help them respond to different challenges they are facing now, or may face in the future, regarding the sustainability of their production (see http://engrblog.uark.edu/2011/12/06/meet-the-professor-dr-marty-matlock/).
  • Dr. Fred Limp, University Professor and Leica Chair in Geospatial Imaging, Department of Geosciences, spoke from his past experience with the start-up of organizations like the AOPA about the need to focus on particular objectives and get some concrete things done in the near future. Fred led the growth of the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies at the U. of Arkansas, which is now one of the leading centers in the U.S. for advanced mapping techniques using geographic information systems. He is well positioned to lead research efforts for the AOPA to establish boundaries for AOPA products that take into account both physical and social (producer know-how) aspects of origin products. See http://geosciences.uark.edu/208.php for information about Fred, and http://geosciences.uark.edu/208.php for information on CAST.
  • Dr. Robert Harrington is an expert in culinary tourism with a focus on business strategy. He holds the Twenty-First Century Endowed Chair in Hospitality in the School of Human Environmental Sciences, and teaches in the areas of hospitality and restaurant management. He offered several insights about strategic choices facing the AOPA and spoke with various AOPA members afterwards about their particular products and how they are promoted. You can read more about Bob here: http://arkansasagnews.uark.edu/1887.htm.

As it turned out, these presentations generated such a lively discussion and question and answer that they lasted over two hours. It was clear that there was great interest to continue. One option Beth Barham will bring to the board is the possibility of follow-on meeting with the full academic team via a live streaming teleconference. Facilities are available for this at the University of Arkansas that should accommodate a group the size of the research team. This meeting could also be recorded and made available online.

Before creation of the AOPA, a grant had been received from USDA to carry out research to create a listing of all AOPs in the U.S. and gather data about them in a centralized database at the U. of A. The research team existing at the U. of A. was involved in this project, as well as researchers in various hub university locations around the country (Northeast, Upper Midwest, etc.). A one-page summary of this project will be added to the Dropbox along with other meeting handouts mentioned later in this report.

The research project was stalled by withdrawal of the USDA grant, as discussed at the meeting in Fayetteville. However, the need for such a list and for the data to back up claims about the importance of AOP products in terms of numbers of producers, revenue and current trade threats continues to be urgent. The AOPA will need this information to be effective in any future lobbying activities (which the group is legally allowed to pursue as a 501c6 entity).

Beth Barham is pursuing creation of a sister non-profit entity for research and education that would have 501c3 status. Researchers involved in the earlier USDA project would then be able to seek funding through the 501c3 to complete the project. More information about the original project goals and accomplishments, and about the researchers involved at the U. of A. and at other hub universities, will be placed in the member Dropbox.

One option for the future could be a research and education focused meeting with the U. of A. team and all hub researchers to discuss research goals and resources in depth. Another possibility would be holding regional meetings at hub institutions or in their region with all producers from the states affiliated with each hub (see research information to be placed in the Dropbox to identify hub universities and researchers).

Afternoon discussion among producers: visiting speakers were asked to leave during the afternoon for pre-arranged agricultural tours so that only U.S. producers would be included in this part of the meeting. Discussion was very lively and much information was shared among members about their products and the challenges they face. Under the research project described above, these product accounts were also being collected to deepen our understanding of what is needed to best support the profitability, competitiveness and long-term sustainability of each product. Particular attention was given to the intellectual property challenges producer groups are facing in their efforts to protect their products from fraud domestically and abroad.

As a way of sharing this valuable information among all AOPA members, including those who could not attend, and to advance the research base needed, Beth Barham will work with AOPA members to develop background reports from each group that can be shared via the Dropbox. Eventually this information will migrate to a members-only section of the website to be created. Having these product stories in hand will be valuable to the Association members who intend to visit members of Congress in the spring of 2013. They will also be needed to advance work on policy directions that the AOPA would like to pursue in support of its members.

It was generally agreed in the afternoon discussions that work needs to take place on AOPA issues at all levels from local to national and global. There is a wide disparity of knowledge across AOPA member groups and potential members about the intellectual property challenges faced by AOPs, and about how they might be protected and better promoted.

Part of the rationale for the Association is to build on sharing among members in an organized fashion so that all groups are helped to move forward more quickly and in a stronger fashion toward their goals. The first steps in this process will be to access where groups are now, and then to create the sharing and learning platform via an interactive website platform that can allow groups to communicate freely even though they are spread across such large distances in the U.S.

We will have to keep in mind the fact that the U.S. is an extremely large country and not all groups that may benefit from the activities of the AOPA can afford to travel to meetings, etc. We need to take advantage of the power of the internet to tie groups together so that they can make the most of both online and in-person meetings to form a common voice. Developing this common agenda, or common voice, emerged as a key goal from the afternoon discussion. The other clear goal is improving protection for AOPs in the marketplace.

Recognizing that having travel funding support is key to getting a diversity of groups to attend an eventual meeting in Washington in the spring, nonetheless the afternoon discussion fleshed out a large number of items to be addressed at such a meeting. The final concept proposed was a set of three meetings back to back: a one-day educational meeting hosted and organized by the EU Commission to advance member knowledge about how geographical indications work in the EU and how they are used to advance the economy and rural development, in particular; a one-day meeting of the AOPA itself to further consolidate its common agenda and prepare policy statements, as well as build member collaboration; and a third day reserved for actual lobbying visits to Congress.

AOPA members and potential members will be surveyed for their input on these ideas and to access their willingness and ability to participate. The earlier we can decide what we will do and when, the better are our chances for finding lower cost lodging for attendees. Early decisions on the meeting will also allow more time to seek outside support for travel for participants.

Welcome to new AOPA board members, farewell and thank you to one departing board member: (four) new board members were elected at the end of the afternoon meeting. They are:

  • Sally McCarthy Godlewski, attorney for the Ginseng Board of Wisconsin
  • Patrice McCarron, Executive Director of the Maine Lobstermens Association
  • (Nathan Notah, Agricultural Director for the Intertribal Agriculture Counsel)
  • (Rex Stults, Marketing Director for Napa Valley Vintners)

(Note: Nathan and Rex need to be confirmed they are checking with their respective boards for clearance.) These individuals will join existing board members Roger Allbee, Beth Barham, Colehour Bondera, Bruce Corker and Pat Kole in leading the AOPA over the coming year. Bios for new board members will be gathered and added to the Board Bios document currently in the Dropbox.

The board wishes to express its hearty thanks to Joe Wilson, departing board member from Missouri Northern Pecan Growers. Joes input and energy in the early days of the AOPA have been invaluable and his contributions appreciated. Thank you, Joe, for all youve done!

Board members of the AOPA will continue reaching out to other groups contacted about the Fayetteville meeting. We hope to welcome many more into the Association as we build the organization.

Meeting handouts/committee formation: Beth Barham distributed a number of handouts to producers in the afternoon. There was not enough time to go over each one in the meeting, but Beth will be adding them to the Dropbox with comments explaining their source and purpose. They are intended to provoke thought about organizational issues for the AOPA, such as attracting new members, raising revenue for the Association, and strategic goal setting.

For the moment the AOPA does not have any committees in its structure. That will probably need to change as the group continues to grow so that particular issues can have the focused attention they require. In particular, Beth would like for any member association with a dedicated information technology (IT) staff member to ask their IT person whether they would be willing to participate in an ad hoc committee to prepare a grant that would help support creation of the AOPA website. This grant is due November 30th. Any persons able to contribute to planning, writing or review of this grant proposal should contact Beth right away at aopa.office@gmail.com.

Many thanks to everyone who contributed to the success of the AOPA Founders Conference. It was an exciting and promising event, and one that we hope will form the basis of many positive developments for American Origin Products in the years to come.

October 28, 2012
Beth Barham
Executive Director, AOPA