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10 new discoveries for organic farms The Need for More Seeds Shaping the 2018 Farm Bill Stop Import Fraud
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Organic Farmers Association has been putting down deep roots over the last two years and is now ready to begin bearing fruit—and just in time. Organic farmers in the U.S. are facing serious challenges that threaten to undermine all of the effort that they invested in establishing the National Organic Program and building consumers’ confidence in the “USDA Organic” label. As the only national organization that is led by certified-organic producers, Organic Farmers Association is focusing on the issues that its farmer-members care about most and is raising a unified voice in critical discussions about legislation, regulation, and enforcement. In 2017, Organic Farmers Association formed a diverse steering committee composed of 12 certified-organic farmers and representatives of six leading organic agricultural organizations from across the country. The OFA membership elected a policy committee with a makeup similar to the steering committee’s and voted on policy priorities for the next year. Mark Rokala, a farmer and experienced lobbyist, joined the organization as policy director and works in Washington, DC, to ensure that certified-organic farmers are heard on the issues that affect them directly. Now we’re fully ready to get to work in 2018. OFA members are focused on three key areas of concern for the 2018 farm bill: integrity of the organic seal, organic certification cost sharing, and organic research. As the expansive legislation winds its way through Congress, OFA is communicating with legislators to make sure these issues are addressed. (Get more details on page 6.) OFA leadership has already responded to the USDA’s decision to allow organic certification for hydroponic operations by sending a formal letter to Sonny Perdue, U.S. secretary of agriculture. (See page 4.) We’re also advocating for stricter enforcement of the National Organic Program’s standards for both domestic and international producers. And we’re asking for the USDA to reconsider its withdrawal of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule and implement it immediately.
This year, OFA is planning a needs assessment of organic farm organizations to focus its capacity building and networking efforts on areas of common interest. It will also facilitate dialogue among organic producers and advocates to encourage the exchange of information and technical knowledge. OFA will hold its first annual meeting and lobby day in April 2018, when our diverse organic leaders will gather in Washington, DC, to share their individual experiences and knowledge with each other and key influencers in government. The first elected governing council will meet at this session and take over from our appointed steering committee to lead OFA into the future. These are important, meaningful steps, but the work has just begun. Certified-organic farmers are the solid foundation of the fastest-growing sector in U.S. agriculture, but their needs are too often drowned out by well-funded interests eager to cash in on the market, no matter what the cost to U.S. producers, consumers, and the environment. But when all certified producers come together, we can stand in the way of efforts to erode organic standards and consumers’ trust in the organic label. Sign up to be a member of Organic Farmers Association today to join your peers in helping to protect the future of organic farming in the U.S. It’s quick and easy—just go to the back cover of this issue for a handy form or visit OrganicFarmersAssociation.org.
Kate Mendenhall Director, Organic Farmers Association, and Certified-Organic Farmer
Organic Valley dairy farmers like the Zweber family believe in the importance of providing healthy, local, organic dairy products for the communities they live in. For 30 years, our farmer-owned cooperative has been committed to producing nutritious, organic products in harmony with the earth and with respect for animals.
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Director Kate Mendenhall Policy Director Mark Rokala 2018 Governing Council Loretta Adderson, Steve Beck, Harriet Behar, Dave Bishop, John Bobbe, David Colson, Joannee DeBruhl, Jessica Gigot, Renee Hunt, Maddie Monty Kempner, Phil LaRocca, Maryrose Livingston, Nathaniel Powell-Palm, Judith Redmond, Jim Riddle, Michael Sligh, Jennifer Taylor, Jeff Tkach, Becky Weed RODALE INSTITUTE Executive Director Jeff Moyer Chief Growth Officer Jeff Tkach Director of Communications Diana Martin Director of Development Annie Brown Director of Research Andrew Smith, Ph.D. Director of Facilities Kim Schroeder Director of Finance and HR Elaine Macbeth Farm Manager Ross Duffield Blue Root Media Editor Scott Meyer Design Director Kimberly Brubaker Photography Director Rob Cardillo Copy Editor Diana Cobb Production Manager Nancy Rutman Contributors Rachel Birch, Lee Leckey, Jean Nick, Leah Overstreet, Ariana Reguzzoni, Mike Roemer, Steven St. John NEW FARM is the magazine of Organic Farmers Association.
Steven St. John
Copyright 2018 by Rodale Institute SEND ADDRESS CHANGES, COMMENTS, AND INQUIRIES TO Rodale Institute, 611 Siegfriedale Rd. Kutztown, PA 19530-9320 USA (610) 683-1400 RodaleInstitute.org
Farmers in New Mexico once saved and shared their seeds in handmade paper cones. Today, all U.S. organic growers need a more robust supply of seeds. Find out more on page 14.
In Every Issue
01 News Feed page 5 2018 farm bill priorities, questions for the USDA about hydroponics.
Sowing Change page 14 The organic seed supply continues growing stronger, even in tough conditions. by Ariana Reguzzoni
02 Ground breakers page 8 A pioneering researcher collaborates with farmers to study effective organic practices. 03 Field work
page 11 Regenerative practices are extending the benefits of organic farming beyond the fence line.
04 Market Report
page 28 Organic farmers and their supporters call for stronger protection against fraudulent imports.
The Latest Dirt on soil page 18 Recent research unearths new insights into how to build healthy soil for your crops and the environment. by Jean Nick
Lola’s Legacy page 22 An organic farmer in Georgia renews the land her grandmother worked. by Scott Meyer
05 New Farmers
page 32 Chaz and Megan Self of East Troy, Wisconsin. COVER: Improving the sandy soil at Lola’s Organic Farm in Georgia is an ongoing process. Learn more about the farm on page 22. Check out recent organic soil research on page 18. Photograph by Leah Overstreet
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News feed Legislation and Regulation
Raising crops, such as cherry tomatoes, in soilless containers contradicts OFA’s definition of organic production.
Standing Firm on Soil
Organic farmers dispute the decision to allow hydroponically grown produce to be certified. Is soil necessary for certified-organic crops? “No” was the answer for eight of the 15 National Organic Standards Board members who voted at the November 2017 meeting. By a one-vote margin, the board rejected a proposal to prohibit hydroponic and aquaponic farms from earning the USDA’s official organic seal. The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) backed the outcome of the vote in a January 2018 announcement: “Certification of hydroponic, aquaponic, and aeroponic operations is allowed under the USDA organic regulations and has been since the National Organic Program began.” To date, about 100 of these types of operations have been approved for the label by accredited third-party inspectors, such as California Certified Organic Farmers and Oregon Tilth. Most certifiers, however, have never approved hydroponic producers. Hydroponic growers stress that just like other organic farmers, they use only approved inputs, such as fertilizers and pest controls. Additionally, they assert that their process tends to consume less water and land than
farming in the ground does. Indoor growing, they argue, makes it possible to meet year-round consumer demand for all kinds of organic fruits and vegetables. The leading advocates for accepting hydroponic crops as organic include representatives of Driscoll’s, one of the top berry suppliers in the U.S., and Wholesum Harvest, which produces tomatoes and other fresh vegetables. Producers like these raise acres of crops in containers and feed plants with liquid nutrients. The plants have no contact with the ground and in many cases are sheltered inside greenhouses or other buildings. In a January 2018 survey of farmer-members of Organic Farmers Association, the majority of respondents voted to challenge the legality of soilless growing. “The AMS notice contained no Organic Foods Production Act [OFPA] or National Organic Program [NOP] rule citations to justify the novel position being taken by the USDA,” says Jim Riddle, chairman of the Organic Farmers Association Steering Committee. “Further, the notice contained no guidance to certifying agencies on how to certify operations that do not comply with most NOP requirements.” Organic Farmers Association sent a letter to Sonny Perdue, U.S. secretary of agriculture, requesting an explanation of the legal basis, in both the OFPA and the NOP final rule, for allowing hydroponic systems and products to be certified, labeled, and sold as organic. The letter states that “while the word ‘soil’ is mentioned in the Organic Foods Production Act seven times and in the NOP final rule 50 times, the words ‘hydroponic,’ ‘aquaponic,’ ‘aeroponic’ [and] ‘soilless’ are not mentioned at all...Soilless hydroponic production systems do not foster soil fertility or build soil organic matter content, as required by OFPA.” “The best possible outcome would be for Secretary Perdue to order the USDA to retract its statement,” Riddle says. “Otherwise, I see continued fragmentation of the organic sector, with soil-based operations needing to establish certification systems and labels to differentiate their products from USDA Organic products. “Organic [farming] is an ecological production system,” Riddle concludes, “not a system of input substitution.”
With the support of its farmer-members, Organic Farmers Association opposes certifying hydroponic crops as organic. The organization supports the NOSB Crops Subcommittee’s 2017 recommendation to the NOSB, which states, “For container production to be certified organic, a limit of 20% of the plants’ nitrogen requirement can be supplied by liquid feeding, a limit of 50% of the plants’ nitrogen requirement can be added to the container after the crop has been planted, and the container substrate must be at least 50% soil and/or compost by volume.”
News feed Legislation and Regulation
From Farm to Hill
The U.S. farm bill is a sprawling piece of legislation that directly impacts not only the agriculture industry but also the insurance and banking industries, wildlife conservation, school lunches, and much more. The bill currently being drafted will replace the 2014 version, which was more than 350 pages long and included over $950 billion in spending allocations. While just a small portion of the massive bill addresses organic agriculture specifically, the legislation is a source of significant funding for an array of initiatives that are important to certified producers. Thirty-nine organic-related programs are supported by the bill, says Mark Rokala, policy director for Organic Farmers Association. “We are working to ensure that our priorities are funded,” he explains. “At the top are supplychain integrity, research, and organic certification cost-share programs.” In early 2018, nine issues relating to those priorities were selected by farmer-members for OFA to focus on. Here are a few specifics.
ENFORCEMENT POWER OFA is advocating for increasing resources to the National Organic Program to stop fraudulently labeled imported products from reaching U.S. markets and to investigate domestic producers that violate the organic standards. “Protecting the integrity of the organic seal is the highest priority of our members,” Rokala says. “The NOP needs to step up its equitable and consistent enforcement of its standards across all types and sizes of farms in the United States and to work with the Customs and Border Protection agency on import fraud.” MORE RESEARCH OFA members support passage of the Organic Agriculture Research Act (HR 2436) and expanded funding in the farm bill for research of direct value to certified farmers. OFA is also calling for a $50 million annual allocation to public plant and animal breeding programs, with a focus on developing regionally adapted organic cultivars and animal breeds. “The USDA provides $1 billion in research funding,” Rokala says.
Organic producers choose the issues that they want Congress to address in the 2018 farm bill.
“Compared to that, $50 million for organicrelated research is modest.” Farm fUNDING Cost-share programs have helped many small to midsize farmers afford organic certification by covering up to 75 percent of the required fees (up to $750 per certification). These programs are especially beneficial to newly certified and beginning organic farmers, as the first few years of organic certification can present significant financial risk. OFA members want cost-share programs to be renewed in the farm bill and sufficiently funded to meet the growing projected demand for them. OFA is also asking for funding to support a Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program that would prioritize projects providing technical assistance to new organic producers. INSURANCE COVERAGE The 2014 farm bill included Whole-Farm Revenue Protection, which provides a safety net for all commodities on the farm under one insurance policy. This plan is tailored for farms with up to $8.5 million in insured revenue, including those with organic commodities (crops, livestock, or both). OFA
“The USDA provides $1 billion in research funding. Compared to that, $50 million for organic-related research is modest.” —Mark Rokala, Organic Farmers Association policy director
members voted to support its continuation and to ask for the new bill to recognize the change in farm revenue after a producer has transitioned to organic. The organization is also asking Congress to direct the USDA’s Risk Management Agency to prioritize development of additional organic price elections for crop insurance coverage and to review policies that cap a contract price addendum at two times the conventional price election for any specific crop. To keep up with the farm bill’s progress, go to agriculture.house.gov/farmbill. For more details on OFA’s policy priorities, go to OrganicFarmers Association.org/policy-position. Stay tuned to OFA email newsletters for how you can get involved and support these policies.
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ground breakerS People Leading the Way
Kathleen Delate received one of Rodale Institute’s “Organic Pioneer Awards” in 2017.
A pioneering researcher collaborates with farmers to study effective organic practices. Scientists and organic farmers are natural partners, says Kathleen Delate, Ph.D., the nation’s first full-time professor of organic agriculture. “Farming is a blend of art and science,” she explains. “By working with farmers on research projects, we make sure the results are applicable to how they really work.” A 2017 recipient of Rodale Institute’s Organic Pioneer Awards, Delate began her journey to her current position at Iowa State University (ISU) with childhood visits to her uncle’s organic farm in Minnesota. While the land wasn’t certified, “most of its practices fit with our definition of organic today,” Delate says. “Animals were raised on pasture and integrated into the whole system. The farm had long crop rotations. It produced most of its own resources.”
Delate first got her hands dirty in her mother’s garden, where she discovered a fascination with plants and soil. That led to her course of study at the University of Florida, where she earned an undergraduate degree in agronomy and a master’s in horticulture. She started her college career at ISU, she says, but transferred to Florida “because at the time it was much more open-minded about organic production.” Delate later studied agroecology under Miguel Altieri, Ph.D., a renowned professor at the University of California, Berkeley, where she completed her doctoral degree. Today, Delate teaches an organic agriculture class every other year and works with farmers and students on research projects focused primarily on soil management strategies for certified-organic farmers and those transitioning to organic methods. In 2005, Delate began studying organic no-till practices with the use of a roller-crimper she received from Rodale Institute. From 2008 to 2012, she served as the principal investigator of a consortium of six institutions (ISU, University of Wisconsin, University of Minnesota, North Dakota State University, Michigan State University, and Rodale Institute) on a USDA-NRI Integrated Organic Program grant project entitled “Developing Carbon-Positive Organic Systems through Reduced Tillage and Cover Crop–Intensive Crop Rotation Schemes.” She and the other researchers evaluated crop performance, soil quality, and weed management. From 2009 to 2011, Delate led a USDA-SARE project in partnership with North Dakota State University and University of Wisconsin to examine the use of five cover crops on organic corn production. She spent 2014 observing no-till farming in Italy and brought back ideas for improvements to the crimper, such as a knife that opens a planting furrow as a cover crop is knocked down. “Cover crop termination methods using reduced-tillage approaches offer the greatest potential for the dual purpose of weed management and enhancement of soil quality,” Delate says. Organic no-till systems decrease erosion, lower weed management costs, and ideally sequester carbon. “I think the future is bright: There are numerous researchers working on these systems,” she adds. “Continued funding is needed to perfect the system for each climatic zone.” To date, her research has determined that organic soybean, tomato, pepper, and squash crops can be successfully produced in organic no-till systems,
rodale institute (2)
“We try to take a whole-systems approach when we study a problem.” —Kathleen Delate, Ph.D. with yields equal to those of tilled organic systems but with reduced weed management costs. “Weed management is the number one challenge for organic crop farmers here [in Iowa]. No-till systems work, and they save farmers labor and other costs” incurred with tilling, Delate explains. “We try to take a wholesystems approach when we study a problem” so that the solutions proposed take into account all of the conditions and challenges farmers must contend with. With her own experience farming in California, Florida, and Hawaii, as well as Iowa, the scientist is alert to the economics of agriculture today. “For conventional farmers, it’s hard to make a living without subsidies,” she says. “Organic farming is viable, and I’m hearing from a lot of conventional growers who are interested in transitioning. I generally recom-
mend that they don’t take their whole farms organic right away. For economic reasons and the learning curve, it’s better, I think, to start small and scale up.” The most valuable asset for new and transitioning farmers, Delate says, is advice from experienced growers. “Organic farmers pick up a lot of useful knowledge along the way, and they’re happy to share it. When farmers partner with each other and researchers, everyone learns.”
By working with farmers on research projects, Delate makes sure the results are practical for them.
To find out more about Delate’s research and to see a video on organic no-till practices, go to extension.agron.iastate.edu/organicag.
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Field Work How-To for Farmers
Pigs and other livestock are free to move around and feed when they want to.
These practices extend the benefits of organic farming beyond the fence line. “Regenerative” is a buzzword for farmers and consumers right now, but it’s far from a new idea. Organic producers, researchers, advocacy groups, and corporations are talking about regenerative agriculture as a recommitment to or an extension of the core principles of organic farming. It’s trending now because many farmers and activists believe that recent decisions by the USDA are undermining the National Organic Program’s credibility and the value of its seal by certifying operations that do not improve the soil, replenish resources, and protect the well-being of all living things. Regenerative farming has also attracted the support of groups working to stop environmental degradation and reverse the conditions that are leading to climate change. “Regenerative organic agriculture takes advantage of the natural tendencies of ecosystems to regenerate when disturbed,” said the late Robert Rodale, longtime publisher of Organic Farming and Gardening and New Farm magazines, in 1987. It “is marked by tendencies towards closed nutrient loops, greater diversity in the biological community, fewer annuals and more perennials, and greater reliance on internal rather than external resources.” The resurgent interest in regenerative farming is showing up in a variety of places. California
State University, Chico, for instance, has launched a Regenerative Agriculture Initiative to research and teach farmers about the impact of their practices on carbon sequestration and ecosystem restoration. Through its “Land to Market” program, the Savory Institute offers independent verification that meat, dairy, wool, and leather products are produced in accordance with regenerative practices throughout the supply chain. Rodale Institute, along with a coalition of farmers, ranchers, nonprofits, scientists, and brands, has announced plans for a “Regenerative Organic Certification” with standards that build on those set by the National Organic Program. While those efforts are making progress in raising the public’s awareness about the value of regenerative agriculture, many organic farmers are embracing its principles, implementing its strategies, and sharing their views with customers. Here are the core concepts that can help every organic farm be more regenerative. THE WHOLE FARM “Regenerative agriculture is simply a holistic management system,” says Michael Sligh, a member of the Organic Farmers Association Governing Council and program director of Rural Advancement Foundation International. A holistic approach considers the impact of every decision on the soil, the plants, organicfarmersassociation.org
the water supply, domestic animals and wildlife, people on the farm and in the community around it, and the world’s environment. BEST USES A diversified organic farm has a variety of different components, including crop fields, grasslands, hedgerows, forest, and wetlands. A regenerative practitioner assesses the benefits that each provides to the farm and sees value beyond the immediate income-generating potential of every acre. “We look at each area of our farm and ask what the best use of that land is,” says Jean-Paul Courtens, founder of Roxbury Farm in Kinderhook, New York. Hedgerows, for instance, provide food and shelter to birds that prey on pest insects, while wetlands filter fresh water. ANIMAL INTEGRATION Livestock are more than marketable products in a regenerative system. Rotational grazing of domesticated animals of all kinds helps build fertility and active microbe populations in the soil, encourages plant diversity in pastures, keeps insect populations in balance, processes waste, and more. The animals are treated with respect by giving them access to their natural diets, freedom to move and feed at will, comfortable shelter, and a full life cycle at the farm. INFUSION, NOT EXTRACTION All of our lives depend on a relatively thin layer of topsoil. An uninterrupted cycle of crops that simply extract nutrients will deplete the soil and eventually leave it inert. Regenerative organic farming practices infuse life into the soil. Cover crops, compost, no (or low) tilling, livestock grazing, and other on-farm resources replenish nutrients, nourish the underground food web, and improve soil’s capacity to capture, filter, and use water. The benefits extend beyond farms: Research released by Rodale Institute in 2014 estimated that if the crop acreage and pastureland throughout the world at that time would have shifted to regenerative organic practices, 100 percent of
LEARN MORE These groups offer information on the latest developments in regenerative organic agriculture. California State University, Chico: Regenerative Agriculture Initiative www.csuchico.edu/sustainablefuture/aginitiative The Carbon Underground thecarbonunderground.org The Land Institute landinstitute.org Regeneration International regenerationinternational.org Rodale Institute: Regenerative Organic Certification regenorganic.org Savory Institute savory.global/institute
the global annual carbon dioxide emissions could have been sequestered in the soil. MORE PERENNIALS The tilling and seeding of annual crops not only damages soil structure, which can lead to erosion, but also releases CO2 into the air. Perennial crops, such as fruit and nut trees, berries, grapes, and asparagus, yield reliable harvests of high-value food and build extensive root systems that hold on to soil and water. The Land Institute, a leader in regenerative agriculture research, is focusing its resources on developing perennial grains, pulses, and oilseed-bearing plants to be grown in “ecologically intensified, diverse crop mixtures known as perennial polycultures.” Increasing the use of perennials minimizes disturbances to topsoil. POWER FOR PEOPLE An organic farm’s ecosystem includes the farm’s workers, consumers, and surrounding community. “We don’t look at labor as a commodity to use,” Courtens says. “We believe it’s our responsibility to make people’s work meaningful and help them build long-term futures for themselves.” On regenerative farms, workers have the right to organize and file complaints with management about labor practices, and processes are in place to protect them from retaliation for reporting their grievances. For economic stability and equity for farmers, they must have “fair prices that are negotiated with buyers based on what it actually costs to produce food that does not abuse the environment, laborers, or livestock,” explains Leah Cohen, general coordinator of the Agricultural Justice Project, a nonprofit certifier of fair-trade practices. FUTURE OF THE FARM A regenerative farm is set up to surpass the life span of those who are currently tending it. “By training new people to work at our farm and start their own, we’re building the next generation,” Courtens says. “We are also working on a plan to protect our farm from the rising costs of owning the land to ensure that it continues long after we’re gone.” CYCLE OF IMPROVEMENT By definition, regeneration is a never-ending process that demands continuous evaluation. “You start every year with a whole farm management plan, you execute it, evaluate it, and tweak as needed,” Courtens says. “No farm starts out 100 percent regenerative in every way, so you ask yourself how you can improve. Every season we learn that practices we’ve been using have unintended consequences. We make changes and try to do better. That never ends.”
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PRESERVING DIVERSITY Isaura Andaluz, a member of the Organic Farmers Association Steering Committee, leads an effort to rescue native, heirloom, and rare crops through seed-saving and breeding workshops in her home state of New Mexico. Learn more at c4puertas.org.
The organic seed supply continues growing stronger, even in tough conditions.
S Steven St. John (Andaluz), Rob Cardillo (seeds)
by Ariana Reguzzoni
eeds are the foundation of agriculture and a farm’s most basic input. For generations, farmers provided their own supply, saving them from one season to the next. Isaura Andaluz, a native of New Mexico and a member of the Organic Farmers Association Steering Committee, remembers the days when growers passed their seeds around her community in little handmade cones, preserving the heirloom varieties that were adapted to the unique conditions and tastes there. Today’s certified-organic farmers are the engines of the more than $40 billion organic product industry in the United States, and they need seed and variety options suited to growing crops without agricultural chemicals. The majority of certified-organic growers must rely on nontreated, non–genetically modified conventional sources to fulfill the demand for their crops. That is gradually changing, but for many growers, obtaining a reliable supply of certified-organic seeds still presents complex choices and challenges. Certified-organic farmers are required to plant organic seed if it’s commercially available, but “demand in many cases is in excess of supply,” says Jim Gerritsen, the president of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association. More than 30 percent of certified-organic farmers surveyed in 2014 were starting with
a greater proportion of organic seeds than they were three years prior, according to “State of Organic Seed, 2016,” a report published by Organic Seed Alliance. About 27 percent sowed only organic seeds—this was an increase from the 20 percent who reported in OSA’s 2009 survey that they used solely organic. “A good number of those responding [to the survey] reported they chose organic because they wanted to invest in suppliers that had their interests as organic growers in mind,” says Kristina Hubbard, the director of advocacy and communications for OSA and a member of the Organic Farmers Association Steering Committee.
GOOD BREEDING The OSA report found a lower percentage of organic seed use among larger growers. Hubbard explains that oftentimes a bigger operation can’t find the quantity it needs, or it is producing under contract with a buyer who dictates which variety to grow. In this latter, all-too-common scenario, it is up to the grower to pressure the buyer to use an organic variety. But this kind of persuasion is unlikely to happen because the farmer doesn’t have a lot of power, says Brett Bakker, a recently retired USDA certifying agent in New Mexico who now is an organic seed grower. All organic farmers need more variety options suited to growing without agricultural chemicals. “[When a seed producer uses] conventional types of crop protectants and organicfarmersassociation.org
In 2011, OSA identified the need for a mechanism for sharing organic variety trial information. Since then, the organization has worked with the Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative and other research partners to develop a national database of organic variety trial reports, which can be found at varietytrials.eorganic.info.
PREP WORK Stephen Purdy checks to be sure that the ‘Green Finger’ cucumber seeds at Vermont’s High Mowing Organic Seeds dry evenly.
GROWING NUMBERS While just 27 percent of certified-organic farmers plant only organic seeds, a majority of organic land is sown with them. The following numbers represent the average amount of organic farm acreage planted with organic seeds in each category.
FIELD CROPS: 78% VEGETABLES: 69% COVER CROPS: 66% FORAGE CROPS: 59% Source: Organic Seed Alliance “State of Organic Seed, 2016”; stateoforganicseed.org
fertilizers, it makes it very difficult to get a cultivar that would have natural resistance to diseases,” says Dale Coke, who grows vegetables, beans, and grains on the Central Coast of California. A significant obstacle to increasing the variety options is that the genetic lines for major crops are often controlled by large corporations that are unwilling to license proprietary varieties in untreated forms. In many instances, “there is only one producer growing a certain variety for the whole industry,” says Tom Stearns, founder and owner of High Mowing Organic Seeds in Vermont. If that variety is protected as intellectual property, then no other breeding company can produce another version of it—for example, an organic one. Public and private investments in organic plant breeding and seed research have increased rapidly in recent years. The total rose by $22 million between 2010 and 2014, according to the OSA report, marking a substantial increase from the $9 million invested in the five-year period between 1996 and 2010. This progress is encouraging, especially since a more diverse group of funders are investing in the research, Hubbard notes. The organic seed industry has been instrumental in encouraging plant breeding and onfarm variety trials to produce cultivars that are better adapted to organic systems, Coke says.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are prohibited for certified-organic crops. But because the use of GM seeds is so widespread in conventional farming, the likelihood that organic crops will be contaminated by pollen drift from GM plants is high, Gerritsen says. With no threshold established by the USDA for detection of GMOs in organic agricultural products, seed suppliers must set their own internal thresholds. “Unfortunately in corn, zero percent GMO seed does not guarantee zero percent GMO grain harvested from the farmer’s field. When a farmer’s cornfield goes through its reproductive phase (flowering/pollination) during the summer, it is vulnerable to blow-in pollen from neighboring cornfields that contain GMO varieties,” says Stuart Grim, general manager of Blue River Organic Seed in Ames, Iowa. To combat this problem in corn, Blue River is breeding varieties using PuraMaize, a natural gene system developed by Tom Hoegemeyer, Ph.D., of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and Cerrado Natural Systems Group (an independent company not associated with any seed supplier). Hybrid-corn plants that contain the PuraMaize gene complex easily recognize and readily accept pollen from the neighboring plants that also contain the same gene mix, Grim explains. When you look at a fully formed ear of corn and admire the individual kernels of yellow grain, what took place during flowering/pollination is that an individual pollen grain traveled down the silk tube and successfully fertilized the ovule (egg). While a PuraMaize corn plant quickly accepts pollen from other neighboring PuraMaize plants, that same plant does not recognize or readily accept the pollen from a non-PuraMaize plant, thus giving PuraMaize plants built-in protection against foreign pollen. Solutions such as this are not yet available for other hybrid crops where cross-pollination is an issue, so the onus will remain on organic seed suppliers and farmers to find other ways to protect their varieties and grain. “If GMO producers were responsible for preventing drift,
Courtesy of High Mowing Organic Seeds (drying), Rob Cardillo (seeds); seed props supplied by Blue River Organic Seed
that would change,” Grim says, and the burden would not be on organic growers.
MARKET FORCES Even when organic farmers can find the seed they need, they are spending more for it than conventional farmers do. The average price premium charged for organic vegetable seed is 65 percent above the cost of conventional, according to the OSA report. Organic farmers typically pay 20 to 50 percent more for field crop seeds than their conventional counterparts do. In some cases, organic is more than twice as expensive. “The cost of production of organic seed is significantly higher,” Grim explains. “You have a specialty system that’s even more complex than just growing organic corn. There’s an increased cost for labor because you don’t have herbicides to control weeds. And you need specialized equipment for harvesting and processing the seeds without contamination.” Enforcing the guidelines that require certified-organic growers to use organic seed if commercially available can be complicated, says Bakker, the former certifier. For example, if a grower needs bushels of a certain variety that is available only in packets, is that “commercially available”? Or if the only available organic option is not a strong strain, should farmers be required to buy it? Organic seed advocates such as OSA do not want to completely end the exemption that allows use of conventional seed. But certifiers, who are audited by the National Organic Program (NOP), must document farmers’ efforts over the years to ensure, for example, they have checked with multiple sources for organic seed. Bakker would like the NOP to pressure manufacturers, such as corn chip companies, to work with seed companies to provide organic seed options if they want their growers to use a specific variety. Bakker believes that if more large producers, with higher profiles and more customers, start demanding and using organic seed, they would set the standard for the rest of the organic industry and encourage the growth of the market. This spring, the National Organic Standards Board will consider a proposal from its Crops Subcommittee on “Strengthening the Organic Seed Guidance” under the USDA. One of its main goals is to update the organic seed regulations (which have not been changed since the NOP was established in 2002) by including a requirement that organic operations demonstrate
annual improvement in their use of organic seed. Another is to strengthen the NOP’s organic seed policy guidance documentation for certifiers. No matter what happens at the USDA, Gerritsen predicts that organic growers will be able to choose from more cultivars that are specifically bred and designed to perform superiorly under organic conditions and produce nutritionally dense crops that meet the market’s expectations. “Every organic farmer is going to be paying attention,” he says. Planting more organic seeds “is not only a requirement; it will also be to their benefit.” NF Ariana Reguzzoni is a freelance journalist in Sonoma County, California, where she co-owns a small organic flower farm called Chica Bloom.
ACTION ITEMS Here’s how you can help encourage a growing organic seed supply. Support research. The Organic Agriculture Research Act, introduced in 2017 and now under consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives, would increase funding for the Organic Research and Extension Initiative from $20 million to $50 million annually. A significant portion of OREI funding supports the breeding of new varieties. Join forces. Get together with other farmers to increase your buying power among seed suppliers and influence them to offer more and better organic choices. Test yourself. Research varieties best for your farm and share the results with others. Organic Seed Alliance (seedalliance.org) provides information on how to conduct seed trials and offers reports from different regions. Tell consumers. Let your customers know your products start with organic seeds and why that’s important. Informed consumers can demand high standards. Be heard. At its spring 2018 meeting, the National Organic Standards Board will consider a proposal on “Strengthening the Organic Seed Guidance.” OFA encourages certified-organic farmers to submit comments in support of the proposal. Comments and requests for a speaking slot at either the meeting or webinars are due by April 4. For details go to ams.usda.gov.
The Latest Dirt on
Recent research unearths new insights into how to build healthy soil for your crops and the environment.
by Jean Nick
â€‚ New Farm
Soil will always be the sturdy base of every organic farm, but our understanding of it is continually changing. Thanks to the work of scientists around the world, new information is showing us how and why regenerative organic agriculture leads to healthy soil, healthy people, and a healthy planet. Here’s a review of recent findings by soil scientists.
Reduced tilling preserves cropfeeding nitrogen in the soil.
hiGHER MATTER Soils rich in organic matter hold more air and water and produce higher yields than soils low in organic matter. They also supply a steady release of nutrients to plants, inhibit erosion, and host a robust population of beneficial microorganisms. Adding compost, using cover crops and mulches, and limiting tillage—basic principles of organic soil management—increase and preserve organic matter. An analysis of nine years of data from the National Soil Project—including nearly all 50 states— found that organically managed soils had an average organic matter content of 8.33 percent while conventionally managed soils averaged 7.37 percent. The report was published in Advances in Agronomy by Tracy Misiewicz, Ph.D., associate director of science programs at the Organic Center in Washington, DC, and other researchers.
E. MONDLOVA/ SHUTTERSTOCK
Among cultivated fields, those managed organically have more biological activity than those managed conventionally.
HOLDING NITROGEN Like carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas. Good news: Organic methods can lock up nitrogen and carbon. USDA researchers in Beltsville, Maryland, compared nitrous oxide emissions from a variety of management treatments in a well-drained sandy site being transitioned from conventional agriculture to organic vegetable production over a three-year period. The entire area was planted with a mixture of forage radish, winter rye, and crimson clover each fall, and individual plots were managed using conservation tillage (strip-tilled or no-till production) or conventional tillage (with black plastic or bare ground) each growing season. The no-till and strip-tilled plots lost about the same amount of N2O, a level significantly less than the conventionally tilled plots did. Preserving nitrogen in the soil is also a benefit for farmers, as it provides a vital nutrient to crops and reduces the need for other inputs. organicfarmersassociation.org
Legumes grow vast root systems in organic soil.
Nodules that form on the roots of legumes contain bacteria that extract nitrogen from the air and fix it in the soil, allowing the next crops planted in the rotation to absorb it as a nutrient. Preliminary observations made in 2017 by researchers at Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, suggest that soybean plants grown in organic fields may generate a greater number of fine roots and, in turn, a more abundant and widespread formation of nitrogen-fixing nodules than soybeans grown in conventionally managed fields. The scientists theorize that because the conventional fields contain excess amounts of easily available nitrogen (due to the addition of synthetic fertilizers), plants grown in them don’t need to form as many fine roots to access the nutrient from the soil. Further studies will be conducted to determine the impact of this observation.
UNCULTIVATED PLACES Permanent pastures studied in southern Sweden had higher levels of AMF diversity than cultivated fields. Among the cultivated fields, those managed organically had more biological activity than those managed conventionally, again suggesting that tillage and other practices can encourage or discourage AMF populations. Similarly, researchers in Italy found that fields in a highdensity olive orchard that were maintained with a permanent green cover crop for 10 years showed increased AMF activity over those maintained with shallow tillage.
A robust population of beneficial soil microorganisms improves nutrient and water availability and helps suppress disease-causing pathogens. Researchers in the Netherlands reported in Frontiers in Microbiology that soils from organically managed farms had higher numbers and more diverse populations of beneficial soil organisms than soils from conventionally managed farms did. Similar results have been found in banana plantation soils by researchers in Taiwan, who reported on their study in Applied Soil Ecology.
GOOD FUNGI Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) are beneficial microorganisms that colonize almost all types of plants. They effectively extend the reach of plants’ roots, helping them to gather water and nutrients from a larger volume of soil. AMF colonization has been shown to help crops thrive in dry conditions and in soils with elevated salt levels. Inoculating crops with commercial AMF preparations can be costly, but organic soils tend to be high in native AMF, reducing or eliminating the need for inoculation. Winter cover cropping and infrequent tillage may increase native AMF colonization of summer cash crops by an average of 30 percent, according to a study analysis conducted by researchers from the University of California and the University of Adelaide, Australia, and published in the Journal of Applied Ecology. The diversity of AMF species was found to be about 11 percent higher in reduced-tillage plots when compared with conventional-tillage plots. An enlarged cross section of a plant’s root shows AMF in red.
L. TVEIT/SHUTTERSTOCK (COWS), P. TETIANA/SHUTTERSTOCK (ROOTS), M. PERKINS/CREATIVE COMMONS/NC 2.0 (AMF)
Cows and beneficial fungi thrive in permanent pastures.
CARBON CAPTURE The benefits of high levels of organic matter in the soil extend beyond the farm. Organic matter is rich in carbon, and carbon that is tied up in the soil isn’t in the atmosphere, where rising levels may be destabilizing our climate. Compared with conventional agricultural practices, organic farming methods foster not only higher levels of soil organic matter but also of humified (sequestered) carbon (4.1 percent versus 2.85 percent of the total soil volume), according to the National Soil Project data analysis published in Advances in Agronomy by Misiewicz and others. Additionally, the percentage of soil organic matter in a sequestered form is higher in soils managed organically compared to conventionally (57.3 percent versus 45 percent). Specifically, the organic soils are higher in humic acids, the compounds that give topsoil its rich, brown color.
Humic acids increase soil’s carbon-holding capacity.
TILLOTTAMA/SHUTTERSTOCK (VETCH), J. JOT/SHUTTERSTOCK (BOOT)
Dense plantings of hairy vetch supply the nitrogen corn needs.
Planting cover crops of hairy vetch can supply all the nitrogen even field corn needs for maximum production. However, when hairy vetch biomass is less abundant, adding feather meal or poultry meal may boost yields. What level of biomass triggers this response? A two-year field study conducted by J. T. Spargo of Pennsylvania State University found that when vetch biomass measured 4,630 kilograms per hectare, the corn grain yield was significantly higher with the vetch treatment than with the no-vetch treatment and equal to the maximum yield as measured in an ammonium nitrate test plot; furthermore, yields did not change in plots where amendments were applied. But when vetch biomass measured just 1,551 kilograms per hectare, adding organic nitrogen amendments increased corn yields.
Methods other than maintaining a living cover crop and limiting tillage may encourage AMF colonization. Researchers in Brazil reported in the Archives of Agronomy and Soil Science that spraying young bean shoots with an anaerobically fermented mixture of fresh water, cattle manure, cow’s milk, sugarcane molasses, and mineral salts stimulated AMF colonization and enhanced mineral availability in the soil.
Researchers and testing laboratories are working to roll out soil tests that are more accurate and more cost-effective. Richard Haney, Ph.D., a soil scientist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Temple, Texas, reports that he and his team have introduced a new “Soil Health Tool,” the culmination of nearly 20 years of research in soil fertility. The tool estimates plantavailable N, P, and K and provides a “Soil Health Calculation”: a numerical measure of the health of your soil based on nutrient and C, N, and P cycling. Reports also include site-specific suggestions for improving your score. Ward Laboratories in Nebraska and Brookside Laboratories in Ohio have the most experience with the test, according to Haney, but more labs are starting to offer it. You may find it referred to as the Haney Test. NF Jean Nick raises sheep, chickens, and a variety of crops at her farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. organicfarmersassociation.org
Lola’s Legacy An organic farmer in Georgia renews the land her grandmother worked. Miss Lola
by Scott Meyer T photographs by Leah Overstreet
, a sharecropper in Glenwood, Georgia, in the 1940s, was offered the rare opportunity of buying the land that she had been tending for years. “My mother and her five brothers worked so hard to help raise the money—cleaning house, cooking for folks, doing outside farm work, whatever they could. My grandmother even had the community moonshine thing going on,” says Jennifer Taylor, Lola’s granddaughter. “When the landlord came to see if she had the funds to buy the farm, she did.” Lola’s farm flourished, producing abundant harvests of poultry, vegetables, peaches, pecans, sugarcane, dairy items, and more. “She made and sold soap and canned goods—a lot of what we call ‘value-added’ now,” Taylor says. When Lola’s children and grandchildren moved away from the farm, she sent them baskets of her harvest. And she earned a reputation for sharing food with others in her community. As Lola grew older, she could no longer do the farm work, and the land lay fallow. In 2010, Taylor, along with Ronald Gilmore, her husband, returned to her grandmother’s farm and relaunched it as Lola’s Organic Farm. Taylor studied agronomy at Florida A&M and Iowa State universities, ultimately earning her doctorate degree and a position teaching organic farming at the former, in Tallahassee. She’s now the coordinator of the Florida A&M Statewide Small Farm Program. “I was raising a family and studying farming,” she says. “I envisioned my grandmother’s farm as a place where I could grow healthy food for my family and teach others about organic growing.”
“I envisioned my grandmother’s farm as a place where I could grow healthy food for my family and teach others about organic growing.”
FAST FACTS // Lola’s Organic Farm Location: Glenwood, Georgia Size: 3 cultivated acres (32 acres total) Products: fruits and vegetables, ginger, turmeric First year farming: 2010 Organic certification: 2010 OFA membership: 2016 Learn more: Search “Lola’s Organic Farm” on Facebook
Jennifer Taylor has turned the land her grandmother Lola worked and owned into a model organic farm.
FRESH START The farm today is 32 acres of certified-organic land, with the majority in woodlands. The couple work 3 acres, raising strawberries, blackberries, muscadine grapes, persimmons, apples, figs, and pomegranates, along with onions, peppers, several varieties of kale, sweet potatoes, Asian eggplants, ginger, and turmeric. Georgia’s climate and high tunnels allow them to grow year-round. “We’re small, so we need to grow items that our customers really want but will not find easily” from other sources, Taylor says. The farm’s harvest is sold to regional food distributors, to a co-op that offers it directly to customers through local farmers’ markets, and to a variety of grocery stores and restaurants in the area. The two-person operation is low-tech. “We do most of the work with hand tools—shovels or hoes,” she tells us. “We contract with some of our neighbors to cultivate and do other jobs that need big equipment.” Their watering method is what Taylor calls “rain-fed agriculture,” which they supplement with a microirrigation system funded by a program from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). A clear division of labor helps Gilmore and Taylor get all the work done. “He says I’m the administrator and he’s the assistant, but he’s an organic farmer extraordinaire,” Taylor says. “I do the crop and variety selection and help him with the planting and care. I handle the grant writing and developing the marketing contacts. He takes care of the crops on a day-to-day basis.”
POTATOES VS. WEEDS The farm’s soil is “Fuquay loamy sand,” says Mark Schonbeck, Ph.D., an experienced researcher, teacher, and consultant who has worked with the couple. “Most coastal plain sandy soils in the Southeast have a clayenriched B horizon that begins 12 to 18 inches below the surface and can act as a moisture and nutrient reserve for crops, provided that deeprooted cover crops and other good practices are used to prevent hardpan and maintain good health through the soil profile. Fuquay soil has a very thick [2 to 3 feet], sandy E horizon between the A [topsoil] and more clayey B. It’s one of the more challenging soils I have seen.”
Bermudagrass proved to be another obstacle. “On the one hand, it prevents soil erosion,” Taylor says, “but when you’re trying to grow vegetables, it’s a real problem.” With a grant from the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program and guidance from Schonbeck, the couple set up a comparison of two systems for controlling the weed: use of intensively planted cover crops—a rotation of field peas, millet, and buckwheat—versus multiple tillage passes. “The difference was easy to see,” she reports. “The vegetables following cover crops had much more vigor” than those grown in the tilled plots. She also found better soil structure and more microbial activity in the plots where the cover crops grew. The farmers have since added barley, hairy vetch, and subterranean clover to their cover crop regimen. Along the way, they observed that the Bermudagrass was helping to control nutsedge, another pesky weed on their farm. With some experimentation, they discovered that intensive planting of sweet potatoes also controls nutsedge. “Now we plant them for both weed control and food,” Taylor says.
SHARING KNOWLEDGE While producing food for themselves and their community, Taylor and Gilmore also devote time and energy to teaching other farmers. At their annual farm day, other growers come to learn about organic farming practices that work in their region. “We see ourselves as a demonstration farm that shows strategies for intensive growing,” Taylor says. “People come from all over the state to see what we are doing. Last year, we put up our second high tunnel through the NRCS high tunnel initiative [which covers some costs of building one]. The program is a great help to farmers, especially beginning organic farmers. So we had a workshop that covered the benefits [of high tunnels], how to get the grant, and how to build one.” Taylor, who served on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) from 2011 to 2016, and Gilmore chose to be certified organic right from the start. “We saw it as a market advantage for our customers to know what processes we use to produce the food they eat,” Taylor says. “We knew [organic farming] is healthier for them and for us.”
“He says I’m the administrator and he’s the assistant, but he’s an organic farmer extraordinaire.”
Taylor (above) checks the garlic crop; her husband, Ronald Gilmore (top), waters the plants in one of the hoop houses that allow the couple to grow year-round. Strawberries (mulched with straw) are among the crops supported by the farm’s microirrigation system.
â€œWe see ourselves as a demonstration farm that shows strategies for intensive growing. People come from all over the state to see what we are doing.â€?
Taylor and Gilmore host workshops to share their knowledge about raising crops such as ginger and turmeric (opposite page) organically and to encourage new farmers to get organic certification.
The pair’s commitment to the organic label extends beyond the farm and its customers. “At our workshops, we talk to farmers about organic certification, and a lot of what farmers have heard about often isn’t true,” she continues. “They believe that so much paperwork is involved, but I tell them all you’re doing is making a plan and keeping track of what you planted and what you did to take care of [the crops]. As a farmer, you need to have a plan even if you don’t get certified. All you have to do is write it down and share it with your certifier.”
JOINING THE CAUSE Taylor now serves on the Organic Farmers Association Governing Council and is the vice chair of the OFA Policy Committee. “I see it as a great opportunity. Organic farmers [have] to find their voice in their own community and bring that to the public,” she says. While serving on the NOSB, Taylor advocated for training on how to avoid contamination of organic farms. “We need to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to keep our land protected from neighbors who are using contaminating pesticides, herbicides, and GMOs. Conservation land needs to be protected—and fallow land too.” Taylor believes a publicity campaign is needed to explain to consumers why the certifiedorganic label is so valuable to them. “There’s so much confusion in the marketplace with lots of different labels claiming to be ‘natural,’ ” she says. “We need to help the public understand and appreciate the full breadth of the meaning of USDA certified organic and its benefits for the environment, for the farm and farmers, for the consumer. “Organic farmers are examples to their communities, to other farmers,” she adds. “It’s a different kind of living, and as an organic farmer, you’re showing what it means to live an organic way of life.” NF organicfarmersassociation.org
Market report Organic Industry Trends
Imported organic corn and soybeans need increased scrutiny.
Organic farmers and their supporters call for stronger protection against mislabeled imports. Alarms went off in the organic agriculture industry in spring 2017, when the Washington Post reported that several loads of conventionally grown soybeans and corn shipped from Turkey (and produced in Russia and surrounding nations) had been sold in the United States as organic livestock feed and ingredients for food processing. U.S. sales of organic products from overseas reached $1.65 billion in 2016, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service. About 40 percent of organic corn sold in the U.S. is imported, and up to 90 percent of the nation’s organic soybean supply is produced in other countries. No one can estimate what portion of these imports is fraudulently labeled as organic. Even worse, the obstacles to stopping deceptive imports are significant. “The chance of getting caught committing fraud is almost none,” says John Bobbe, who has been studying the problem in his role as executive director
of Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing, an organic grain and livestock marketing cooperative. On top of that, an $11,000 maximum fine for using falsified documents to market, label, or sell nonorganic agricultural products as organic is hardly a deterrent when the estimated profit per shipload of imported organic grain is $4 million, Bobbe adds. Responsibility for all imported goods lies with the law enforcement agency U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The National Organic Program (NOP), which sets standards for organic certification and oversees the “USDA Organic” label, has no authority to stop shipments or even to track ships carrying organic products destined for the U.S. “CBP can stop shipments, allow shipments in, or put them on hold,” explains Bobbe, who is a member of the Organic Farmers Association Governing Council. “What needs to be worked out is how CBP determines if a shipment is fraudulent or not. The NOP needs to define what criteria should be used.” Solving the problem is even more challenging because the U.S. is one of the few countries that does not require importers, traders, and brokers of organic products to be certified. In 2017, in an effort to plug these holes in the import system, Representatives John Faso (R-NY) and Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM), along with 35 cosponsors, introduced the Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act. The legislation would provide the NOP with “resources needed to update [its] tracking technology” and “the authority necessary to crack down on fraudulent organic imports,” says Lujan Grisham. “Fraudulent ‘organic’ grain and feed originating overseas is not only deceptive to consumers, but it artificially drives down the price of real organics, hurting legitimate organic farmers,” Faso says. The bill is now under consideration by the House Committee on Agriculture. Legislation is not the only recourse to help protect America’s organic farmers, however. Bobbe is advocating for these other measures. Implement European guidelines The European Commission Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development Guidelines call for complete documentation of imported organic products at the point of entry, and sampling and analysis of each incoming shipment at the port of entry for the presence of residues of prohibited substances.
Employ electronic records “Electronic transaction certificates would be a big step in the right direction,” Bobbe says. “Europe is moving to this now.” In such a system, the paperwork electronically precedes loading the ship so proper authorities, including regulatory bodies and certifiers, are aware of the cargo and can determine that it is legitimate or request more information. If a fraud alert is triggered, the exchange of information needs to occur between the NOP in the U.S. and other regulatory bodies in foreign countries so that noncompliant shipments can be blocked from entry. Monitor production With weather records, model simulation, and data collection, authorities can accurately project production levels, compare them with the number of products that actually end up in the market chain, and see whether supplies exceed the expected totals. Inspect high-risk parties Focus on where the problems are in the supply chain by permitting NOP-approved inspectors to conduct unannounced visits and testing for certifiers who have previously been found noncompliant or who are the subject of ongoing complaints. “Imports in large quantities are relegating the U.S. to being a residual source of our organic grain supply instead of a primary source,” Bobbe says. “This has resulted in lower prices for U.S. producers, sending the market signals that less domestic production is needed. We should be encouraging more domestic production, and price is one of the factors that indicates what producers should do.” Massive volumes of fraudulent import shipments saturate the market and diminish the incentives for U.S. farmers to produce organic grains.
Protecting the organic seal from fraud— domestic and international—is the leading priority for certified-organic farmers, according to a 2018 survey by Organic Farmers Association. Voting members ranked “enforcement by NOP to ensure organic integrity” as their top concern. They ranked addressing organic import fraud as their second-highest priority. OFA members voted to support the Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act, introduced to Congress in fall 2017 by Representatives John Faso (R-NY) and Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) and 35 cosponsors. Learn how your voice can be heard on these issues and others affecting organic farmers by visiting OrganicFarmersAssociation.org.
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05 Chaz and Megan Self Grassway Organics T East Troy, Wisconsin
FAST FACTS // Grassway Organics Farm size: 390 acres Products: Milk, beef, chicken, eggs, turkey, pork First year farming: 2010 Organic certification: 2010 OFA membership: 2016 Learn more: grasswayorganics.com
Why did you become farmers? Chaz: I was a diehard vegan city kid, but I once saw a horrible video about livestock abuses. It inspired me to earn a farm management degree from a local college. Megan: I did not grow up on a farm either, though I spent time at my uncle’s farm near Thorp, Wisconsin. I wanted my family to eat good food, including meat and dairy, but I also wanted to have a low impact on the environment. Why did you choose to be certified organic? Chaz: “USDA Organic” is the only label that truly regulates animal health and environmentally friendly practices. Megan: Organic [farming] was just normal farming in my grandfather’s day, and it still makes sense. Plus, the USDA label is something that customers can relate to. What are the toughest challenges that you face as organic producers? Chaz: Like for many farmers, it’s cash flow. It is hard to watch milk prices dip and dip as [production] costs constantly rise. Megan: Educating the consumer on why organic food costs what it does and hoping people value it the way you do. What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned since you started? Chaz: We now completely understand that farming is a lifestyle, not an occupation. And it truly tests your patience. Megan: There is a difference in your daily routine when [the temperature] is 90 degrees [Fahrenheit], 40 to 70 degrees, 30 degrees, 15 degrees, and minus 5 degrees.
Why did you decide to get involved with Organic Farmers Association? Chaz: We have seen so many stories of organic farmers bending the rules with little to no care about the integrity of the organic seal. All they want is the market price. We would like to see a “tightening of the belt” on [organic] regulations. mike roemer
What is the most rewarding aspect of being organic farmers? Chaz: For us it is watching all our babies grow up next to mom and one day come into the parlor to help with milking. Megan: When you enjoy what you do, you have moments thinking “Shouldn’t I be doing real work?” This is our life, not just our work.
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