PRAIRIE ORGANIC GRAIN INITIATIVE
PREPARED BY ROBYN MCLEAN, TAPESTRY EVALUATION AND STRATEGY
prairie organic grain initiative
ABOUT THE PRAIRIE ORGANIC GRAIN INITIATIVE The Prairie Organic Grain Initiative (POGI) ran from October 2014 - June 2019, and was dedicated to achieving resilience and stability in the prairie organic sector by focusing on increasing the quantity and quality of organic grains, and developing relationships across organic market value chains. By working together with farmers, researchers, government, NGOs, processors, brokers, buyers, and certification bodies, the Prairie Organic Grain Initiative brought together the organic community across the Prairies to achieve the common goal of resilience and stability in the sector.
Partners: Organic Alberta, SaskOrganics, Manitoba Organic Alliance, Certified Organic Associations of British Columbia (COABC), as well as The Canadian Organic Trade Association (COTA), The Canadian Organic Growers, The Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada (OACC), and The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security. Other industry stakeholders include organic processors, brokers, buyers, and certification bodies.
Total project funding of $2.2 Million: Western Economic Diversification $1.2 Million; Industry $968,000; Provinces $32,000. Key industry funders include: The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, General Mills, Daveâ€™s Killer Bread, Organic Federation of Canada (OFC), Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada (OACC), Grain Millers, Natureâ€™s Path Foods, Growers International, PHS Organics, and Clif Bar & Company.
what's next? The organic sector on the Prairies is
to support the initiative through funding
currently pursuing various options for
the Prairie Organic Development Fund, and
continuing the legacy of the Prairie Organic
until future funding is in place, Organic
Grain Initiative, including creating national
Alberta will continue to maintain the core
partnerships and applying for federal
program areas, such as the Pivot and Grow
government grants. The industry continues
website and the 1-800 number.
evaluation Tapestry Evaluation and Strategy carried out an external evaluation to better understand the process and effectiveness of POGI in meeting its desired outcomes, as well as to help guide planning for the next phase of this work. Information was collected through interviews and surveys with more than 80 organic and transitioning farmers, interviews with sectorlevel experts and grain buyers, data from Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA), POGI program records, and discussions with POGI staff and partners. Overall, findings suggest that POGI has contributed to outcomes such as increasing collaboration across the value chain, developing useful tools for farmers, supporting farmersâ€™ increasing best management practices for addressing quality and quantity of organic grain, increasing market access for organic grain on the Prairies and supporting transition to organic management. POGI also helped the sector work toward increased stability and resilience. These changes will be outlined in this report, along with recommendations on how to proceed to further strengthen the organic grain sector.
findings DID THE PRAIRIE ORGANIC GRAIN INITIATIVE INCREASE COLLABORATION IN THE ORGANIC SECTOR? -- YES.
The Prairie Organic Grain Initiative aimed to address issues that are complex and not able to be solved by individual organizations or individual regions. The model for POGI aimed to increase collaboration in the sector, largely by forming steering and advisory committees made up of members of the three organic associations from Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba, farmers, industry, POGI funders, and government. Evaluation findings suggested that this model has been effective for increasing discussion, identifying the gaps in the sector, and putting action into place to address those gaps. The project also significantly increased the funding available to address the gaps, transforming the sector and creating a foundation to continue this work in the future. 3 Provincial Organizations 15+ Sponsors and Industry Funders 30+ Teleconferences and Sharing Sessions 25+ Industry representatives, farmers, and organic association representatives on advisory committees
“That collaboration is there - that has built trust. Inviting the bigger brands in the supply chain has lent credibility to the farmers.” - Funder
“They are already forging a path, building a foundation on which other more tangible improvements can be built.” - Researcher
“Overall, really really impressed with what they have done/ achieved. Quite transformational.” - Farmer and Consultant
improvements & next steps
Based on feedback on the partnership structure for the Prairie Organic Grain Initiative (POGI), future initiatives would benefit from many similar structures and processes. However, now that the models and tools are developed, it will be possible to direct even more funds to programs and extension support for farmers. Future initiatives should also improve on the partnership structure from POGI by: Increasing the role of provincial partners in program development and decision-making, and increase opportunities for developing capacity of provincial partners. Getting oversight and management from an interprovincial organization rather than from one of the provincial organizations. Organic Alberta took on this role for POGI, while the Prairie Organic Development Fund may take on this role for future programs.
findings DID THE PRAIRIE ORGANIC GRAIN INITIATIVE DEVELOP USEFUL TOOLS FOR ORGANIC GRAIN FARMERS AND AGRONOMISTS? -- YES. The goal of the Prairie Organic Grain Initiative was to develop a comprehensive group of tools that would allow farmers to choose what would be most useful to them. Tools provided information and support related to organic production, transition to organic and/or access to markets. See Figures 1 and 2 on page 6 for the number of farmers who used the tools from 2015 through June 2019. There were also almost 46,000 users to pivotandgrow.com. (Note that the numbers include those who used the tools more than once). Farmers and sector experts provided feedback that the tools were useful and met the needs of the sector, especially when farmers combine a few of the tools to meet their needs. Some of the tools that seemed most useful included the online green manure toolkit, field days, workshops and conferences, and the nutrient management program.
“Used the [green manure toolkit] and loved it. This was one of my top rated tools that I recommended to other producers... a great management tool to develop or further improve my green manure plan.” - Farmer "I think that the biggest help has been information around seeding rates and intercrops. I got that information from the Organic Alberta conferences and windjamming- for lack of a better word- with other patrons there.” - Farmer “I think the access to a broad range of information that’s been locally adapted has been really valuable. You can do a lot of reading but not a lot is geared towards our climate so it's hard to know without local experience. POGI's been good about pushing research in local systems which is what we need more of.” - Farmer
FIGURE 1: NUMBER USING POGI TOOLS BETWEEN 2015 AND 2019 Pr oduct i on Wor kshops
Fi el d Days
Tr ansi t i on Wor kshops
Cof f ee Shop Tal ks
Far m Cl ubs
1- 800 Number
Agr onomy Tr ai ni ng
Pr oducer Pr esent at i ons 1 5 9 Agr onomy Webi nar s
Nut r i ent Management
FIGURE 2: NUMBER OF UNIQUE PAGE VIEWS ON PIVOTANDGROW.COM BETWEEN 2016 AND 2018 Pr i ce Li st s
Busi ness t o Busi ness Di r ect or y
Or gani c Gr ai n Buyer s
Far mer Pr of i l es
Gr een Manur e Tool ki t
New Far mer Ki t
Event Li st i ngs
Busi ness Case f or Or gani c
improvements & next steps Based on feedback from farmers and sector experts, future programs should focus on: Increasing agronomy/ extension support for farmers. Focusing even more on helping farmers connect with and learn from each other. Increasing farmer awareness of the tools developed in the last four years, especially the tools on pivotandgrow.com and the 1-800 agronomy support number with some changes to individual tools that need improvement. Expanding our reach even further by offering production support and tools to farmers outside organic management.
findings DID THE PRAIRIE ORGANIC GRAIN INITIATIVE INCREASE THE QUALITY AND QUANTITY OF ORGANIC GRAIN? -- ON THE RIGHT TRACK. It can take time for people to put things into practice after learning about them. It can take even more time to see results on a farm after making changes.
“Added green manure crops to the rotation – seeing a benefit in the land. Will continue to incorporate into the
Evaluation findings suggested that it is too early to expect major changes in quality and quantity of organic grain. Findings also showed that POGI has created a strong foundation that will lead to changes in quality and quantity moving forward. In particular, 58% of the 39 organic farmers we interviewed reported that the Prairie Organic Grain Initiative had significantly contributed to management changes on their farm (see Figure 3 below). From most to least common, these included changes in soil health practices, crop rotations, green manure management, seeding or harvest practices, reducing or stopping summer fallow, and intercrops and/or polycrops. These are practices that have been shown to help build and maintain soil fertility and improve the quality and quantity of grain.
rotation. Using clover plough down and trying peas - lots of trial and error. Plough downs in the rotation were the results of looking into these resources.” - Farmer “The change in cattle management and the decision to import offfarm manure was the biggest change in farm management as a result of the nutrient management tools. … The discussions that come from the fields days have really helped problem solve what is the best way to perform a task on the operation – such as when to harrow, how aggressive, etc.” – Farmer
FIGURE 3: HOW DID POGI TOOLS CONTRIBUTE TO CHANGES MADE ON YOUR FARM?
Other Factors Contributed More
Changed Plans for Next Season
improvements & next steps
In order to continue to work toward increased quality and quantity of organic grains in the organic grain sector in Canada, future programs should: Bring together a comprehensive extension network of farmers, experts and scientists to identify: 1) best management practices that are most promising for increasing quality and quantity of organic grain, and 2) an effective plan for helping farmers adopt these best management practices. Continue to deliver high quality programming and support for organic production, including â€œhigh impact" activities which are more individualized for the needs of individual farms. Increase collection of quality data to inform planning. This will include: basic benchmarking data on the number of producers and acres of specific organic field crops at a national level, along with new measures such as regional average crop yields across the country, organic grain prices, total value of organic field crops, grain carry over, storage capacity, etc.
findings DID THE PRAIRIE ORGANIC GRAIN INITIATIVE SUPPORT TRANSITION TO ORGANIC MANAGEMENT? -- YES.
There was a 47% increase in the number of acres of organic field crops in the Canadian Prairies from 2014 to 2018 (see figure 4 below). There are many things that can lead to the decision to transition to organic management, and many factors that can determine success during that transition period. Farmers listed financial considerations, reducing inputs or price of inputs, and sustainability as reasons for transitioning to organic management. A few farmers also mentioned that it was helpful to talk to other organic farmers or that they made their decision to transition based on those conversations. Many farmers we interviewed felt that the POGI transition tools were useful and supported their transition (see quotes). We would not expect POGI to be a main reason for farmers to transition. The goal of the POGI tools aimed at conventional and transitioning farmers was to provide information to help farmers make a decision either way, and to provide support to ensure that the transition process is successful. Most of the 32 farmers we interviewed who had used POGI tools had recently transitioned or were currently transitioning to organic management (21), and the remainder were interested or undecided (11) 1. 1
Though no farmers indicated on the survey that they had decided not to transition to organic management, there were two conventional farmers that we contacted who did not want to fill out a survey.
“The expenses or the overhead of conventional farming vs organic. I wanted to lower my input cost. And yes, POGI has supported my decision to transition - the workshop was really good.” - Farmer “The green manure kit was especially useful and did help in my transition to organic farming.” - Farmer “The field days have lots of information that is applicable to conventional farms, so even though we are not organic (and may never be), the research is helpful to our farm.” - Farmer
FIGURE 4: NUMBER OF ORGANIC ACRES OF PRAIRIE ORGANIC FIELD CROPS, 2014 - 2018
improvements & next steps
In order to continue to work toward supporting transition to organic management, future programs should: Continue to support those that are interested in transitioning and those currently in the transition process. Improve relationships between organic and conventional agriculture, for example by offering information and tools about best management practices that can benefit all farmers.
findings DID THE PRAIRIE ORGANIC GRAIN INITIATIVE INCREASE MARKET ACCESS FOR PRAIRIE ORGANIC GRAIN? -- YES.
The Prairie Organic Grain Initiative aimed to increase market access by creating an international brand and key messaging for Prairie Organic Grains, improving information sharing across the value chain, integrating data collection and sharing of data, and by organizing trade missions and other events to encourage networking for sellers and others in the value chain. We completed interviews with 18 grain producers, processors, buyers and others along the value chain for feedback about the Prairie Organic Grain Initiative's support to attend trade shows. These stakeholders valued trade shows for the space to network, build trusting relationships with potential and existing buyers and to stay connected to the market. Many reported making new contacts and finding new buyers, and others reported that trade shows should be seen more as a part of multiyear sales strategy that may not immediately lead to new sales. Many find it expensive to attend trade shows and were grateful for the subsidies provided to attend.
“The trade shows Increased our sales. Supporting farmers and others to attend trade shows is successful for getting more buyers connected to prairie organic grain.” - Farmer “Market diversification is part of our strategy. Won’t be able to sell to US in the future, so it is important to dip into many pools. Sales go in cycles for us, meeting a prospect to selling to a prospect is over a year endeavor.” - Farmer "The network of producers to talk to and buyers to sell through has expanded through POGI. ... POGI has brought more attention to the Canadian prairies from North American buyers.” - Farmer
TRADE SHOWS ATTENDED
FROM ATTENDING TRADE SHOWS
PURSUING A NEW TRADE INVESTMENT
ESTIMATED INCREASE IN SALES
improvements & next steps
Future programs should continue to prioritize Increasing markets and market access, with both a domestic and an export focus.
findings DID THE PRAIRIE ORGANIC GRAIN INITIATIVE HELP THE SECTOR WORK TOWARD INCREASED STABILITY AND RESILIENCE? -- ON THE RIGHT TRACK. One of the main goals of the Prairie Organic Grain Initiative was to increase resilience of the sector, seen as the capacity of the sector to persist or adapt in the f a c e o f s t r e s s e s o r s h o c k s. See page 15 for more information about what a resilient grain sector in Canada and the Prairies would look like. Evaluation findings suggest that POGI has contributed to the resilience of the Prairie Organic Grain sector by: Encouraging farmers to adopt management practices that will optimize grain yields and quality. Optimizing yields and quality may be the best way to help guard individual farms against fluctuations in prices. Increasing farmers’ access to grain markets. Contributing to ecological resilience, for example by protecting soil health. Helping to increase collaboration in the sector, encouraging collective understanding of what changes are needed in the sector and working together to make those changes.
"Soil health ... means that I’ll be able to continue to grow crop in a changing climate and hopefully whoever farms the land after I do will have the same opportunity… [My] soil tilth is definitely improving after some of the green manure years." - Farmer "Packages and programs to help guide producers through the stress periods are needed." - Grain Sector Expert “It’s not just physical pieces but how can they respond to things quickly... that’s the social capital piece.” - Grain Buyer
improvements & next steps
All of the improvements and next steps listed in other sections of this report will contribute to resilience of the organic grain sector, including improving collaboration in the organic sector, increasing quality and quantity of organic grain, increasing markets and market access, and supporting transition to organic management. Future programs should try to strengthen the sector even further by improving organic crop insurance programs, better price discovery mechanisms, and the ability to offer higher premiums for farmers during transition with long-term buyer relationships. Future programs should also continue to work towards a common vision for resilience and stability in the Prairie Organic Grain Sector. Having a common vision can help to: Build consensus around how to judge what we are looking for, Communicate with partners and stakeholders about why projects like the Prairie Organic Grain Initiative are needed, Guide development of data collection systems and tools to gather meaningful evidence about the sector, and Assess how well we are doing in terms of building a resilient and stable organic grain sector.
what does a resilient organic grain sector look like? A SUGGESTION BASED ON POGI'S WORK SINCE 2014
QUANTITY AND QUALITY OF GRAIN A critical mass of organic grain farmers are more resilient because they have adopted best management practices. This results in higher soil health, grain quality and yields, which all help to face threats like weather and fluctuating prices. High quality, ongoing research programs provide information on how to more effectively deal with weeds/pests/disease, increase soil health/fertility, increase yields, tolerate drought/flood tolerance, and increase nutritional values. Resources, training and extension/agronomic support is well distributed, sustainable, consistent, and easily accessible to grain farmers.
MARKETS AND PROFITABILITY Grain produced on the prairies is able to meet demand and allow growth of domestic and international markets. Strong and stable relationships across the value chains, and diversity built into markets. Grain farmers and processors are able to adapt to shocks and maximize their profitability. Programs are in place at a sector level to minimize risks and increase farmers’ buffering capacity against risk (e.g. crop insurance, payment for ecological goods and services, and subsidies and programs for risk management).
ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY Most or all farmers use management practices that sustain or regenerate the natural environment, including considerations for soil health, protection of soil from erosion, effective soil water management, water and air quality protection, effective nutrient management, natural pollination and pest and disease suppression services, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and enhanced carbon sequestration. There is government and public support for environmental sustainability, including awareness of how organic grain sector fits with other related environmental, climate and food movements.
COLLABORATION AND SOCIAL CAPITAL Organic associations have strong capacity and are working with farmers, government, researchers and other organizations to identify sector-wide challenges, address gaps and minimize redundancies, implement action plans and advocate for programs and policies. Farmers have many opportunities to connect with and learn from each other, particularly farmers in similar regions, using similar methods and facing similar challenges. Farmers feel a sense of community and have a network of support for shocks and upsets.
Prairie Organic Grain Initiative Final Evaluation