Farm Progress

The price of organic grain in the United States is being undercut by imports.

Gail C. Keck, freelance writer

February 22, 2017

4 Min Read
UNDER REVIEW: The National Organic Standards Board is considering a petition to remove ivermectin as a permitted product in organic livestock production.

In the 16 years since USDA’s National Organic Program went into effect, farmers in Ohio and across the country have developed production and supply chains to serve the growing demand for organic products. But maintaining the integrity of the program will require ongoing efforts from farmers, according to Jim Riddle, who helped shape the national certification program as a member of the National Organic Standards Board. Riddle, who runs an organic berry farm in Minnesota, discussed the challenges facing organic producers as a keynote speaker at the recent Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association Conference. He called for increased efforts to promote organic production and other forms of regenerative agriculture. “We are at a time of ecological crisis,” he said.

The country’s current political power structure should not discourage the organic farming community from remaining politically involved, Riddle said. “Organic values are, at their core, conservative values.” For instance, he said, organic producers are “pro-life from the ground up.” Organic farmers also believe in free markets, preferring to produce to meet consumer demand rather than relying on government subsidies, he said. Organic farming is also a form of self-regulated environmental protection. “We asked to be regulated.”

Riddle sees common ground with the Trump administration concerning trade. American organic producers should not have to face unfair competition from other countries, but the price of organic grain in the United States is being undercut by imports, he noted. About 70% of the organic soybeans and 40% to 50% of the organic corn used in the United States is imported. And Riddle said, the quality of those imports is questionable. One of the major suppliers is India, which gained free access to U.S. organic markets through a nuclear arms agreement in 2006. Although India has an organic certification program, there is no U.S. oversight. Other major suppliers include Turkey, Romania and Ukraine, but all those countries rely on organic certification by a Turkish agency that lost its accreditation in Canada and the European Union, said Riddle. “I’m not saying they’re necessarily fraudulent; I’m saying they’re questionable.”

Unfair competition is a concern within the U.S. as well, added Riddle. Some hydroponic produce is being labeled and marketed as organic even though the National Organic Program has not established criteria for organic hydroponic production. “I’m very concerned this is going on. Consumers are being misled,” he said. “It’s an integrity issue that needs to be addressed.”

On the other hand, Riddle said he’s not particularly concerned with small producers who sell organic produce without certification. The national certification regulations allow small producers to directly market organic produce without certification. Those producers have a personal relationship with consumers, so they are directly accountable. Certification provides accountability for larger producers who don’t have such close contact with consumers, he said. “The role of certification is to take the place of that personal relationship.”

Farmer input guides program
To maintain the integrity of the National Organic Program going forward, Riddle encouraged both farmers and consumers to participate in the regulatory process. To administer the program, USDA takes recommendations from the 15-member National Organic Standards Board, which meets twice a year.

During an additional conference session on organic standards regulations, Christie Badger explained the need for participation. “Every voice matters,” she stressed. The National Organic Standards Board recommends changes to USDA based on input from farmers and the public, said Badger, an organic poultry producer and consultant to the National Organic Coalition. “A common person running their farm can have an impact.”

The board’s activities are accessible online at www.ams.usda.gov under “Rules and regulations.” Producers can submit written comments or sign up online to participate in webinar hearings.

Currently, the board is considering a petition to remove ivermectin as a permitted product in organic livestock production. “You might want to weigh in if it’s important to you,” said Badger.

New rules regarding organic livestock housing, stocking densities and outdoor access are in the works as well, noted Badger. The changes should clarify rules that were interpreted differently by different producers. “I’m so happy that we’re going to have some specific standards,” she said.

Julia Barton, the association’s sustainable agriculture educator, added that the board is considering how hydroponic and other water-based production systems should be addressed in the organic production standards. The association has chosen not to certify hydroponic operations as organic, because the rules specify certain soil management practices that cannot be met with hydroponic production. Other certifying agencies have certified hydroponic operations, however.

Anderson honored with Stewardship Award
The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association recognized Mike Anderson for his outstanding contributions to the sustainable agriculture community with the 2017 OEFFA Stewardship Award. Anderson, who co-manages Whitebarn Organics in New Albany, has worked for 25 years in sustainable agriculture, starting with a student internship at an Ohio Department of Agriculture demonstration farm managed by Ohio State University. He went on to start his own certified organic farm in Sunbury before moving to Whitebarn Organics, where he manages 360 acres of certified organic production. He’s recognized for his willingness to share his expertise with other growers and his involvement with OEFFA and other sustainable agriculture organizations.

Anderson, who came to a career in agriculture with no childhood farm experience, says his career in organic agriculture has allowed him to put his values as an environmental activist into practice. “This was a way to be an active environmentalist.”

About the Author(s)

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like