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COG Organic Field Crop Handbook
1.9 Certification and Marketing
Since the late 1970s, organic producer organizations in North America have been certifying eligible organically-grown foods. The demand for certification, which is essentially a seal of approval, arose out of a need to accurately describe an environmentally-sound production process and to assure consumers that organic producers and merchants followed strict quality standards.
Certification protects farmers by validating that they are strictly following organic production procedures. In some cases, the term "organic" has been loosely used in the marketplace and there is potential for fraud. With certification, there is added confidence in the marketplace and consumers benefit when there is less possibility of misleading advertising.
Certification also opens up the opportunity for expansion into the export market. Exporters and importers of organic food now demand that organic farm products be certified, as do wholesalers, processors and retailers.
1. Certification agencies
Organic certification began in Canada in the early 1980's. The first organizations to certify farmers were Demeter, the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA) and Le Mouvement pour lagriculture biologique (MAB) in Quebec. There now are more than 35 Canadian certification groups with some differences in standards and verification procedures.
There are more similarities between the standards than there are differences. The basic unifying principles of all the certification standards are that the farming techniques used should be sustainable and soil-building and that no synthetically-produced, fast-release fertilizers or pesticides have been used for at least three years. The Canadian Organic Unity Project was established to create a Canadian minimum organic standard, developed from the OCIA International standards. See Appendix B for the latest draft available at the time of publication.
For a list of organic organizations and certification agencies across Canada, see Appendix A.
2. Requirements for certification
The farmer must belong to a certification agency.
The farmer submits a completed questionnaire about the farm, along with farm records, to the certification agency's certification committee (confidentiality is assured).
The certification agency will consider a crop and the field on which it was grown for organic certification if a minimum of three years has passed without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides.
The farmer must make a commitment to follow soil-building management techniques.
A third-party inspector hired by the agency will make an on-farm assessment. This assessment usually takes about half a day. The inspector may also conduct spot checks at any time. The inspector submits a comprehensive report to the certification committee.
The certification committee makes a decision based on the inspectors recommendations.
If a crop is certified, the farmer may sell the produce as "certified organic" after paying annual dues and licensing fees. The cost of the license varies with the expected volume of sales. Official labels and stickers can then be purchased from the agency.
The market for organic crops has fluctuated in recent years with surpluses of some commodities and a strong demand for others. It would be a mistake for any farmer to move to organic production solely to take advantage of the market. Growing the same crop year after year with only the addition of a winter cover crop is not a viable option in organic farming, however good the market. Certification agencies will no longer permit such practices.
Many farmers have taken marketing into their own hands. Some have added small milling operations to their farm enterprise; others have formed co-operatives which own processing and handling facilities. Growers must be prepared to put in extra work to provide a high-quality product if they want a premium price for their crop. When crops are grown on contract to manufacturers of organic products, ensure that the variety and quality grown will meet the buyer's demands. Most farmers will find that some of their crops will be sold in the conventional market or used for livestock feed.
Some marketing boards allow for separate marketing of organic products; others demand that there be no exception to the general pooling of the commodity. Contact the local commodity board to determine its policy. Wheat and barley grown in western Canada for export or human consumption in Canada must still be marketed through the Canadian Wheat Board. Procedures are in place to ensure that organic grains remain separate from conventional and that premiums are negotiated directly between the buyer and producer.
For contact names of brokers, exporters, co-operatives, mills, processors and other buyers, consult the Directory of Organic Agriculture. Organized by region, it also contains listings of growers, certification agencies and educational organizations. The 1991 edition can be obtained from Canadian Organic Growers, P.O. Box 6408, Station "J", Ottawa, Ontario K2A 3Y6 for $12.95.
" .... I never suggest that someone who wants to take advantage of a premium to market his grain to go for it because there has to be a personal commitment to changing your farming practices. So I think I would suggest people look at it not from a market-driven way, but from a change in attitude to the earth and dealing with the environment."
Dave Reibling, Oak Manor Farms
Copyright © 1992 Canadian Organic Growers. Inc
Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
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