Aug 12, 2021
For transitioning to organic, every little bit helps : Editor’s letter
Stephen Kloosterman

Going organic from conventional is a difficult business decision, and going it alone can seem well-nigh impossible.

I don’t really know, of course, because I’m not a commercial grower or a business owner. But so I’ve been told.

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Stephen Kloosterman

Ronald Wagner, winner of the 2021 Specialty Grower Sustainability Award, is one of a few who’s told me about the difficulty. As the managing editor of Organic Grower, part of me wanted an organic grower to win the sustainability award, but Ron won fair and square (See his story here). Although Ron has reduced pesticide use greatly on his farm operation in addition to trimming his reliance on fossil fuels – he heats his greenhouse with a corn burner fed by corn he grows himself – Wagner Farms is not certified organic. He told me during our live award presentation hosted by United Fresh that he previously had tried to go organic but abandoned the effort 1) due to a lack of a market for organic produce locally and 2) a lack of support for learning to grow organically. Organic certification is no longer a goal for his farm.

I have to respect the hard decisions that growers make regarding their own farm operations. But like Ron, and, I expect, like many other growers, I can’t help wishing there was more support for those trying to go organic – both from consumers and from taxpayers.

Of course, there are some supports in place already. Consumers have shown unprecedented enthusiasm for organic produce at the retail level in recent years but especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Carbon-farming initiatives, although they’re in their infancy, show promise. And the USDA already has many educational programs and monetary programs, such as the Organic Certification Cost Share Program, that give growers a boost here and there.

Still, three years of transition – ceasing conventional inputs without having organic certification– is difficult for growers.

More help could be on the way, officials say. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on June 15 announced up to $20 million in additional organic cost share assistance, “including for producers who are transitioning to organic.”

In a June 8 call with media, Vilsack described a pilot program to study how much assistance small-to-medium growers needed to transition their farms to organic:

“What we’re looking at doing is taking several hundred million dollars and creating a program that would essentially be a pilot so that we could learn how we could provide a level of transition assistance that would allow folks to make that transition without necessarily sacrificing the capacity or the ability to keep the farm, stay on the land,” he said.

Every little bit helps.

Stephen Kloosterman is the managing editor of Organic Grower.

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