The organic community is putting out the call: more organic acres are needed to meet the demand.
The world organic market is valued at nearly $64 billion a year, with Canada the fourth largest market, after the United States, Germany and France, at $3.5 billion per year.
“Demand for organic cereal grains has grown by 10 to 15 percent annually over the last three years”, says Sam Raser of Grain Millers, an international food ingredient company.
“(In contrast), supply has grown very little across the Canadian Prairies.… (Currently), the gap between supply and demand is being filled with imports from around the world, including Europe, Asia, India and South America. There is definitely opportunity for Canadian cereal grains to fill that import gap.”
Grain Millers would like to see more organic acres in North America over the long term.
“This is definitely ‘front of mind’ if you’re a grain buyer,” Raser said.
Grain companies are not the only ones calling for more organic production.
“Demand exceeds supply; there are not enough organic producers in Western Canada,” said Wallace Hamm of Pro-Cert Organic Systems Ltd.
“At Pro-Cert we’re being proactive, including publishing Organic Advantage, a magazine that makes the case for transitioning to organics. If we don’t meet demand, the infrastructure will implode.”
Byron Hamm, also from Pro-Cert, said the situation has become so extreme that “they are importing organic wheat into Western Canada for the mills.”
Wallace Hamm said the organic community recognizes the need for more producers.
“We are getting no opposition from our clientele for our organic promotions.”
Farmers don’t see newcomers as competition because the pie is growing fast enough for everyone to get a piece, he added.
Organic prices have been good lately.
“Premium points (the extra value paid for organic production) are where farmers could look at organic as being as profitable or even more profitable than conventional,” Raser said.
Hamm echoed that thought in Organic Advantage, claiming organic farmers need to spend half as much per acre to make almost twice as much as their conventional neigh-bours.
Added Raser: “All organic grain will move this year, at good premiums relative to the conventional market. Not all conventional grain is going to move from the 2013 -2014 crop this year.”
He said rapidly expanding organic dairy and poultry markets mean the feed market is driving greater de-mand for organic grain.
Organic markets have historically been volatile, but Raser thinks this time the price hike is more permanent.
“In the next three to five years, we will continue to see this increased demand. The markets are there, at a high premium.”
Canadians seem to be on side.
“Fifty-eight percent of Canadians buy organic weekly,” said Canadian Organic Trade Association executive director Matt Holmes while sharing the results of a recent consumer study.
“Over half believe organic farming is better for a healthy environment. Nearly half believe organic products are more nutritious.”
So if the economics are there and consumer demand is strong, how can a farmer get into organic production?
Land must not be treated with prohibited chemicals for at least 36 months, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to wait three years.
Hayland is often untreated and can be broken as organic cropland almost immediately. It should be inspected in the year of breaking. Other untreated land may be moved into organic production relatively quickly.
Producers considering going into organics can get there a year sooner by avoiding desiccation and fall chemical applications. This way, 36 months can be completed by the harvest of 2017. If harvest-post harvest chemicals are applied in 2014, the land can’t be certified organic until 2018.
Organic Advantage, available from Pro-Cert in Saskatoon, contains further information.
As well, the Organic Farming on the Prairies manual is available at www.saskorganic.com.
Producers can also seek advice from nearby organic farmers, regional certifiers and organic producer associations.