Organic group sees exciting times ahead

OLDS, Alta. — The increasing consumer demand for organic products has created financial growing pains for Alberta’s organic organization.

However, difficulties paying the bills while expanding the industry have forced the organization to become stronger and more focused, said Ward Middleton, president of Organic Alberta.

“This was by far the most challenging year,” he said.

The organization was just days away from not being able to pay its staff last summer.

It had taken on a large project, the Prairie Organic Grain Initiative, which was designed to help existing producers increase production and quality and improve profits. However, it resulted in more staff and more costs.

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“For us, we have to lay out a significant amount of cash,” treasurer Danny Turner told Organic Alberta’s annual meeting.

“We were on the verge of making some very difficult decisions.”

The federal government forwarded money for the project days before the organization missed its payment.

Funds are normally paid after the project is finished, but Middleton said funding large projects without upfront cash is extremely difficult for small organizations surviving on donations and book sales.

The funding crunch encouraged implementation of better financial management plans and policies. Better planning and access to alternative funding sources allowed Organic Alberta to raise more than $600,000 last year, double its income from a year earlier. Turner expects to have more than $850,000 in revenue this year.

“It is an exciting time. What we’re seeing now is we’ve been a small player in the room for so long. This is really being driven by consumer demand,” said Middleton.

Demand for organic products has not slowed, even during tough economic times. Food processors have wanted more products but are struggling to find organic supply.

“Food processors are telling us they would introduce new food products if they just had the product. Industry is coming to Organic Alberta with money asking for programs that will help grow the supply of organic grains in Western Canada,” said Middleton. “It is a little bit of an affirmation from industry we are doing a good job and we will help you. The reality is our products are in strong demand.”

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