Farmers turn away from organic as sales drop

The economic downturn means organic farmers are less likely to reap rewards of premium prices for their produce

Farmers across the UK have been deserting organic farming, or holding back on plans to convert their land to more environmentally friendly farming methods, as sales of organic products have fallen in the economic downturn.

Last year, only 51,000 hectares was in “conversion” – the process that farmers need to go through to have their land and practices certified as organic. That is less than half the amount of land that was in conversion in 2009, which itself was down markedly from the recent peak of 158,000Ha in 2007, according to statistics released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on Thursday morning.

Far fewer farmers are interested in turning their land to organic production, despite the promise of premium prices for their produce, after a marked fall in sales of organic goods in the past two years as a result of the recession.

Organic Program Chopped

The state’s only organic-certifying body, the Hawaii Organic Farmers Association (HOFA), will suspend its program this month, forcing organic farmers in Hawaii to look to the mainland for certification.

Rising costs and a limited client pool prompted the Hilo-based group to end certification, which it began in 1993. HOFA certifies a bounty of products – from coffee to herbs to beer.

“Part of the reason HOFA is not surviving is that we didn’t charge enough,” said Sarah Townsend, HOFA’s certification coordinator. “We’re not big enough to sustain ourselves.”

Some organic farmers on Molokai worry certification from the mainland will come at a higher cost.

“It’s hard enough trying to make a living farming and now we have to go to the mainland?” said Rick Tamanaha of Kaleikoa Farms, an organic papaya farm in Ho`olehua.

Tamanaha’s farm was certified organic by HOFA in October 2007, and he has renewed his certification through the organization every year since. The organic label, he said, allows his farm to compete with non-organic farms that sell at lower costs.

In Italy, a Battle Over Genetically Modified Corn

VIVARO, Italy — Giorgio Fidenato declared war on the Italian government and environmental groups in April with a news conference and a YouTube video, which showed him poking six genetically modified corn seeds into Italian soil.

In fact, said Mr. Fidenato, 49, an agronomist, he planted two fields of genetically modified corn. But since “corn looks like corn,” as he put it, it took his opponents weeks to find his crop.

The seeds, known as MON810, are modified so that the corn produces a chemical that kills the larvae of the corn borer, a devastating pest. Yet while European Union rules allow this particular seed to be planted, Italy requires farmers to get special permission for any genetically modified, or G.M., crop — and the Agriculture Ministry never said yes.

“We had no choice but to engage in civil disobedience — these seeds are legal in Europe,” said Mr. Fidenato, who has repeatedly applied for permission, adding that he drew more inspiration from Ron Paul than Gandhi.

The World Trade Organization says that general bans on genetically modified crops constitute an unfair trade barrier, because there is no scientific basis for exclusion. But four years after a W.T.O. panel ruled that European Union policies constituted an illegal “de facto moratorium” on the planting of genetically modified seeds, some farmers, like Mr. Fidenato, and seed producers like Monsanto complain that Europe still has not really opened its doors.

Judge Bars Genetically Modified Sugar Beets

A federal judge issued a ban Friday on any future planting of genetically modified sugar beets, potentially imperiling nearly all of the United States crop.

Judge Jeffrey S. White of United States District Court in San Francisco ruled that the Department of Agriculture had failed to conduct a required environmental impact statement before approving the genetically modified beets. Such beets now account for about 95 percent of the nation’s sugar beet production and nearly half of the sugar produced.

It is unclear how quickly the Department of Agriculture could complete the environmental study and reconsider approval of the genetically engineered beets. The environmental groups that brought the lawsuit argued that genetically modified beets would contaminate unmodified crops grown nearby by organic farmers and others who chose to plant conventional seeds.

Sugar beet growers sold the 2007-8 crop for about $1.335 billion, according to U.S.D.A. data.

Judge Bars Genetically Modified Sugar Beets –

Sustainably Engineered Organic

There is a place for GMO. Check out this article from the “Wired Blog.” It makes a very lucid argument for the necessity of genetically engineered crops in sustainable agriculture. 

Sustainably Engineered Organic

  • By Bruce Sterling
  • July 30, 2009  

…checklist for truly sustainable agriculture in a global context. It must:

Provide abundant safe and nutritious food…. Reduce environmentally harmful inputs…. Reduce energy use and greenhouse gases…. Foster soil fertility…. Enhance crop genetic diversity…. Maintain the economic viability of farming communities…. Protect biodiversity…. and improve the lives of the poor and malnourished. (He pointed out that 24,000 a day die of malnutrition worldwide, and about 1 billion are undernourished.)

…But organic has limitations, he said. There are some pests, diseases, and stresses it can’t handle. Its yield ranges from 45% to 97% of conventional ag yield. It is often too expensive for low-income customers. At present it is a niche player in US agriculture, representing only 3.5%, with a slow growth rate suggesting it will always be a niche player.

Genetically engineered crops could carry organic farming much further toward fulfilling all the goals of sustainable agriculture, Raoul said, but it was prohibited as a technique for organic farmers in the standards and regulations set by the federal government in 2000.

Organic Agriculture Transition Website Launched

The , a web site
for farmers and processors seeking to transition to organic agriculture. The
web site is designed as a clearinghouse of North American resources for
farmers and businesses interested in becoming organic or in creating new
organic enterprises.

In North America, consumer demand for organic
products exceeds the rate of organic production. The new web site will help
encourage further domestic production by assembling in a single online
resource the full range of available information for farmers and producers
transitioning to organic.

“Last year, OTA’s Board President and I decided to respond to our members’
messages that they needed, and could sell, much more domestically grown
organic product. And thus was born the idea to create this clearinghouse of
resources on conversion to organic,” said Caren Wilcox, OTA’s Executive
Director. Transitioning land to organic certification usually takes three
years, and there is much research that each farmer has to undertake.

The site features two “Pathways for Organic,” one for farmers and one for
processors, as well as a regional directory for the United States, and a
searchable North American organic directory. The “Pathways” provide basic
information on the process of going organic with links to key resources
throughout North America. This unique resource is primarily designed for
conventional farmers and processors who want to get started or are
navigating the transition to organic production, but also provides valuable
information for established organic farmers, producers, and processors.

The web site’s regional directories showcase transition resources unique to
specific regions and states. Resource listings in the North American
directory can be searched by topic and subtopic, by type of resource, or by
state. The site also features profiles of farmers and businesses that have
successfully become certified organic or that are working through the
The URL for the web site is
Banner and box advertising are available for businesses wishing to
promote their products through this unique resource. For information on
advertising terms and rates, contact Beth Fraser at
OTA (413-774-7511, Ext. 27;

To create the new web site, OTA contracted with Chris Hill Media (principals
Chris Hill and Glenn Hughes), known in agricultural circles for its work on
the and the Organic Seed Alliance web pages.

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is the business association representing
the organic agriculture industry in North America. Its nearly 1,600 members
include growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers’ associations,
distributors, importers, exporters, consultants, retailers and others. OTA
encourages global sustainability through promoting and protecting the growth
of diverse organic trade.

Headquarters: P.O. Box 547, Greenfield, MA 01302 USA (413) 774-7511 * fax:
(413)-774-6432 *
Canadian Office: 323 Chapel Street, Ottawa, On K1N 7Z2 * (613) 787-2003
Washington, DC Office: * (202) 338-2900