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7 points to consider before switching to organic production

3 min read

With a steady demand for organic foods, making a switch to producing organically may be something you’ve considered. But what should you expect?

Here are seven key points to keep in mind if you’re considering moving to organic food production.

1. Do your homework

Organic consultant Joel Aitken says organic production starts with understanding current markets and growth areas.

Look at various age brackets for growth trends, he says, and possible market opportunities. Look globally to judge possibilities for exports and notice upcoming trends started in other parts of the world.

Growers experimenting with niche crops may also find market opportunities.

2. Monitor commodity prices

According to Pivot and Grow, a program of the Prairie Organic Grain Initiative, premiums for organic commodities can be substantial.

For example, premiums for all but one of the two-dozen organic grains grown on the Canadian Prairies have at times exceeded at least 100% of the conventional equivalent price.

Historically, for some crops, the difference was exceptional. Black lentils fetched a 582% premium over their conventional counterpart, and durum wheat, a 335% premium over conventional. Organic soybeans, depending on if they were feed or food grade, sold for a 200 to 300% premium on the Prairies and in Ontario.

3. Look to the livestock sector

Aitken says markets like organic vegetables for processing, and wine grapes, hogs and poultry all have a place in the consumers’ food baskets.

Organic meats have a place for farmers, and therefore, there’s a need for organic feed grains. In many cases, he says, the higher quality grain goes to the food consumption market, and the lower grade is sold as feed.

“With the increase in livestock, there is a huge need for feed grains, and not just corn and soybeans,” Aitken says.

4. Seek efficiencies

Rob Wallbridge an organic specialist at Thompsons Limited, says advances in mechanical weed control and reduced tillage technologies, along with soil amendments and biological inputs, give organic growers more effective and sustainable management options than what they may have had in the past.

5. Field work

To operate an organic farm, plan to be more hands-on in almost every aspect of your operation.

To operate an organic farm, plan to be more hands-on in almost every aspect of your operation.

For example, timing in organic production is more important for everything from planting to weed control and harvest, so monitoring field conditions is critical.

Wallbridge advises creating a plan that addresses equipment requirements and fertility needs over a three- or four-year rotation as a good first step in a transition to an organic process. 

6. Diversify your crop

Laura Northey, communications and membership manager for the Organic Council of Ontario, says farmers across the country need to keep crop diversity in mind.

“Diversity is not only a principle of ecology that makes for healthier ecosystems; it's also a smart business move,” she says. “Diversifying the crops you cultivate can mean the difference between survival and overwhelming loss when faced with crop failure.”

7. Work the network

Northey urges producers to read and understand the Canadian Organic Standard as it applies to their future operation or hire a consultant to make sure they’re compliant.

An unexpected non-compliance — the term used to indicate that an operation has departed from the organic standard — can be hard to recover from, she adds, and is usually completely avoidable.

Producers should check in regularly with organic grower organizations in their province or region, as well as the national Canadian Organic Growers. Most groups offer courses and webinars to help organic producers succeed.

Keep these points in mind when you consider switching to organic production:

  • Research possible markets, including niche crops, like sunflowers, flax, camelina, malting barley and hops

  • Familiarize yourself with organic regulations and rules, both nationally and provincially, and keep in regular touch with organic producer groups

  • Check out farm implements to see how to increase your productivity

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