Organic Farmland in Short Supply

Enter “Certified Transitional”

By U.S. Department of Agriculture (Fall Line Farms; cooperative, co-op; Richmond, VA.) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
By U.S. Department of Agriculture (Fall Line Farms; cooperative, co-op; Richmond, VA.) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The growing demand for organic produce in the U.S. is outpacing supply. Since it takes a minimum of three years to certify a field as being ‘Organic’, there are many fields in transition to that coveted status. In the interim, the crops from that field (at least in the past) sold at commodity pricing. The USDA and the Organic Trade Association (OTA) have allowed farmland in transition to be labeled as such, allowing the farmer to sell such an identity-preserved crop as ‘transitional’, thereby getting a higher price for the harvest. One can read the details of the OTA’s recommendations in this report. This is not intended as an opportunity to categorize a field as perpetually in transition; the intent is for the categorization to last for the 2nd and 3rd years of the transition to organic status. Clarkson is an example of one farm that is embracing the ‘transitional’ designation. I’m sure there will be an uptick in its use, given the increase in demand for organic, identity-preserved crops.

Popcorn Rejection

No, that’s not the name of a disco band from yesteryear. Yesterday we shared a video from Iowa State University regarding cleaning equipment used in IP grain harvesting. This is a case from a few year’s ago of a farmer’s load of popcorn being rejected for testing positive for a GMO. The farmer was Scott McPheeters of Gothenburg, Nebraska. According to Scott, he’s not the only one.

“And of course you don’t want to tell anyone because it is like a Scarlet Letter. But the truth is, it does happen.”

There are huge financial incentives to getting it right when it comes to grain purity. It may take anywhere from an hour to an entire day or more to clean a combine so that there are no offending kernels left to contaminate a load. In many cases, this extra time is well worth it if the crop will garner a much higher bushel price on the identity-preserved market. Even more important are overseas exports, where even a small amount of impurity can cause a crop to be rejected. A combine can contain one hundred pounds or more of grain and other materials after running clean for a minute after processing a load. Newer machines are becoming easier to clean than the older ones, but it sometimes makes sense to have separate machinery to process the IP grain, especially since having the machine down for cleaning at the peak of production is not a good thing for business.