Organic Grower Meeting Summary (3-5-16)

Saturday, March 5, 2016, was the day of the first Oregon Organic Grower Meeting.  Twenty-five people attended, most of which were growers.  Drew Katz of Oregon Tilth gave a nice presentation on the process involved in becoming certified organic. It’s quite the process, and it requires you to keep a lot of records, but it’s definitely not impossible or too overwhelming … many growers have either completed the process, or are in the middle of their transition period.

Here are a few of the highlights I picked up from the meeting:

  • There are a number of agencies/organizations that you can pick from to become certified.  Oregon Tilth is one of them.  All certifiers MUST certify to the same USDA organic standard.  Here are some of the certifying organizations mentioned:
    • Oregon Tilth
    • ODA Certified
    • USDA
    • Quality Assurance International
  • Transitioning takes 3 years.  That three years starts from the date of (or maybe the day after J) your last application of a prohibited substance.  In order to continue to qualify as being in transition, you must follow the organic standards during the entirety of the three years.  If you goof up, or if you need to apply a prohibited substance during that time for a pest/disease outbreak or something, you’ll have to start all over again … at least on the portion you treated.
    • During the transition process, you’re not really working with a certifier yet.  However, if you know who you will be working with, it’s a great time to start having conversations with your chosen agency.
    • You don’t have to transition all of your land at once.  In fact, some people NEVER transition all of their land.  There are three types of systems Oregon Tilth sees on farms:
      • Gradual:  this one is most common.  Eventually the entire farm is transitioned into certified organic production, but it doesn’t happen all at once.
      • Split: In a system, the farmer manages part of the farm organically and part conventionally as their long-term strategy.  Recordkeeping is important regardless of the system you use, but it is especially important in a split system.
      • Full:  This is where a farmer transitions all his/her land at once.
    • Oregon Tilth offers a Transition Certification program.  Some commodities offer a premium price for transitional products.  The price isn’t as high as the premium price you would get for certified organic, but it’s higher than the conventional price.  The goal is to help growers with the increased cost of production, etc. of transitioning to organic production.  The application, inspection and certification fees are the same as they are for organic certification.
    • When your farm (or parts of your farm) is in transition, you CANNOT use the term “organic” to market your fruit.  Apparently, that’s a federally regulated word.  You can market it as “certified transitional” (if that’s what you are), or “transitional” … you just can’t put the word “organic” in there anywhere.
  • Recordkeeping is REALLY important.  Good records will speed up your annual inspection, so it’s to your benefit to be organized.  Even if you have pesticides or amendments that you are not using in your organic program, but they are stored on your farm, you should write them down in your records. 
  • Non-compliance.  It’s a scary word.  But according to Drew, if you get a mark of non-compliance, it’s not something to freak out about.  More accurately, it’s a place they’ve found that you can make some improvements.  Depending on the issue, they may require you to make a change before you are certified.  In other cases, they might want the issue resolved by the time the next year’s inspection rolls around. 


With regard to organic farming of cranberries, several growers shared their experiences.  Weeds and disease are the biggest management issues facing organic cranberry growers in our area.  Grass is #1, and the feedback we got Saturday was you just have to dig it out.  Keeping your ditches clean was another management strategy that growers have found very helpful. 

I’m looking for how I can best be of use to you guys.  We outlined a few short- and long-term goals:

·         Short-term goals:

o   Monthly meeting schedule (at least at first)

o   Website updates:

§  Organic product list

§  Other organic resources

§  Perhaps a question form or forum for online discussion

·         Long-term goals:

o   Organic cranberry production guide

o   Economic analysis.

All in all, I thought it was a good first meeting.  The hope is that we can continue to move forward as a group to improve our practices and increase Oregon’s organic production and access to markets. :)