Certified Transitional Farming: Impact On Eating Organic

The challenges of organic farming have been an area that I have covered in previous articles on other related subjects such as GMO, pesticides, the seed market, and the overall food supply. The transition of farmland that has been devastated by pesticides, herbicides, and other agricultural chemicals is an involved process.

The certified transition process identified by QAI (Quality Assurance International), is frequently a three- year endeavor by the farmer in order to properly prepare the land to produce organic crop yields. The larger farming operations can afford the significant financial outlay to convert the land from what is known as a conventional farm into an organic farm.

However, the small and mid-sized farming operations, such as family owned farms with smaller yields, could easily struggle with the burdensome costs especially on the front end which becomes a deterrent for overall agricultural land use reform toward organic farming in America. The QAI goal of organic farming growth found that the overall acreage of transitional land use for organic food production could be enhanced by financial incentives underwritten by corporations and other interested parties.

The organization also determined that if a farm had at least 51% of their total usable crop space being verified as “in transition”, then that farm could use the QAI seal for transitional organic farming on their products. This helps to raise awareness of the transition process, it helps the farmer because it provides visibility as well as profitability to aid the transition, and it helps the consumer because they are purchasing a product that will benefit them while ensuring that more organic products can be made in the future. It is the definition of a “win-win scenario”.

The estimates available from the USDA state that only 1% of all farmland in the United States is suitable for organic farming. This is a shocking statistic for many who have not closely followed this situation. My prior work has detailed the destruction of the soil used in farming by GMO containing seeds, dangerous pesticides, and harmful herbicides. These products have caused destruction to bees, birds, and other wildlife as well as being linked to several different types of illnesses in humans.

The trend toward organic eating, the utilization of organic cleaners, and the use of organic products for personal care use is a positive development in America over the past decade to fifteen years. That change notwithstanding the organic product pipeline cannot be sustained or made scalable for the long term without an increase in usable farmland.

The process for being Certified Transitional is difficult and the steps become increasingly demanding as the farm moves through the stages from year 1, 2, and 3. The optimal goal is to have each farm “graduate” into certified organic status by the end of year 3 in the process. The people at QAI achieve this by surprise audits and random sampling of crop yields to ensure that the organic transition is following the proper protocols. It should be noted that QAI is a USDA accredited organization.

The organization also has consultants that can help the individual family run farms or medium sized farms with the application process for the Certified Transitional program. The farm will be inspected at least once per year for the three- year transition process. The QAI certification personnel will review the inspection reports and have a procedure where any deficient areas can be reviewed and resolved with follow up type visits. The final step would be to have the organic certification awarded once all the requisite steps are completed.

The involvement of certain companies, such as Kashi, helps farmers with the cost of transitioning their land to organic use. Most of those farms would be unable to participate in the process based solely on the financial commitment needed to move forward through the three years of increasingly rigorous standards required to earn the organic certification.

The commitment by Kashi to source ingredients from farmers that are participating in the Certified Transitional program helps provide much needed financial resources to the individual farms through the process. The QAI inspections and the verification of the day-to-day operations of each farm in the program is an expensive scenario for the farm, especially the front-end cost.

The farms in the transitional program cannot use GMO seeds or any type of chemical agents in their farming practices. This can be challenging for a farm in transition because the cost of organic seeds can be prohibitive. The vast majority of seeds for staple crops such as corn, wheat, soybean, and sugar beet are genetically modified in some way.

The certified transitional farms that have agreements to be ingredient suppliers with major food producers such as Kashi, have some help in offsetting the costs of the process. This is imperative in the U.S. where autoimmune disease, celiac disease, and other types of cancers are on the rise. The ability for gluten free, organic products to become more mainstream will help drop the price points on certain products so they can be more affordable for people across all economic backgrounds.

The Certified Transitional farming process is a bold step in the right direction for the future of organic food availability in our country for decades into the future.

Organic Fertilizer Development Gains Steam

Several companies are either developing, or partnering with other groups to develop, an organic fertilizer that can handle a larger quantity of crop yields. This is in response to the anti-GMO, anti-genetic engineering sentiment that has been rapidly growing within the consumers in both America and Europe in recent years.

The push to develop an organic fertilizer that is capable of this production yield stems from other scientific studies of soil. Those studies demonstrated that farmland treated with organic materials for fertilization was in more favorable growing conditions (soil microbial abundance is the official metric) than the farmland treated with nitrogen based fertilizer products.

In a report from CNBC one such company, Abundant Farms, recently hired a new director of technology who has a background in developing prototypes of organic fertilizers. The plan is for the company to test some of these products in a “scaled up” prototype scenario in test market farms in designated areas in the United States as well as in Romania in Eastern Europe.

Romania is one of the top producers of corn and some other crops in the world and will provide an excellent test market for this new organic product for crop treatment. The country distributes their crop production throughout the European Union and the world.

Abundant Farms partners with governments and farmers to provide solutions that are environmentally friendly. This is a time period of increased consumer scrutiny of food ingredients and where as well as how food is sourced and produced; the timing of these developments in organic farming is highly relevant.

Melior Resources, a company with an international presence just announced a strategic partnership with an Australian based organic products company, SOFT. The terms of the agreement essentially translate to Melior buying and distributing organic fertilizer products which SOFT will create and scale up.

The first organic fertilizer product in the pipeline for this new strategic arrangement is derived from a substance called apatite, which is a mineral sourced in Australia, among other places. The apatite from a specific mine in Australia has different properties that are not found in other versions of the mineral from other parts of the world.

The apatite that Melior/SOFT will be utilizing has no cadmium and no lead which lends itself well for use in fertilizer. SOFT has a unique technology to refine raw apatite into organic fertilizer.

In addition, according to the joint press release, this particular apatite from the Goondicum mine in Australia has a slow release phosphate effect. This slow release characteristic makes it ideal for organic fertilizer because it is not harmful to waterways or areas surrounding where it would be utilized.

The joint venture between the two companies is for ten years and the results of the combined strengths of the two partners should yield beneficial products for the consumer relative to the pushback being given to GMO containing and genetically engineered products.

The subsequent increase in organic farming necessitates the demand for more options with organic fertilizers, especially products which can handle higher yields. The expansion in supply of organic corn, soybean, and sugar beet are critical to the future of organic farming.

The LA Times produced an insightful report on the future of organic farming by taking a different perspective. The report states that the world could grow and sustain more widespread organic crop yields if our global society embraced two very important concepts: reduce food waste, and consume less meat.

This is due to the amount of land and resources required to maintain livestock for the consumption of meat. The rise in organic farming would have an environmental safety benefit because of the reduction in the use of chemical fertilizers, but organic farming is plagued by the “yield gap”.

The “yield gap” is the amount of land required to farm within organic standards. The practice of organic farming need more land because the yield level on an organic crop is smaller than a standard crop which uses nitrogen based fertilizer products. The rise in organic farming could have a potentially negative side effect when you consider the impact of deforestation to narrow the “yield gap”.

The concept of food waste is a “first world problem” but it is a significant contributor to the current food supply situation as well as a challenge to the future growth of organic crop production. The reduction in food waste can be achieved through greater awareness, through adjustments in food consumption, through more conscious food purchasing decisions, and by consistently checking your refrigerator by rotating food by expiration dates.

The ability to slash food waste is a grass roots approach, it is done at the family level which will extend to whole communities. The scientists in the LA Times feature are conducting multiple studies which examine the amount of crops and acreage are used for growing feed stock, compared to land used for growing food for human consumption. The analysis is then done to determine the conditions needed for organic farming yield targets to be attained considering demographic factors such as population growth.

One study concluded that the food waste globally would need to be cut in half from current levels, and that all the land used for feed stock would be needed for organic farming. The reduction of meat consumption to zero is an unrealistic outcome, so there are other studies targeting a 50% reduction in meat consumption by 2050.

Those are macro level changes over the long term, the micro level changes occur through more locally grown produce. The community farmers market approach is another viable method of expanding the organic foods approach.

Finally, the growth of organic fertilizers, and the commitment from the agriculture products industry to the development and scaled up production of high yield options for farmers will be a key in the movement toward more organic food in our global supply chain.