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.