The Manitoba Organic Alliance will meet with Agriculture Minister Stan Struthers this week to ask the province to subsidize the cost of organic certification for growers who only sell locally.
The rebate proposal emerged from a discussion among growers at last week’s Growing Local Conference over how to assist smaller producers who can’t afford the cost of certification, but who will soon be unable to use the word “organic” to describe what they produce.
The idea gained momentum last weekend by a show-of- hands vote after a discussion session at last weekend’s Growing Local Conference attended by farmers who talked over how best to keep the organic label affordable, credible and accessible.
Organic growers in Manitoba are not universally happy the term organic will become regulated after the provincial Bill 13, the Organic Agricultural Products Act, comes into effect. It makes it illegal to call production organic if it is not certified organic.
Many organic farmers say they have stopped certifying in the face of rising costs and paperwork for what’s become an inherently export market-oriented certification system.
The idea of a provincially funded rebate, first proposed by MOA following phone surveys undertaken in 2009, was the most favoured by growers who met last week.
Other options included creating a separate level of certification for those exclusively doing local sales.
Priscilla Reimer, chair of the MOA, said a rebate program is an effective way to deal with the issue. It will avoid requiring Manitoba go through a long, complicated procedure of creating something new that could also add confusion in the marketplace, she said. As well, a rebate program could be introduced without need to change anything in Bill 13.
This discussion was helpful because “it confirms that MOA was on track when it came up with the rebate suggestion,” she said.
“Now we have a clear mandate to go to the minister and say, given the place in which the small growers find themselves, they feel the best way to be certified organic is to ask for a rebate to alleviate the certification costs.”
COST TO COMPLY
It’s widely acknowledged that cost of certification has discouraged both those with relatively low volumes of sales as well as new entrants to the sector.
In 2008, the Organic Food Council of Manitoba also surveyed organic growers, and found those selling strictly through local venues needed a simpler, less-costly certification system than those pursuing exports.
David Neufeld, a Boissevaina re a organic greenhouse grower who facilitated last week’s discussion group, said he thinks the rebate is a very good way to address the needs of intraprovincial growers who want to continue to certify.
“I think this is going to be the least amount of work to get that designation in an affordable way,” he said.
This discussion has also helped unify the organic voice, he added.
“We’ve just brought it out in the open and tried to be very constructive about it here,” he said.
“It’s in all of our advantage to work together to create something that serves the certification needs of the small grower, or the intraprovincial sector.”
Neufeld added that he will encourage MOA to connect with the OFCM and with Organic Producers Association of Manitoba (OPAM) as they advance the rebate proposal. “MOA in a sense does represent us, but let’s get more people involved,” he said. “And there are people who are willing to put some energy into this.”
John Hollinger, provincial organic specialist said the rebate proposal does seem to be the most practical way to deal with the small-grower dilemma of wanting to certify by not being able to afford it.
Reimer said MOA will also raise questions this week about what’s next for the Manitoba’s Organic Transition program, now coming to an end.
This is the right time to be putting new ideas forward and adopting new ways to keep the organic label accessible, Reimer said. “The timing is perfect.”
“It’sinallofouradvantagetowork togethertocreatesomethingthatserves thecertificationneedsofthesmall grower,ortheintraprovincialsector.”
– David Neufeld