Manitoba’s organic sector seeing slow but steady increase: report

Manitoba was the only Prairie province to see an increase in organic crop acres in 2019

Manitoba’s organic growers and processors posted a year of moderate increases in 2019, according to a new report from the Prairie Organic Development Fund.

While Manitoba continues to be by far the smallest of the Prairie provinces in terms of organic acres, it was the only Prairie province to increase its organic acres last year with an addition of about 6,500 acres for a total of nearly 128,000 acres. This is more than double what was planted in 2013, the report says.

Saskatchewan lost about 119,000 acres and Alberta lost about 6,200, the report says.

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Manitoba had 178 organic crop producers in 2019, up from 176 in 2018, however, the province lost two organic livestock producers going to 27 producers from 29. This marks a continued downward trend in organic livestock production.

The biggest boost in numbers came from organic processors, whose numbers rose to 233 from 222.

Manitoba’s organic scene has benefited from the increase in processing, said Elizabeth Karpinchick, co-chair of Manitoba Organic Alliance.

“We’re finally getting more processors here, which means more production here because marketing is a huge challenge, especially for new growers,” said Karpinchick.

Manitoba Organic Alliance is in the process of getting a certified organic grain checkoff, which Karpinchick took as another encouraging sign.

“It means that farmers think that it’s important enough that they’re going to put their money where their mouth is,” she said. “It’s consistent funding, and that’s a real challenge in organics.”

Nearly 9,000 more acres were seeded to organic grains in 2019 than in 2018, the report says. The majority was hard red spring wheat, which more than doubled from 2018. Barley acreage increased by four per cent.

The growth in wheat is likely due to farmers’ rotation, said Karpinchick. With so few growers in Manitoba, many have similar rotations. It’s likely several farmers came off ‘green manure’ years and planted wheat.

The shift from green manure to cereals likely accounts for much of the 20,000 acres shifted away from fertility and livestock fodder crops, she said.

However, an organic flour producer in Quebec has also been aggressively buying wheat from Manitoba, which may also account for the increase in wheat, said Karpinchick.

Manitoba’s organic oilseed acreage jumped by 94 per cent to 11,000 acres, the report shows. About 5,000 of this was flax, just over 3,700 to camelina and just over 3,000 acres to canola.

Demand for organic goods remained strong this year despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Which is surprising,” said Karpinchick. “They’re buying more organic rather than less organic, so we’ve got strong market indicators.”

The report found that Canada-wide, certified organic operations increased to 1,981 from 1,936. This came primarily from strength in the processing and handling sectors.

Overall, field crop acres decreased by 21,627 between 2018 and 2019, with much of that decrease due to declines in wheat (18,400 acres) followed by pulses (14,800 acres). Barley was a bright spot, with over 9,000 additional acres planted in Alberta (11,344 total).

Total organic acreage declined to 1.7 million acres from 1.8 million acres in 2018. This is primarily due to a loss of 100,320 acres of pasture, forage and natural areas.

About the author

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Geralyn Wichers

Geralyn Wichers grew up on a hobby farm near Anola, Manitoba, where her family raised cattle, pigs and chickens. Geralyn graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in 2019 and was previously a reporter for The Carillon in Steinbach. Geralyn is also a published author of science fiction and fantasy novels.

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