Organic Alliance Seeks Financial Relief For Small Growers

Aprovincial industry lobby group wants the Manitoba government to ease the financial burden which new regulations will place on small organic farmers.

The Manitoba Organic Alliance is asking the province to rebate part of the money small producers will have to pay to comply with organic standards under the incoming regulations.

Currently, growers can sell commodities labelled organic within the province without actually being certified as organic farmers. But the Manitoba Organic Agricultural Products Act will change that.

The act, passed by the legislature in Nov. 2007 but not yet proclaimed, says producers in Manitoba may not sell organic food unless they are certified organic.

The requirement is causing concern among some growers who feel the cost of organic certification is too onerous for a small operation, say Manitoba Organic Alliance officials.

MOA is asking Manitoba Agriculture Minister Stan Struthers to give such growers a break by refunding part of the cost, MOA’s April 9 annual meeting at the University of Manitoba heard.

Donna Youngdahl, MOA treasurer, said her group does not want a two-tier system for organic farmers in which some have to be certified and others do not.

At the same time, MOA wants to encourage small organic growers, some of whom farm only a few acres and sell vegetables at farmers’ markets and roadside stands during the summer, said Youngdahl.

MOA made its pitch last month to Struthers, who asked for more information, such as the definition of a small grower and the size of the rebate, she said.

Manitoba has around 250 certified organic growers. Youngdahl, who is also the Canadian Wheat Board’s organic marketing and sales manager, estimated another 20 or so may be affected by the new requirement.

She said it’s hard to say how much certification will cost a small grower. But she estimated it could range between $600 and $1,700, depending on the size of the operation.

It takes a minimum three years to be certified as an organic farmer. Producers must follow strict procedures and undergo inspections by a recognized certifying body to qualify.

Federal regulations under the Canada Agricultural Products Act require organic farmers to be certified. But that only applies to growers selling their products into other provinces, not to those who market locally.

The Manitoba act deliberately mirrors the federal legislation. As a result, organic producers in the province must be certified wherever they sell to, Youngdahl said.

She said Manitoba is the first province to enforce national organic standards. British Columbia and Quebec had standards of their own before the national ones came in.

It’s expected the Manitoba regulation could take effect in a few months. The government is currently negotiating with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to have the province administer the regulation and CFIA enforce it.

Youngdahl said a discussion during a local food conference at the University of Winnipeg earlier this year considered several options for relieving the financial cost to small growers of organic certification. In the end, a majority favoured the rebate idea.

She said another option might be for small growers to join Local Food Plus, a nonprofit organization in Ontario and several other provinces. LFP certifies farmers and processors who follow sustainable practices and connect producers and buyers. However, LFP is not actual organic certification. [email protected]

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TheManitobaact deliberatelymirrors federallegislation.

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