It’s National Organic Week Oct. 11 to 16 in Canada, a week when the industry celebrates its continued growth as an industry.
So where does Manitoba fit into the national picture? Organic farmers represent just two per cent of total farms in this province, or an estimated 300 certified farms covering about 100,000 acres.
But their small numbers represent significant growth, and in a relatively short time.
Certified organic acres here have more than doubled in the last decade, from around 40,000 in 2000. It’s a growth spurt that followed the formation of the Organic Producers Association of Manitoba (OPAM) in 1988 in Virden. In 2001 the province also created the position of organic agriculture specialist to work with the industry.
Along with more farmers have come certified processing and handlers of organic product, now numbering around 60, including farm seed-cleaning plants to bakeries, companies such as Prairie Flour Mills and the Food Development Centre at Portage la Prairie.
Farmers have both ethical and economic reasons for switching to organic; they want to reduce their reliance on synthetic chemicals and fertilizers because of environmental concerns or to cut their input costs.
Higher returns have also been a lure; organic premiums range between 30 and 50 per cent above conventional. Organic farmers have paid attention to research showing their farm practices can reduce agriculture’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.
But no industry is without its growing pains. Despite promising research, many farmers still struggle with agronomic issues. And attempts to standardize production protocols for export marketing makes managing their operations even more complicated.
The reality is, organic farming is a tough row to hoe. And while the farmers we talked to remain optimistic, they are candid about the issues they face. [email protected]