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May 15, 2017

Organics: Believe it or Not

Contrary to the predictions of some “sages” of consumption preferences, organic produce sales are still soaring in the United States. In many instances, there are double digit increases with produce equaling 40 percent of ALL organic sales. So who are the visionaries that foresaw this continued upsurge in consumer desires for organics? That answer is clear. Our growers and shippers who now provide approximately 50 percent of the organic produce in the nation.

Knowing that, the next question is, what is it that Western Growers is doing to fulfill our mission to increase the profitability of our members? We engaged full throttle. We got involved at the highest level to ensure our organic growers were and are complying with organic standards. Not only that, but we also work to ensure that the standards are appropriate and necessary to meet the desires of our consumers. Yes, everything can be improved and when our members’ economic life is on the line, we get down and dirty into even the minutest detail to assure their market share.

There are some very small organic growers who would like standards that no one who grows on a commercial scale can meet. That preserves their niche. The demand, however, for organic fruits and vegetables has grown so incredibly that we can’t achieve perfection. Many organics standards acknowledge that by allowing some synthetic fertilizers so that we are near perfection.

In addition to monitoring the regulatory environment facing our members, Western Growers is focused on solving the long-term challenges facing the organic industry, including the need to develop the next generation of crop protection tools. While organics generally employ an integrated system of pest and disease management, there are a number of companies around the world advancing naturally-based, non-synthetic technologies that, with proper guidance from the industry, may be suitable for organic producers (and the broader fresh produce industry). We are actively pursuing these companies to determine how their research, such as the development of new biologics, might be applied in an organic setting.

Indeed, some of this activity is already happening at the Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology, a key focal point for investigating these newer technologies, and I am confident that many of the developments achieved through this hub of innovation will have far-reaching benefits for the organic industry.

Finally, Western Growers is exploring ways this new research can be practically integrated into the complex certification structure that governs U.S. organic standards. For example, we are working with USDA to coordinate the funding of organic research with the organic certification process, ensuring that new developments are quickly deemed permissible by the certifying agencies and immediately applicable in organic production.

I believe these efforts are critical to the future viability of our organic members, as well as the fresh produce industry as a whole. Regardless of method of production, we are all moving toward an era of greater precision that reduces inputs and impacts associated with production of food. Advancements made in the organics arena can help inform the growing practices in conventional produce, and the efficiencies we have earned in conventional production can enhance the productivity of our organic ground. Through it all, Western Growers will continue to support the ability of our members to maximize the market opportunities that are available in both organic and conventional produce.