Working closely with farmers, flour suppliers can offer support and guidance in making the transition from conventional farming to organic.
Weakening barriers to entry
Solving the issue of supply largely rests in the hands of farmers. They need to make the commitment to become certified organic growers. However, the certification process and transition from conventional farming to organic can be intimidating and expensive.
Many flour millers see it as their responsibility to support farmers in their transition to organic as it improves the supply and quality of organic wheat, corn and other grains. Ardent Mills, for example, created the Organic Initiative 2019. Launched in 2015, the program’s goal is to double the amount of organic wheat acreage in the United States by next year.
“As a part of the strategy, we launched a series of farmer meetings in North Dakota, Colorado and Idaho to identify producer concerns about converting to organic and to help shape our initiative,” Ms. White said.
Through those meetings, the company gauged farmers’ greatest concerns, including education, changing practices, disease and pest control, as well as rotational and cover crops.
Transitioning to an organic growing operation for farmers is expensive and time consuming.
“We all need to be aware that the transition is not going to happen overnight, and Ardent Mills wants to help farmers and manufacturers meet the demand for organic foods,” Ms. White said.
The three-year transition period to organic remains one of the biggest barriers to entry for many farmers. A field that was previously farmed conventionally needs three years being farmed organically before any crops grown can carry the U.S.D.A.-organic certification. During that time a farmer will invest all the time, energy and money necessary to farm organically without getting the payoff of that premium price.
“It has been an ongoing issue in the organic industry for supply to keep up with growing demand,” said Jennifer Tesch, chief marketing officer, Heathy Food Ingredients (HFI). “We believe through continued education to growers about the opportunities within the organic and non-G.M.O. markets, more producers will transition from conventional to organic.”
To ease that transition cost, some Accredited Organic Certifying Agencies (ACAs) such as Quality Assurance International offer transitional organic certification. In fact, HFI became the first certified transitional ingredient supplier with a hard red winter wheat processed by its brand Hesco/Dakota Organic Products. Ms. Tesch said that the company’s relationship with growers allowed the company to guide them in the certification process.
“The transitional certification is beneficial to growers because we now have a market for these growers’ crops during the three transitional years, and they can be compensated with a premium during the costly conversion to organic,” she said.
Bunge North America also recently began offering certified transitional ingredients; in this case, dry milled corn ingredients. The company pays farmers a premium for this corn during that three-year period.
“The certified transitional market gives farmers an opportunity to sell this corn at a premium during their shift to certified organic, incentivizing them to make the move into organic farming,” said Gregg Christensen, vice-president of sales for Bunge Milling. “Bunge is taking the lead in corn by connecting farmers who are interested in certified transitional products as a way of building a more scalable and reliable future ¬supply of organic products.”
While many ACAs offer their own certified transitional organic programs, the Organic Trade Association is working with the U.S.D.A. to unify these standards into a nationwide program — the National Certified Transitional Program.