Natural Products Insider

MAR-APR 2018

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46 INSIDER March/April 2018 supports farmers who are transitioning to organic "by helping connect them with customers who would like to market Certifi ed Transitional foods." Ardent Mills goes a step further with its Transitional Certifi cation Assistance Program (TCAP), which supports farmers both fi nancially and via education. Shrene White, general manager, specialty product, Ardent Mills, explained "there is not an offi cial Certifi ed Transitional program that is being monitored by NOP/OTA/USDA," but that some companies set up their own certifi cation programs. For example, Bunge's certifi cation is through QAI. Producers in Ardent Mills' program need to supply a letter from their organic certifi er that states which acres are in transition. "All farmers wishing to move from conventional to organic must go through the transitional period," White reminded. "During this period, most of those farmers are having to sell their transitional crops into the conventional market. Farmers that fi t into our program are being paid a premium for their transitional wheat vs. selling into the conventional market." Regarding education, White said the company has heard a variety of concerns from growers. "Dryland farmers worry about lack of water and not having as much control over their soil's fertility without fertilizer," she reported, adding others are concerned about weed control. "Overall, we saw concerns about organic education, changing farm practices, disease and pest control, rotational crops and cover crops." In light of the time-intensive process of transitioning more farms, Ardent Mills also took an aggressive approach to work with growers in the upper Midwest and West to increase organic wheat production. In late 2015, the company announced its Organic Initiative 2019, which is on track to meet its goal of doubling U.S. organic wheat acreage by 2019. The U.S. Organic Grain Collaboration has also made major strides supporting organic efforts. A pre-competitive industry effort stewarded by OTA and the Sustainable Food Lab, the organization was formed in 2014 to assist farms of all sizes and starting places. "It started as an inquiry into why organic grain farmers were dropping out of organic farming, or not expanding acres," Sustainable Food Labs' Reaves explained. "We also examined the barriers to entry for new farmers or transition farmers to organic." With farmers facing challenges such as productivity of organic crops and inexperience navigating the market, Reaves maintained a collective effort was the best way to infl uence change. The U.S. Organic Grain Collaboration "adopted a strategy of working collaboratively to address those issues in key sourcing regions and then feed the learning back into a national platform for the whole sector to learn from, and for the organic sector to support its mission to grow public and private support for organic farming that matched the size of the industry," she stated. The grain collaboration includes Clif Bar and Co., Stonyfi eld, Organic Valley, Annie's, General Mills, Ardent Mills, King Arthur Flour and Pipeline Foods, as well as the OTA Farmer's Advisory Council. Together they fund the work and share in the strategic decision-making, advising, advocating and using their infl uence and leverage when needed. Key project goals include increasing the number of acres and the domestic supply of organic grain in the United States; improving the productivity, profi tability and market access of the organic grain farmer in the United States; and aiding the resiliency of organic grain production. The Long Haul Batcha maintained the United States has the capacity to "catch up" to the growing demand for organic ingredients; however, she noted, "We need to focus on ensuring organic farmers are given the same level of support to succeed as their conventional counterparts." In late 2016-early 2017, OTA asked thousands of organic stakeholders across the country their priorities for the 2018 Farm Bill. More than 500 respondents across 45 states weighed in, and the association used the fi ndings to build a Farm Bill platform. OTA's platform calls for full support and adequate funding for the NOP to "keep pace with industry growth, set uniform standards, and carry out compliance and enforcement actions in the United States and abroad," Batcha shared. "It advocates for organic-focused research, risk- management tools, data collection and direct dialogue between industry and USDA that are critical to organic farmers' success. It calls for improved access to land and capital, investment in distribution systems and infrastructure, and targeted technical assistance through the utilization of existing USDA conservation, rural development and other programs to encourage orderly transition to organic." According to Batcha, OTA is "actively advocating for policies that promote a healthy marketplace, ensure that organic farmers continue to be successful and expand organic production." In addition to the collective efforts of companies and organizations to help support the organic supply chain, brands can take their own proactive steps— particularly if they plan to gradually expand their organic ranges. "A recommended solution would be to work with a supplier long-term to allow for the supplier to invest in organic farms and capacity to keep up the pace of their forecasted demand," Maheshvari suggested. "This will help reduce ingredient pricing volatility, and will also instill mutual trust." When available, a vertically integrated supplier can also be benefi cial, particularly in ensuring consistency from batch to batch. Maheshvari said this entails organic farms that are under the supplier's watch, "where crop growth and harvests can be monitored daily." Although awareness is on the rise and various measures are in motion, the organic supply chain is still volatile, particularly as more consumers get on board and brands expand their organic ranges. "The organic sector needs the necessary tools to grow and compete on a level playing fi eld," Batcha emphasized. "That means federal, state and local programs that help support organic research and provide the organic farmer with a fully equipped toolkit to be successful." Food & Beverage: Organic Supply Chain Companies looking to offer organic products may face unusual challenges, particularly if a formulation requires an ingredient that doesn't have an organic alternative.

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