The booming organic industry continues to be a bright spot for growth in the US farm economy averaging double-digit growth over the last five years. While the organic industry thrives, acres used for organic production in the US are not growing fast enough to keep up and hover around 2% of total US agriculture with grain production lagging behind produce and dairy.
Three years ago the Food Lab was invited to facilitate the US Organic Grain Collaboration, a pre-competitive industry effort to increase the resilience of the US organic grain production system and expand the supply of domestically produced organic grain. This collaboration recognizes that at, the most basic level, if the sector wants more grain it needs to help farmers optimize current production while maintaining profitability, In other words, keep the farmers farming while reducing barriers and improving the incentives to increase the attractiveness of organic grain farming relative to the alternatives.
The first task of the collaboration was to draft a white paper outlining the major barriers for existing and potential organic producers. Read here. The collaboration chose to focus efforts in two regions of key material interest, the Northern Great Plains and Aroostook County, Maine (a dairy development region for the northeast).
In Maine, profitability in grain is linked to market development for rotation crops like potatoes and produce. In the Northern Great Plains where there is a severe lack of research and extension funding for organic grain producers, the collaboration sponsored the building out of enterprise budgets to give farmers a planning tool to model profitable rotations and transition, and help secure financing from creditors. In North Dakota, we are supporting efforts to keep a vital small grains breeding program thriving and encouraging engagement opportunities that connects organic to chefs and soil health programming.
In order to achieve the collaboration’s goals, the focus is on how to make the system maximize production, maintain profitability, and build in resilience to market and production shocks. These next three news items from the collaboration highlight activities in the different regions designed to push on these points.
Why does the US Organic Grain Collaboration care about produce in Maine?
During the past 3-years Aroostook County organic growers have significantly increased the production of Aroostook-based grain, milk, potatoes and other vegetable crops. The Organic Grain Collaboration’s engagement in Aroostook revealed that in order for farmers in the region to cash flow organic small grain production at scale they need to rotate it with a cash crop. In other regions of the US the cash crop of choice is typically corn and soybeans. However, in Aroostook, corn and soybeans are less profitable because of the shorter growing season. A better choice here is potatoes and produce such as broccoli, onions, garlic, and carrots.
The national market for fresh potatoes alone has seen extraordinary growth rates of 25% in the past five years. As the market grows so does the competition. Other regions of the US and Canada have been steadily capturing more market share as growers in these regions invest in coordinated marketing campaigns and organize to respond quickly to shifts in market trends for fresh produce and potatoes. In order to keep Aroostook competitive, farmers have been asking for support to develop a coordinated marketing program to highlight Aroostook’s produce advantages.
On July 27th, growers in Aroostook County, Maine and the US Organic Grain Collaboration will invite industry leaders to experience this newly booming agricultural sector and set up growers to meet the industry’s organic produce supply needs of tomorrow.
With a landscape of 300,000 acres of USDA-classified Prime Farmland and production of over 15,000,000 pounds of organic potatoes in 2016 alone, Aroostook County growers are scaled, united, and ready to have a more coordinate conversation with buyers. Aroostook County’s ability to expand and diversify operations will result in more grain production for New England livestock and for export to the Midwest.
If you are interested in sending a produce buyer or someone from your marketing team to Aroostook in July click here for more information.
NEW! Organic Grain Enterprise Budgets get farmers much needed organic planning resource
Enterprise crop budgets are an important tool for planning future crop production and understanding the economic impacts of agronomic choices. For established and transitioning organic producers, having a detailed budget can help avoid costly mistakes while also providing a tangible resource to use for other goals such as securing financing. Budgets come in many forms, yet the most common is a spreadsheet that helps estimate costs and revenue, plan cash flow, and allocate resources such as labor or capital.
Provided here are enterprise budget templates specifically designed for organic farmers in North and South Dakota and Montana. The budgets are tailored to these states, yet provide flexibility to choose from a suite of cropping rotations, allow for fine-tuning of field operations and enable the user to adjust expected future crop prices.
Join the US Organic Grain Collaboration and Sustainable Agriculture celebrities Dan Barber and Fred Kirschenmann at Carrington Organic Research Day
The NDSU Carrington Research Extension Center will host it’s 58th annual field day on July 18, 2017. The CREC in conjunction with the US Organic Grain Collaboration (OGC) will lead an organic plot tour in the morning that will review and view the organic research that is being conducted at the center. In the afternoon CREC and the OGC will have an indoor workshop on the important topic of soil health.
This field day will offer a diverse set of speakers and subject matter throughout the day. This year ‘s organic field tour will feature Dan Barber, author and chef, from Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barn along with Fred Kirschenmann, Leopold Center & Stone Barn.
The morning organic plot tour, “Feeling our oats, giving peas a chance and honoring our elders” will focus on oats, field peas, and local grains. Participants will learn about oat varieties and breeding from NDSU oat plant breeder Mike McMullen. Tom Rabaey, General Mills’ production research agronomist, will inform tour goers on oat production and current organic research being conducted. Representatives from General Mills will also provide insights on consumer needs and wants related to oats and cereal grains. Steve Zwinger, CREC research specialist, will talk on oats for forage use along with viewing an experimental oat line being developed for forge use.
Organic field pea variety development will be covered by Bryon Lannoye, Pulse USA, and will feature new varieties developed exclusively for organic agriculture. These varieties have been developed and trialed in a multi year project through a collaborative effort by the NDSU CREC, Pulse USA, and the NPSAS Farm Breeding Club. Fred Kirschemann will provide his insight on the future of organic agriculture while Dan Barber will cover a chef’s perspective on the use of local and organic grains. To round off the tour, Rich Horsley, NDSU barley breeder and Plant Science chair, will cover the subject and recent research related to cereal grains for local craft use.
The afternoon Soil Health Workshop will feature a number of speakers including university researchers, farmers and ranchers and NRCS staff. Topics range and include information from livestock, cover crops, no-till, weed ecology, NRCS, and field and garden production and how each effects soil health. Featured speakers, Dan Barber and Fred Kirschemann will give their views on soil health and how it relates to food production and nutrition, quality, and taste.
This organic tour at the NDSU CREC is being sponsored by the US Organic Grain Collaboration, General Mills, MOSAS, and NPSAS. The tour is free of charge and no registration is required.