Organic Food Production and Marketing - Tours and Resource Guide

Final Report for EW96-006

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1996: $17,050.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1999
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $13,104.00
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Leslie Zenz
Washington State Dept. of Ag.
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Project Information

Abstract:

The project's purpose is to provide information regarding organic soil management, pest control, material use (i.e. insecticide, soil amendments, etc.), marketing information, and organic certification standards for production, processing, handling, and labeling of organic food. Many Cooperative Extension and NRCS personnel in the targeted states are unfamiliar with organic standards and organic production methods. A greater understanding of the production and marketing options available in the organic food industry will enable extension and NRCS personnel to provide information and opportunities to their constituents regarding potential market and production strategies.

The organic tours were held in the summer of 1997 and provided useful information about cultural practices and materials used in organic food production. It also provided information about potential markets and market strategies for organic food production, processing, and handling.

Work on the Organic Resource Manual was initially delayed. The release of proposed standards for USDA's National Organic Program (1998) required a dramatic reworking of a main component of the Manual. As of October 1999, the National Standards are still incomplete and the Manual, containing information regarding current standards, has been published (December 17th) and disseminated to Cooperative Extension offices and NRCS offices in the target states (WA, OR, MO, WY, ID, UT.)

The Organic Resource Manual is in the process of being formatting for use on the WSDA website (project of SARE grant EW 98 008). The WSDA Organic Food Program (OFP) has recently developed a website which currently contains information on materials approved for use in organic production and the registration process for these materials; certification information and applications; and program information. Other information to be include will be links to other sites with organic interest, updates on National Standards, and the Organic Resource Manual. The website address for the WSDA OFP is: hftp://www.wa.gov/agr/fsah/organic/ofp.htm

Project Objectives:

1. To provide information regarding organic food production to Cooperative Extension and Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) personnel.

2. To offer Cooperative Extension and NRCS personnel an opportunity to observe organic crop production and discuss organic marketing opportunities with organic growers and processors.

3. To have thirty Cooperative Extension and NRCS personnel attend organic farm tours.

4. To publish an Organic Resource Manual.

5. To disseminate 500 "Manuals" to Cooperative Extension and NRCS offices in the states of Idaho, Utah, Washington, Oregon, Wyoming, and Montana.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Nancy Taylor

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Evaluation report forms have been sent with the Organic Resource Manual to all NRCS and Extension offices in order to ascertain the effectiveness of the document and to receive suggestions for improvement on future editions. As of this report, we have not received any evaluations, but, once an overall evaluation can be determined, a report will be included in the final report for SARE grant project 98-008.

Once the Manual is available on line via the OFP website, a user response e-mail will be added to the site and monitored for input on future editions. The WSDA Organic Food program has received numerous requests for the Manual, which is available to all growers, processors and handlers in the WSDA Organic Food Program as well as for any individual requests, Copies can be obtained by calling (360) 902-1877, email organic@agr.wa.gov, or by writing to Organic Food Program, P.O. Box 42560, Olympia, WA 98504.

News releases regarding the release of the ORM have been sent to trade journals: Washington Tilth newsletter, Pacific Northwest Sustainable Agriculture Newsletter, Agrichemical and Environmental Newsletter, Organic Food Business and News, several newspapers in the target region including the Capital Press (WA, OR, ID).

Educational Materials Produced

The Organic Resource Manual (ORM) was produced with this project allocation and 500 copies have been distributed to University Extension and NRCS offices in the target states. The Organic Resource Manual has been described in detail in the previous sections of this report. In addition, the ORM will be available on line at the WSDA Organic Food Program website [http://www.wa.gov/agr/fsah/organic/ofp.htm]

Outcomes and impacts:

Information on technical organic food production methods and marketing strategies was made available to Cooperative Extension and NRCS personnel through tours of organic farms in Spokane, WA (July 10, 1997) and Kenniwick, WA (August 11, 1997). A total of 47 participants attended these events, which exceeded our expectations of 30 participants. The participants included representatives from NRCS, Cooperative Extension, farmers, agricultural consultants, and government agencies.

An evaluation of the tours was done through an evaluation form collected at the end of each tour (see attachment). The most significant questions asked were: "Did the tour assist you in gaining more knowledge about organic farming?" and "Did the tour and Organic Resource Manual presentation help you in gaining a better understanding of the State program and rules governing organic production?" These questions were both unanimously responded to in the affirmative, suggesting the tours were successful. Other questions pertaining to the Organic Resource Manual reflected a great interest in this document with a significant interest in making the Manual available in an electronic format.

Many of the tour participants were asked to respond to a proposed format and content of the Organic Resource Manual. Many suggestions from university personnel and NRCS conservationists were received by our editing staff and have been addressed in the final document.

The Organic Resource Manual, 94 pages, is composed of seven sections:

• Introduction to the Manual and discussion on the terms "Organic" and "Sustainable" as these terms apply to agriculture.

• Regulating Organic Production and A Comparison of Rules and Standards A description of the way in which organic production is currently regulated and comparison of the current standards in the target states.

• National Organic Standards An overview of the National Organic Program and development of National Organic Standards.

• Organic Crop Production Soil building and fertility management and pest management strategies for organic crop production.

• Organic Livestock Production Maintaining herd health and alternative treatments, pasture management and appropriate housing for organic livestock production.

• Marketing Organic Products Current trends in the market place and both direct and wholesale marketing strategies for organic food products.

• Resource Section Agricultural support businesses, organizations, marketing support, websites, and publications pertaining to organic production in the target states.

Project Outcomes

Recommendations:

Future editions of the Organic Resource Manual should include sections on holistic resource management, organic tree fruit and nut orchard production, soil building, and the National Organic Standards, once these have been published and finalized.

To facilitate the task of locating the appropriate Cooperative Extension and Natural Resource Conservation Service offices for the distribution of publications such as the Organic Resource Manual (ORM), a master list of updated contacts should be developed. During the finalization of this project, it was difficult for our staff to locate the appropriate offices in which to send the ORM. The structure of both of these agencies is complex from an outside perspective. Sorting out which offices interacted with farmers and ranchers directly and who would find information such as the ORM useful was difficult to ascertain. We would recommend a master list of contacts for the Cooperative Extension and NRCS in each state be distributed with each PDP grant award. This list could also serve to determine contacts in each state for the development of educational programming, such as farm tours and workshops.

Potential Contributions

The farm tours were beneficial to the participants by presenting, first hand, organic food production and information on marketing opportunities for organic products. In this way, the participants were able to see successful examples of organic operations and to transfer this knowledge to their clients. Also, these tours acted to dispel the myths often surrounding organic agriculture (i.e., unproductive, "hippie" farming.) Many times these stereotypes are barriers to change and, through the experience of visiting organic farms, participants were able to recognize the diversity of cultural lifestyles and production systems that utilize organic methods and the success of these operations.

Two items have been attached to this document that illustrate the positive response from the agricultural support agency community and from the farmers involved in the farm tours. The two items are 1) A newspaper article featuring Willow Wind Farm and the tour hosted there, and 2) a letter of appreciation from Cinda Williams, Extension Support Scientist at the University of Idaho, regarding the tour on July 10th.

The Organic Resource Manual provides information on the regulation of organic food, highlighting the target states, technical information on organic crop and livestock production, marketing strategies, resource groups and publications. This information will benefit agricultural support agencies such as university extension and NRCS conservationists by better equipping them to answer questions from their constituents. In order to ascertain the effectiveness of the Organic Resource Manual, we have included an evaluation form (please see attachment) with each Manual sent to cooperative extension and NRCS offices. Organic farmers will benefit from the extensive lists of resource material which is often difficult to locate in rural areas. Conventional farmers will benefit from a better understanding of the organic industry, and from the knowledge that switching to an organic system does not mean jumping into unknown, unsupported territory. As well, consumers of organic food will benefit through an understanding of what an organic label means in various states and the variety of standards that exist in different certification programs. Potentially, this last benefit will stimulate the awareness of the need for a national standard and the benefit this will have on the organic industry as a whole.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.