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By: Daniel E. Mullins
Extension Commercial Horticulture Agent
Santa Rosa County
Non-traditional Food Sources are Catching On
Some consumers are becoming more selective in their food purchases. “Fresh from the farm,” “organically grown” and “locally grown” – these phrases have become more common over the past several years. There are several reasons for this change. Some want, and are willing to pay for the freshest produce possible, buying directly from local producers. Others believe this too, but they also feel that buying local produce contributes to the local economy and is a way of supporting local farmers. While some consumers go a step further and prefer organically grown fruits, vegetables, eggs, meats and other items.
Organic agriculture is growing nationally and in Florida, and the market demand is good. Even though the percentage of total food purchases remains much less than for traditionally grown food, the organic and natural food share of the national market has grown about 10% per year over the past decade.
Most consumers understand such terms as “locally grown” and “fresh from the farm” when buying food. The term “organic,” when referring to food products however, means different things to different people. Unless the fresh food is identified as “USDA Certified Organic,” there is little way of knowing that it is truly organic produce.
What is Certified Organic?
To be considered “certified organic” under Chapter 504.34, Florida Statutes, products must meet certain standards. This certification program is carried out by USDA accredited organizations in each state. A farmer who wishes to produce organic products must apply to the certifying organization. A representative then visits the farm, collects information and provides the requirements that must be met. These rather stringent requirements include:
● Land on which organic food or fibers are grown must be free of prohibited substances (synthetic, and some others are specified) for three years prior to certification.
● Farmers and processors must keep detailed records of methods and materials used in growing or processing organic products.
● All methods and materials are annually inspected by a third-party certifier approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
● All farmers and handlers are required to maintain a written farm plan detailing their management practices.
The initial certification process can takes months to complete, depending upon the schedule of the certifying agency and the complexity of the application. Transitioning from traditional production to certified organic can take a minimum of three years. However, if acceptable organic practices have been followed and can be documented, the time for certification is significantly shorter.
First year costs for certification vary greatly depending upon the income of the farm. A 1999 study of certification costs of eleven different agencies in different states showed costs of $90 to $1,290 for small farms. Medium sized farms paid $155 to $3,300, while large farms paid $200 to $12,300 and super farms paid from $575 to $150,300. Interestingly, small farms were charged a much higher percentage of their annual sales than super farms – about six times more.
Obviously, not all farmers have the inclination, capital or knowledge to pursue certified organic production but for those who do, there appears to be growing marketing opportunities. There is plenty of information available on this subject as organic production and marketing is currently receiving a lot of attention by agricultural researchers and marketers. There are two online sources that contain a wealth of information: ATTRA, which is the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service at http://www.attra.org/ contains a good overview and information about the production and marketing of organic crops.
The new University of Florida Small Farms web site is an excellent resource, and much of the information included is adapted to Deep South conditions. This site can be accessed by simply typing IFAS Small Farms or go to: http://smallfarms.ifas.ufl.edu/. Your local Extension office can also provide information.
There is a local program coming up for farmers and others who are interested in sustainable production. Topics include the growing and marketing of alternative or specialty crops and on-farm bio-diesel production, with lectures in the morning and field demonstrations in the afternoon. The Gulf Coast Agribusiness Conference, “Growing for the Future,” is scheduled for February 15 at the West Florida Research and Education Center in Santa Rosa County. For registration and further information contact Chris Wilcox (email@example.com) at 850-623-0174.
For more information or if you have a question, call Dan Mullins, Extension Commercial/Horticulture Faculty, The University of Florida/IFAS-Santa Rosa County Extension, at 850-623-3868, between the hours of 8:00 am and 4:30 pm weekdays. Hearing impaired individuals may call Santa Rosa County Emergency Management Service at 983-5373 (TDD).
Extension Service programs are open to all people without regard to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. The use of trade names in this article is solely for the purpose of providing specific information. It is not a guarantee, warranty, or endorsement of the product name(s) and does not signify that they are approved to the exclusion of others.