Organic agriculture is growing nationally and in Florida. Market demand is good. The organic and natural food share of the national market has grown about 20% a year on average since 1990. Organically grown food products typically bring a premium price. Organic farming may therefore be a good alternative for many growers.
Consumers are purchasing more and more organic products, and the sales of organic products have increased 20% a year on average since 1990. Organically grown food products typically bring a premium price. Organic farming may therefore be a good alternative for many producers who have identified a market for certified organic goods.
Organic agriculture is currently regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture. The Organic Food Production Act, passed in 1990, set the framework for developing the National Organic Program. Under this program, standards governing organic production were put into effect in 2002. Agricultural products that are marketed under the term “organic” must meet these standards. The regulations prohibit using genetically engineered organisms, ionizing radiation, and sewage sludge. Most synthetic substances are also prohibited and most natural substances are allowed, although there are some exceptions in both cases.
The National Organic Standards cover the production, handling, and processing of organic foods. The simple substitution of natural products for synthetic ones is not enough to meet organic certification requirements. The USDA standards require that the producer develop a farm plan that emphasizes the steps that the farmer will take to protect and enhance natural resources. A management plan is required for producers, handlers, and processors to ensure the regulations are followed and to ensure operators have a proactive approach to management. Only products that meet these standards can carry the USDA Organic seal and be marketed as organic. In order to obtain organic certification, the farmer must be granted certification by a USDA accredited certifying agent. This agent is responsible for approving the management plan the farmer will employ and for making inspecting the operation.
While organic agriculture is an attractive alternative to many farmers, growers should make sure that they understand the regulations involved before making the decision to convert. The transition period may be difficult because the premium prices earned for certified organic products will not usually be forthcoming during this period of changing practices and new challenges to farm management.
Transition from conventional to organic production normally requires a minimum of 36 months. Growers who are interested in converting to organic production should select and contact an accredited certifying agency of their choosing before they begin the conversion process. The rules and regulations covering organic production are highly specific. Inadequate preparation can lead to wasted time and effort if inadmissible practices are used during the transition period. Local UF/IFAS County Extension offices can assist with this process.