Steps for the transitioning producer.
This resource was created by Organic Alberta to help you make the change to organic production. Transitioning from conventional to organic can sound a bit daunting. Fortunately there are a variety of resources and expertise available to advise you.
1. Where to start?
There is no substitute for finding out all you can about the industry and farming methods. The Organic Trade Association has set up a good starting place for potential producers called HowToGoOrganic.com. It helps walk you through the steps for getting started.
The Canadian Organic Growers has developed a book called “Gaining Ground: Making a Successful Transition to Organic Farming” which is a must read. Their website also lists steps to consider.
Once you have a basic understanding of what it will take, start networking. Find other producers in your area to ask how they got started and what challenges they faced. Talk to producers that are growing what you are interested in producing. The Organic Producers Directory on the Alberta Organic website is a superb resource for finding producers in your area.
Their insight can save you making mistakes and provide valuable first hand experience. Learning about organic management systems as well as tips for dealing with paperwork can make the transition significantly easier.
Most importantly, become a member of Organic Alberta to stay on top of it all. You will be privy to events, meetings and other information that will increase your knowledge.
3. From the Ground up
With your information in hand start examining your resources closely. It takes a minimum of 36 months, free of prohibitive substances, to transition from conventional farming to organic. What changes will you have to make? Can you make the change all at once or will you transition different sections of land at a time?
Also examine your market potential for the products that you plan to produce. Is there enough demand locally or will you be looking for export or other markets? Look into the marketing and business seminars occasionally listed on the Organic Alberta website event listing to help with your research and planning.
4. Getting set up
Get certified is the next step. You can find a list of certifying bodies here. You will want to call a few to find out their fees, what they offer, and to determine which one is the right fit for you.
“We have always taken pride in what we do and have grown naturally without pesticides or fertilizers for over 40 years. The daunting part for us was the paperwork, however, we've discovered some simple techniques to reduce the stress of the paperwork required. We love what we do, and it has been incredibly rewarding to be certified organic.”
Michelle Strebchuk, Strebchuk Farms (certified in 2008).
The Organic Trade Association's www.HowToGoOrganic.com
Article: The Organic Path - by ACORN
Organic Advantage Reports (see below): These commodity-specific guides targeted to conventional producers and lenders provide beef, grain and vegetable producers with an overview of the market opportunities, economics, as well as government and industry support available to help guide new entrants towards a successful transition. The reports will also be useful to lenders and others with an interest in the economic viability of organic agriculture.
- Organic Advantage. Vegetable Production - This guide paints a picture of strong demand filled largely by imported products from the US and Mexico. Less than 25% of the domestic demand for organic vegetables at retail is filled by Canadian producers. In fact, for vegetables such as organic cauliflower, beets and spinach, 100% of the domestic retail demand is met by imports. The guide shows the demand for the main organic vegetable types and retail price trends relative to conventional.
- Organic Advantage. Field Crop Production - This guide provides details of the Canadian acreage devoted to organic cereal grains and oilseed production, prices, operating expenses, margins and yields, and points producers towards resources that can help them transition from conventional to organic.
- Organic Advantage. Beef Production - The beef guide provides guidance and resources for producers who want to add value to their organic crops through livestock grazing.
Organic Risk Management: Transitioning - University of Minnesota. 2010