Farms like Riverglen Biodynamics are experiencing the strain of Organic Certification. [Photo courtesy of Riverglen Biodynamics]
By Harrison Boyd
Canadian agriculture is a constantly changing landscape, as is its price tag. New techniques, technologies, and regulatory standards keep farmers constantly adapting to what some describe as a crowded marketplace. Organic farming and its byproducts have recently become increasingly popular. However, the costs of “farm-to-table” items have presented a burden for both consumers and producers alike.
According to the European Journal of Social Sciences the first comprehensive foundation for organic farming began in 1924 with a course held by Rudolf Steiner in Kobierzyce, Poland. Here, Steiner began the discussion on the “proliferation of chemical agriculture.”
The low cost of Ammonium Nitrate following World War II saw its increased integration into pesticide use according to Dr. John Paull, a visiting professor of Oxford University’s Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology. This allowed for the creation of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, also known as DDT, which is documented to contribute to several health risks according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2002.
Pesticide only covers one element of the organic cycle says lifetime farmer David Burnford, proprietor of Riverglen Biodynamics, a 45 hectare farm located outside of Ottawa.
Biodynamic certification exists as a sub-category of organic certification according to the Canadian Organic Growers website. A biodynamic farm is where “[the proprietor(s)] favours soil health through the use of compost, animal and green manures; diversified crop rotations; and incorporation of livestock”, creating an interconnected closed farming system.
“This means that the animals are fed organic food grown onsite, and in turn the food is cultivated by fertilizer created onsite,” says Burnford.
Riverglen Biodynamics is a heritage farm that received its biodynamic certification in 2007. However, Burnford says that he let the certification lapse in 2014.
“It’s a tough economy. The certificate costs a percentage of income, and we were paying upwards of $700 per year on top of recertification costs. It’s easier to maintain the practices without the certification from a cost analysis.”
While $700 may not seem like a large expense, it is important to factor in farming operational costs and income margins.
“Certification can cost up to $1,000 per certification, per year, then inspections costs are subjective to the agency and the inspector.” – Janice Gibson
Statistics Canada reported in 2011 that there were just over 11,000 registered farms in Ontario, the majority of which have a gross revenue between $100,000 and $249,000. On average, gross revenue is $162,179, with gross expenses sitting at $138,027. This allows for a net cash income of $24,152, which does not factor in certifications and their processes.
Part of certification is also what is referred to as the transition period from a conventional ecosystem to an organic ecosystem, which can take up to 36 months from the last use of a prohibited product according to the Centre for Systems Integration, one of Canada’s organic certifying bodies.
Janice Gibson, a previous president of the Canadian Organic Growers and Organic Inspector for 22 years, says that while the process can be pricey, there are cost-savings on the other side.
“Certification can cost up to $1,000 per certification, per year, then inspections costs are subjective to the agency and the inspector,” says Gibson.
“However, one of the principles of organic is the creation of a closed system. Farmers find that once they’re not importing inputs like fertilizer or pesticide, their operational costs decrease.”
According to Gibson, public subsidies are common in the United States and Europe to help with the transitional phase. In Canada, however, Prince Edward Island is the only province to offer a subsidy, which only covers up to $500 during that process.
Gibson hopes that subsidies will encourage more farmers to incorporate organic practices, something that Ashley St. Hilaire, acting executive director of the Canadian Organic Growers, believes to be a crucial part of the economy.
“Canada’s organic marketplace is a good news story for the Canadian agricultural sector. Organic farming is helping to revive our rural communities in Canada and attracting a new and diverse generation of farmers in Canada. These farmers are driven not only by their dedication to growing food using organic principles but also by the Canadian consumer demand for organic products, which is currently outpacing our domestic supply,” said St. Hilaire during testimony to the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food on Oct 30.
According to St. Hilaire, 60 per cent of Canadians buy organic products, with the industry itself estimated to be worth over $4 billion.
All of these costs factor into overhead that is in turn presented to consumers who look for the organic certifying label says Burnford. But he says that while organic products are marketable, the price difference is not enough to make it economically viable.
“I’m proud of what we do and continue to do in order to bring Ottawa residents clean, organic food. Will I reconsider recertifying? Likely. Will it be in the near future? Not likely.”
Ottawa has over a dozen organic farmers in and around the surrounding area, all of which are accessible via the Ottawa Organic Farmers’ Market, which currently lists having only 8 vendors to be certified by regulatory bodies.