Shifting gears: Organic farming in transition


WOOSTER, Ohio – In the response to new markets and new regulations, organic farming is undergoing continuous change across the country.
In Ohio, this change is visible through a significant increase in organic dairy production, partly in response to a new buyer in major dairy processor Organic Valley.
“Suddenly, with a market there, we had more people get involved,” said Steve Sears of the Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association.
USDA regs. This market-driven increase comes in the wake of USDA organic regulations that are somewhat more strict in livestock treatment but do not, Sears said, dramatically affect the way organic farms are typically run.
For some organic outfits, these government rules were a more significant catalyst for change.
A provision of the USDA regulations state that “if you earn less than $5,000, you are no longer required to be certified,” said Sears.
About 50 small Ohio operations, made up largely of vegetable growers, fell into this category and became exempt from the new rules.
These operations are allowed to advertise their products as organic, but cannot use the official organic seal. Having the seal can affect the ability to market a product, but small operations must raise their earnings to more than $5,000 without the aid of the seal before they can attach it to their product.
But many nonlivestock organic operations were barely affected by the new regulations.
Don’t need seal. Under the new regs, Tom and Wendy Wiandt, who grow organic mushrooms near Burbank, Ohio, had to change little more than the straw they use in growing oyster mushrooms.
The Wiandts sell mostly to restaurants and specialty stores as well as at farmers’ markets.
In addition to five varieties of oyster mushrooms, the Wiandts also grow shiitake and lion’s mane mushrooms. The lion’s manes grow from a sawdust base and shiitake from either sawdust or logs.
Although their mushrooms are certified organic, Wendy Wiandt said they have never used the official seal because mushrooms are such a specific product that doing so is unnecessary.
“We don’t charge a premium because we’re organic,” said Wiandt. This helps the Wiandts to be able to sell at a price that is competitive with nonorganic mushrooms.
The Wiandts use all organic materials and no chemicals, even though “bug control is a huge problem.”
“We do it organic because we want to,” Wiandt explained.
Consumer demand. As evidenced by the Wiandts, the growth of organic farming is being fueled not only by markets and regulations, but also by a simple awareness toward the way food is grown.
This same awareness among consumers is expanding the national (and international) market for organic foods.
Steve Sears estimates there are 300 certified organic operations in Ohio this year, with steady growth in all sectors.


Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!