Organic farms grow in Idaho, nationwide
Moscow-Pullman Daily News, March 2002
by Alan Solan, Daily News staff writer
The number of acres under organic production more than doubled
in the United States in the 1990s.
Participation in the Idaho Department of Agriculture's Organic
Program has increased by about 20 percent a year since 1990.
"It's consumer-driven," said Margaret Misner, manager
of the Idaho Department of Agriculture's Organic Program. "People
are looking for alternatives and organic produce is an alternative."
Mary Jane Butters, owner of Paradise Farm Organics in Moscow and
a national authority on organic farming, sees both good and bad
in those statistics.
While it might seem large jumps in organic production would be
entirely positive, "it also means some very big lobbying powers
are stepping into that niche," Butters said.
A large portion of the increase in organic production is the result
of companies like General Mills getting in on the organic trend
because there is a profit to be made, she said.
"They saw this market was growing and they moved on it with
the vengance of a big corporation," she said.
In the first year of the Idaho organic program, 11 applicants sought
certification for 750 acres. Last year, more than 170 applied to
the program and the number of acres in organic production jumped
to about 100,000.
Nationwide, more than 1.3 million acres are under organic production,
according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research
"It's definitely increasing," said Dani Vargas, produce
manager of the Moscow Food Co-op in Moscow.
The co-op, which sells about $20,000 worth of produce a month,
saw a 37 percent increase in produce sales last year.
Vargas said she has seen an increase in demand as well as the availability
of organic foods.
Idaho's primary organic products are apples, barley, beans, carrots,
herbs, lettuce, peaches, potatoes, squash, wheat, wild rice, alfalfa,
milk and beef.
Butters was part of the advisory group that developed Idaho's organic
standards, which she said are among the highest in the nation.
"Those of us who started the organic movement from a grassroots
level will have to remain vigilant to see that the standards remain
high," Butters said.
To be certified organic, produce must be grown in soil that has
been free of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics or other
synthetic materials for at least three years prior to harvest.
Organic growers in Idaho and other states have been certified by
private and governmental agencies since 1990.
By October, the various certifying agencies, including the Idaho
Department of Agriculture, must meet national organic standards
which were put in place last year.
Also this year, growers with annual sales of $5,000 or less may
register as "organic" rather than "certified organic"
growers, Misner said.
Far more acres of fruits and vegetables are grown without chemical
fertilizers or pesticides that are not officially "certified
organic" under the program.
For years, the Moscow Food Co-op has purchased everything from
potatoes to blackberries from area residents, which are sold as
"local no-spray" produce.
Butters said true organic farming should mean more than simply
growing food without chemicals.
"We're seeing those big companies moving into the organic
marketplace," Butters said. "For them it's not a way of
farming, it's a marketing niche."
Butters said the challenge will be to see that high standards for
organic agriculture aren't watered down for the benefit of General
Mills or other food industry giants.
"Organic shoppers want to know who their farmers are,"
she said. "And that will be our saving grace."