Daily News Archive
From October 30, 2006                                                                                                        

Washington State Proposes Increased Fees for Organic Farmers
(Beyond Pesticides, October 30, 2006)
The Washington state Department of Agriculture’s Organic Food Program is proposing to increase the organic certification fees that the state’s organic farmers pay from $100 to $250 and adding a $40 per hour inspection fee. The fee increase will be debated at a public hearing on November 8, 2006.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the organic industry is growing at 20% annually. The Associated Press (AP) reports that in Washington state alone, just 63 farms saw $2.5 million in sales in 1988. In 2005, sales were $97 million, and 954 farms and food processing operations were certified organic.

"From what we hear, from the processors and the distributors, they just can't get enough organic products. That's driving a lot of farmers who see the organic prices to pursue their own organic farms," Miles McEvoy, manager of the Organic Food Program, told the AP. It's also putting pressure on the people who have to certify all those farms and processors as organic, prompting the call for higher certification fees.

"Organic production is growing, and we're finding ourselves understaffed and undermanned trying to get all the paperwork done for certification," Dain Craver, an organic grower and member of the Organic Advisory Board that proposed the change told the AP. "We need to grow it just like a business, and sometimes you need to increase your fees to be able to hire more people just to keep up with demand.”

Some growers are not happy with the increased fees. Barbara Persson of Canyon River Organics has a 10-acre fruit and vegetable farm in Washington. She was previously certified organic but dropped the certification to avoid the amount of paperwork involved. “It's a real hassle for most of us who want to stay organic, because the standards aren't hard to follow, but they require so much paperwork that it makes it a hardship for growers," she said. "It gets to be a headache rather than a joy." Ms. Persson explained to the AP that she now sells direct to a farmers' market or to local residents who know "I don't cheat and don't compromise my organic standards."

In recent years other farmers have started their own labels as alternatives to the USDA Organic label. In response to the growing influence of big business in the organic marketplace, the Western Montana Sustainable Growers Union now offers the “Homegrown” label. The Homegrown label will indicate that the food being sold has been grown using sustainable agricultural and labor practices on farms that are within a 150-mile radius. The Homegrown label looks to go beyond the USDA Organic label, regulating not just how the food is grown, but also where and using what labor practices. The farmers who came up with the idea of the new label feel that corporate organics have lost touch with the roots of the organic movement, which they believe has at its core community and local sustainability.

Environmentalists are excited, but cautious about new eco-labels, such as the Homegrown label. Without a third party inspection system, consumers must feel comfortable relying on the word of the person selling the food. If there is a relationship between farmer and consumer, this may come easy. However, not all eco-labels go beyond organic. The “Protected Harvest” eco-label, for example, restricts some pesticides, but allows others. The concern is that consumers may choose a weaker eco-label in the marketplace, which would still get a premium price over conventional, but could out-compete true organics. Many environmentalists believe that the USDA Organic label is a good minimum standard, and other factors such as local production, family farming, fair trade practices and more, add additional value to food.

Take Action: The Department of Agriculture will hold a public hearing on November 8, 2006 at 2:00 pm in Room 259 of the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington Street, Olympia, WA 98504. Comments are due by the hearing and may be submitted by email: [email protected]; mail: WSDA Organic Food Program, PO BOX 42560, Olympia WA 98504-2560; or fax: (360) 902-2087.

Find and support local organic producers in your area. Use Local Harvest's website as a resource for finding local organic growers: www.localharvest.org.