By John Stencel
Organic food production is a growing market that offers a good opportunity for many producers in the Rocky Mountain area. The U.S. organic food industry is growing at an estimated 15-20 percent per year. Colorado is on the leading edge of this trend, leading the nation in the number of open range acres that are certified organic and second only to California in certified organic vegetable acreage.
Sales of organic products reached $9.3 billion nationally in 2001, including an estimated $80 million in Colorado. Products from more than 200 producers in Colorado have been certified organic.
Yet the trend toward increased production could be thwarted.
The adoption last year of federal organic standards requires that all products adhere to the federal standard by Oct. 22, 2002, in order to be labeled “organic.” Therefore, the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA), which for the last decade has certified Colorado organic producers, must apply to be accredited by the national authority. A bill written by Rocky Mountain Farmers Union authorizing the CDA to become a national organic certifying agency has passed the Colorado House State Veterans and Military Affairs Committee. At press time, the bill is headed to the House Appropriations Committee. The bill includes an allocation of $150,000 to get the federal program up and running in Colorado, and the producers who use the service would reimburse Colorado for roughly $50,000 of this amount. In subsequent years, there would be no cost to the state.
Seems like a win-win proposition, right? It is a win for all concerned, but my years of monitoring lawmaking, at both the state and federal levels, has taught me not to assume anything. At present, the bill has no opponents, but I worry it could get caught up in political wrangling. In addition to the support of Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, which wrote the bill and secured a sponsor, the Colorado Farm Bureau and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association actively support it.
Many independent agricultural producers, such as Paul and Cindy New, who raise cattle, potatoes, quinoa and other products in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado have found that organic certification and direct marketing have been a boost to the bottom line.
The New’s and others like them have a lot to lose if the bill does not pass. There are no private certifying organizations based in Colorado, which means that organic certification would be more expensive because inspectors would have to travel from out of state, and according to Colorado organic producers, out-of-state organizations are less familiar with Colorado’s organic agriculture industry than the Colorado Department of Agriculture.
As an organization representing independent family producers, we are pushing very hard for this legislation to pass. With a ten-fold increase over the past decade in the organic food industry, the growth and potential to producers is very significant!