Myths, realities of organic production

By Gary Sliworsky
Ag rep, Emo

The following is part one of a two-part article on some of the myths and realities of organic production provided by Hugh Martin, organic crop production program lead for the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs:
1. Organic is a fad
Organic has grown steadily over the years from retail sales of less than $1 billion in 1990 to nearly $25 billion in 2009 in the United States.
In Canada, the retail organic food sales for 2009 were estimated to be $2 billion, and globally over $50 billion.
While growth slowed in 2009 and 2010 due to the recession, indications are that organic grew by more than five percent in 2009—and continued to grow in 2010.
In 2008, 680 farmers had 114,000 acres of certified organic crops in Ontario. The farm-gate value of organic production in Ontario was estimated to be $126 million in 2009.
However, this is only about 1.3 percent of the total production in Ontario while organic food sales are about two percent of the total.
2. Organic fresh fruits, vegetables are the main organic food products
Fresh fruits and vegetables comprise roughly 35 percent of organic food sales. They also are one of the first organic products consumers will purchase.
Milk and soy drinks also are big categories for organic, but processed foods (cereals, sauces, beverages, baby food, canned and frozen products, etc.) also make up a large part of the organic food basket.
Organic grains are used in both processed foods, as well as for livestock feed for dairy, egg, and meat products.
3. Organic competes with conventional commodities
Consumers want to buy organic products and the stores will supply it. If Ontario does not produce it, it will be imported.
Currently, it is estimated that more than 70 percent of the organic fresh fruits and vegetables, and 90 percent of the processed organic foods, are imported.
Roughly 75 percent of these imports come from the U.S.
4. There is no nutritional difference between organic and conventional food
There have been several research studies published recently, with some saying there is no difference and others refuting this, especially for antioxidants and Vitamin C.
Organic foods were found to have higher phosphorous levels and lower nitrate levels, both favourable to organic foods.
Studies have not been done to link positive health aspects to these claims. Nutrition, however, is not the major reason that consumers buy organic.
5. There are no pesticides used in organic
One of the primary reasons consumers buy organic is the perception that organic farmers do not use pesticides and organic products do not contain residues of pesticides.
The answer here is complex. Organic farmers choose not to use most synthetic pesticides (not allowed by their standards), which includes most of the pesticides that have gained headlines over the years for various negative aspects.
The potential for pesticide residues of these products tend to be of the most concern.
The organic standards do allow many natural pesticides to be used in organic production. These include some derived from plant extracts and plant oils (some of which are food ingredients), some derived from beneficial microorganisms, and some other products such as sulphur, copper, kaolin clay, potassium bicarbonate, etc.
In summary, some organic farmers do use low-risk pesticides when there are no alternatives, however, many small organic vegetable farms, as well as most organic grain and livestock farms, do not use any pesticides.
Dates to remember
•March 23, 24–Growing Your Farm Profits workshop; 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. each day.
To register, call Dick at 274-2930.

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