Growing organically gets no easier

Organic growers are challenged to control weeds without herbicides and must guard against cross-pollination and commingling with conventional produce.

Organic integrity must be maintained during harvesting, washing, storing, transporting, and labeling. There are brokers as well as warehousing and transportation companies that specialize in serving the organic foods market.

Growing organics is also more labor-intensive than conventional, at a time when all of agriculture is grappling with the ongoing labor shortage.

“Labor is a huge challenge and will continue to be as the border becomes more restrictive,” said Mark Munger, vice president sales and marketing 4Earth Farms, LLC BB #:148899.

To Joe Angelo, organic sales manager for Ocean Mist Farms BB #:111742, pest control tops the list of difficulties. “We’re limited in our resources and handcuffed in what we can do,” he said.

The so-called “green bridge” enables insects to move from one crop to the next. They can survive on a dying cover crop and migrate onto the next crop. Multiple fields can be lost because of pests.

4Earth Farms has built alliances with greenhouse growers as part of its strategy to increase and extend seasonality.

“With hothouse growers, you have a lot of control on conditions,” Munger said. “Open field, especially for organics like Brussels sprouts, is a real challenge when it comes to pest control. Once insects get into the leaves, it is hard to stop them.”

In addition to greenhouses, 4Earth Farms also grows organics in shade houses. “They’re semi-permanent; sun, water, and wind get through, but not insects.” Munger also believes the industry is getting better at growing organics. “Innovation happens in small increments—better ways to conserve water, better ways to treat pests, better production.”

The Organic Trade Association announced last September a voluntary, private-sector funded program to promote certified-organic food and advance research to solve problems facing the industry.

The “Generate Results and Opportunity for Organic” or GRO initiative came after the USDA announced in May it was terminating the rulemaking process for a similar program.

Increased funding for research was included in the 2018 Farm Bill, along with more money for the USDA’s organic certification cost-share program, among other things.