This is the first of a three-part blog on organic farming
Whether you’re a traditional or organic farmer, one thing is certain: you’re doing your part to work hard, contribute to the economy and feed communities across the country. So what’s the true difference, and how how do you define an organic farmer from a conventional one?
According to SaskOrganics, a farmer-led membership non-profit group, organic food crops are grown without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Organic farmers strive to create healthy soil – fertilizing and building the earth’s organic matter – through the use of cover crops, compost, and biologically based soil amendments. Organic meat, dairy products, and eggs are produced from animals raised on organic feed and are usually allowed free range and/or outdoor access. Organic livestock and poultry are not given antibiotics, hormones, or medication (other than vaccinations) in the absence of illness. Here are some additional facts about organic farming, and the products that are produced by these farms.
The growth of organic food
While the number of Canadian farms dwindled by 17% between 2001 and 2011, the Census of Agriculture shows a whopping 66.5% increase in the number of organic farms during the same period. In 2012, farmers planted about 720,000 acres of organic field crops across Canada, and 78% of that was on the prairies. Canada-wide, wheat represents more than a quarter of organic production (203,000 acres), followed by oats (127,000 acres) and barley (82,000 acres). In short, organic farming is certainly on the rise, largely due to consumer demand.
Why does organic food cost more?
Organic farming is more labour-intensive and requires more space – there is a lower limit to how many organic animals can be raised in a barn and natural fertility building. Pest management strategies like green manures and crop rotations mean organic farmland is not always planted with a crop destined for market. Organic prices are also higher because organic demand exceeds supply.
The organic food market
Most organic grain producers grow for the global market. Canada exports approximately $458 million worth of organic products each year. A 2013 study by the Canadian Organic Trade Association reveals that the value of the Canadian organic food market overall has increased 300% since 2006, which ‘far outpaces the growth rate of other agri-food sectors.’
Still, certified organic operations represent just 1.8% of all farms in Canada, and they are currently unable to keep up with the increased demand.
According to SaskOrganics, in Saskatchewan there are:
842 certified organic primary producers
28 certified organic livestock producers
89 certified organic processors
The total certified organic acres in Saskatchewan are:
- Field crops – 500,000
- Pasture/Forage – 361,000
- Fruit & Vegetables – 700
- Wild Rice – 11,700
- Total Acres – 873,400
Organic farmers: doing things their own way
It’s fair to say that organic farmers in Saskatchewan, like their traditional farming counterparts, are a hardworking, ethical bunch. This is certainly true if Marc Loiselle and wife Anita are anything to go by. One of the directors of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate and a committee member of the Organic Agriculture Protection Fund, Marc and his family live on their farm at Vonda in central Saskatchewan.
They started farming organically in 1985, and currently manage 530 hectares (1,300 acres) with cereal, oilseed, pulse (legumes), forage crops and livestock. More specifically, they grow or have grown, Hard Red Spring wheat, malting barley, milling oats, fall rye, canola, yellow mustard, flax, dry peas, alfalfa, clover seeds and hay. They also raise goats, laying hens and roaster chickens. The Loiselle family farm motto is Holistic Stewardship for Abundant Life, and they try to uphold these principles and values in their family life as well as the farmland they manage. Organic farming isn’t any easier than traditional farming is, but the practice is meaningful to people like the Loiselles.
Organic farming a niche part of the Saskatchewan farm landscape the complements the efficient and successful modern day farming practices which produce food for the world. Whether organic farming becomes more mainstream or shows growth in the future will depend on a host of many factors, including whether or not the price for commodity produced is seductive enough to see mainstream farming convert. In short, it’s not just about fertilizer preference – it has to be profitable and make sense.
A significant part of the wealth advisory practice of Cooper Schneider Financial is based on the work we perform for and on behalf of farmers working in the Saskatchewan agricultural community – both organic and traditional. That is why we take a keen interest in the development – and future direction of – a central and indispensable part of our provincial economy.
Saskatchewan agriculture is, we believe, a world-class economic asset. Both organic and traditional farmers are stewards of the land and major contributors to our economy. Without them, there would be no food on our tables, and we recognize this importance. Keep an eye on our website for future agriculture updates, including the rest of this blog series.