Organics boom

Good news, on the whole, though the stats include self-reporting of products that farmers merely say are organic, with no certification of any kind.

According to figures released Wednesday in Statistics Canada’s 2006 agriculture census, 15,511 farms reported growing organic products last May. That includes those that have been certified organic by an authorizing agency, those that are in the process of getting certified, and those whose operators simply declare that they’re organic.

The number of certified organic producers increased by nearly 60 per cent from 2001 to 3,555 in 2006. Field crops such as wheat and barley are the predominant certified organic crops, and Saskatchewan has about one-third of all the certified organic farms in the country.

To be called organic, food must be produced naturally, without the pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics or hormones used in conventional agriculture.

Experts say organics are still a small portion of the overall amount of food purchased by consumers, but the demand is growing quickly.

The big grocery chains have seized on the demand.

President’s Choice, the house brand in stores such as Loblaws, Superstore and Provigo, started an organic line five years ago and now has more than 300 products.

There is probably a permanent tension between organic food and local, unfortunately. We signed up for a local grocer’s organics box a couple of weeks ago (we pay $20 a week and get the owner’s selection of good stuff each Thursday) and although the quality of the produce is excellent and comes in fair-to-generous quantities for the price, it’s all from far away, plums and green beans not being particularly available in Ottawa in mid-May whether they’re organic or not. We’re waiting to see whether they switch to local suppliers as things come into season here.

Nevertheless, while plums and green beans are not precisely in the sweet spot of Canadian agriculture, wheat and barley most definitely are, and it’s nice to see farmers taking advantage.

It’s also a way of busting the marketing monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board (though some farmers want to use its services for overseas sales), which can’t be anything but good, too.

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