Publish Date: Spring 2014
Oregon growers who are transitioning to organic production will soon have their own network for guidance and information. Oregon Tilth’s Transitioning Farmer Network will provide tools, training, and technical assistance for farmers in transition, and those adding organic acreage or diversifying production. The Network will provide consultation with organic specialists, advice from experienced organic producers, and a forum to exchange ideas with other transitioning farmers.
Transition to organic can be a promising opportunity for Oregon farmers. Buyers point to large supply gaps for regionally grown organic crops, and wholesale prices for organic fruit and vegetables can be 50 to 100 percent higher than conventional. Organic food is now a $35 billion market, and sales of organic fruits and vegetables are growing by 12 percent each year. Oregon has the fourth highest sales of organic fruit in the country and is second only to California in organic vegetable sales. Organic grain and soybeans are also in short supply, with food and feed manufacturers reporting major shortages of organic raw materials.
The USDA requires farmers to wait three years before becoming organically certified, but during this time they can’t access organic price premiums. Many transitioning farmers will invest in additional equipment, land, and labor. Yields may decrease at first, as farmers switch to biologically based methods of building soil, cycling nutrients, and managing field ecology. Transitioning farmers also have to navigate new channels for processing, distribution, and marketing.
The Transitioning Farmer Network will help farmers address these challenges while they grow successful organic enterprises. Members will get one-on-one help planning and managing transition or expansion, and they can ask questions and share experiences on the Network listserv. The Network will include a diverse group of experts, including Oregon Tilth staff, specialists from OSU’s Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems, and experienced farmers who will serve as mentors and guides. Members will also learn how to access USDA resources such as CSP and EQIP that can provide valuable financial and technical assistance.
The Transitioning Farmer Network is open to Oregon farmers who are in transition, planning to transition this year, expanding organic acreage, or diversifying their organic enterprises. Applicants should have been in production for at least five years. The 2014 cohort will be limited to producers of horticultural and agronomic crops.
There is no fee to join but there is limited space. Interested farmers can fill out an application at: http://tilth.org/files/TFNapplication The deadline to apply is April 10, 2014, but late applications may be accepted: please contact Sarah Brown, 503-779-6557, firstname.lastname@example.org.