Saturday, 1 March 2008

To Register as Organic or Not?

That is the question I’m pondering at the moment. I’ve read and re-read the leaflet I got at the agricultural show, as have Ann and Regis and none of us are sure what it actually offers. It could be an 80% discount on the registration fee; it could be consultations to the value of 80% of the fee you pay to register.

I telephoned the agriculture department about the leaflet and they are sending me yet another leaflet that explains things further. It’s really easy to write that sentence but it took an afternoon to get through and I was a nervous wreck worrying if I would be understood. Thankfully while I didn’t understand all the words, I got the gist and I can use the dictionary when the leaflet arrives.

In the meantime I e-mailed Scarlet at ‘The Chickens have Escaped’ as I thought she might have registered. While she hasn’t registered, she very kindly sent me a long reply covering all sorts of things to consider. Many thanks are due to Scarlet.

It highlights how amazing this blog world can be. Helping me in my French farming adventure have been people in France such as Scarlet, Mike from 'Tiny Farm Blog' in Canada, Stoney from 'Musings from a Stonehead' in Scotland and Mike from 'Plan Be' in South Africa, plus many others who through their bloging pass on tips, information and encouragement. My thanks to you all, you make this world a smaller and friendlier place.


Anonymous said...

Glad to help.

As for going organic, we looked into it but decided we'd basically be paying for a label that didn't really fit us.

We grow our vegetables, fruit and soft fruit to organic principles. We rear our pigs and poultry to organic standards.

But we're not a commercial producer and felt the "organic" labels on offer reflected their priorities rather more strongly than ours.

At the same time, the money we'd have spent on "going organic" would never have been recouped as we're just not big enough, mechanised enough or efficient enough to make it pay.

Instead, we let the people who buy from us or barter with us come and have a look at what we do. They can see the feed we use, they can look through the feed log and medicines book, they can inspect the vegetables and fruit, they can look at the purchase book for seeds, bio-controls and the like, and they can see the muck heaps that provide our soil fertility.

Almost all are happy with that.

I'm not saying you should do what we do, just suggesting you consider carefully what you're buying into, why you're buying into it, and whether it will make a difference with your customers.

Good luck.

dND said...

Hi Stoney

The more I'm reading about it, the more I'm coming to the same opinion. Scarlet pointed out that the 'fees' would be around 500€ a year for up to 4 years before I could use the organic label, and then continuing after that to maintain. That's 500€ a year of veg to sell before I even start to recovering the costs of seed, feedstuffs and make any profit.

Even if the local Agric department pays 80% of the conversion cost I don't think I would recover the outgoings.

I'm looking at the Expat market, growing some of the vegetables that aren't grown here - parsnips for one -. I think the personal 'you can visit and see' approach will be sufficient. Not going for registration will also enable me to continue at a rate I can manage, not have to get everything done at once ready for inspection.

Anonymous said...

I agree with stonehead, and your assessment of stonehead's opinion!

I imagine here in Canada the organic situation is more similar, for all its differences, with the EU, because in the end, the whole point is ultimately to harmonize international trade.

At the start here, I was lucky, as well as a bit ignorant, and rushed in my research, because we didn't have to wait out a big transition period, they accepted that no pesticides etc had been used for enough years prior, took the $500 fee, and inspected in December (in the snow) to make the calendar year, which took care of the required minimum one transitional year. A couple of weeks later, it was a new year, our "second", and the farm was certified! Magic, huh!

Anyhow, I'm still forking out $500 and spending a few hours a year on paperwork and being inspected. I don't know why, I guess it's not losing accreditation you already have, expensive as it is, just in case it someday comes in handy.

Meanwhile, I think I've actually been asked to see my certificate ONCE in five years of farmers' market (and four years of CSA). And that was indirect, someone wanting to know, well, how can we tell if you're certified? I keep a photocopy in my case at the market. Otherwise, EVERYONE has been absolutely fine with A) taking the "certified organic" on my sign on faith (for better or for worse :), B) trusting that I was growing "safely" just because they were talking to me, could drop by the farm 12 miles away, etc. B is clearly the main thing.

You'll need certification if you plan to export, or sell to wholesalers or stores that want paper.

BTW, here in Canada, organic legislation is only now being phased in, so you can still use the word "organic" without being certified, for another year or two. In the US, that ended in 2002.

So my conclusion concurs: if you're selling local and direct, you don't really need certification. Especially not if it takes FOUR YEARS, a useful bit of cash, and compliance aggravation (paperwork, deadlines, details...).

BUT, you may find this interesting: Certified Naturally Grown, a farmer-to-farmer "alternative" cert program. I just signed up last month. The site has a UK chapter, and I think they're trying to spread the model all over.

Coolest part for me, since there is no other farm in the program within 100 miles, is that I can have the certification done by customers (or the mayor, or...anyone!). CNG provides an easy to follow inspection package, following the same production standards as the national program, and the signed results are scanned and go online along with the grower's own filled out application and signed declaration. I can't think of anything more direct and less bureaucratic in the way of meaningful certification methods.

The whole thing's free, donation encouraged.

While this wouldn't maybe work so well for a farm methodically trying to cheat the inspection, the whole point to me is that it goes hand-in-hand with the basic localness of buying from your farmer, and you don't have to say, "I'm not certified because..." More like, "I'm certified by...!" Kinda sweet! :)

Plus, CNG has a MUCH nicer logo than my other certifier's.

So this year, I'll have both, and promote one...

Hope that helps!

(BTW, is Tim the new Mike? I noticed the update for both me and Mike at Plan Be... ;)

dND said...

Hi Mike,

Thanks for taking the time to help me. And yes, you and Mike are the new Tim's. Sorry must have had a senior moment, otherwise know as a C.R.A.F.T. (can't remember a flaming thing) time, it's my age!

I'll check out that link to CNG. It would be nicer to be have a sort of certification that feels local too. I don't plan selling Internationally, I'm far to small for that really.

Thanks again and all the best