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Farmers Globally Turning to
Organic Production

August 21, 2002

Farmers see bright green future for organic produce: Growers gather in
Victoria for conference

Times Colonist (Victoria, British Colombia)
BY: Andrew A. Duffy

A changing marketplace means there is a tremendous opportunity for farmers
who choose to go green, according to organizers of an international organic
farming conference that opens in Victoria today.

They say the potential is growing because demand for organically grown food
is increasing, and health has become the top concern of many Canadians.

"There is 20 per cent-plus growth in demand each year, and that means there
is a realistic opportunity for local growers to expand their growing season
and grow more," said Dave Friend, a local organic grower and adviser with
the Certified Organic Associations of B.C.

Friend will be among more than 1,000 delegates to the Organic World
Congress, organized by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture
Movements.

This is the first time the congress, which is held every two years, is in
Canada. The conference is designed to explore the social impact of
agriculture as well as fair trade, sustainable markets and how organic,
labour-intensive agriculture stacks up against traditional growing, which is
mechanically and chemically driven.

"Organic farming is challenging the world leaders to take the degradation of
the environment seriously and move into action instead of issuing more
pompous declarations," said Gunnar Rundgren, president of IFOAM in a
pre-congress release.

Along with raising awareness of organic food production globally, organizers
hope the congress could be a catalyst for growth in the industry in B.C. and
Canada.

"This kind of thing generates publicity and it will be interesting to see
what effect that has," said Friend, noting there has been a trickle of
inquiries from conventional growers about converting to organic.
Gunta Vitins, president of the Pacific Agricultural Certification Society
and national marketing manager for Pro Organics, the largest distributor of
organic fresh foods in Canada, adds that trickle has the potential to become
a flood.

"People are asking for organics because they have issues regarding
pesticides and genetically modified organisms," she said. "Consumers are
more and more worried about what's in their food."

Vitins says she's starting to see traditional farms look at converting
because farmers have their own health and environmental concerns.
"But they are also starting to recognize the market potential organic
products have," she said.

According to the London based Organic Monitor, the global organic market
was estimated at $26 billion in 2001, with the prediction that sales could reach
$80 billion in 2008. In Canada, it is estimated sales are about $1 billion.
"The mainstreaming of organic food is now a reality," said Vancouver
marketing consultant Lionel Wilson, noting television commercials are
cashing in with phrases like "the total organic experience" to sell
hair-care products.

"Heinz is coming out with an organic ketchup. When a company like that (goes
organic) it says the No. 1 driver and trend is health care," he said.
"People are voting with their dollars, because people are voting with their
health in mind."

And if that's the case, there is plenty of potential for growers in B.C. and
Canada to cash in.

Despite boasting the highest percentage of organic farms in Canada -- two
per cent -- B.C. has only 23,500 acres of certified organic farm land.

"Locally, organic farmers are getting left behind," said Alex D. Campbell,
vice-president of fresh operations with Thrifty Foods. "B.C. has something
like 1.5 per cent (of its agricultural production) organic while California
is around 12 per cent ... we're trailing dramatically."
That means grocery stores such as Thrifty have to import most of the organic
food they sell. And since Thrifty plans to reserve 50 per cent of its
produce department for organic foods by 2010, there's an opportunity
knocking.

Campbell says the store's push for organic food is driven by consumer
demand, and with more young people growing up vegetarian and "earth
conscious" they will be expecting their supermarket to cater to those needs.
"If their supermarket doesn't (keep up) they'll be gone," he said. Campbell
will take part in a panel discussion at the congress on Friday.

 

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