Small Farmers Complain About
High Costs of USDA Organic

From <> 11/21/02


November 18, 2002

American news services continue to list the complaints of small farmers
against the cost of compliance with the new national organic program.

Some small organic farmers like Joe Durando, a farmer from Alachua, Florida
say the costs of organic certification both administrative and monetary are
too great, that the government's defined label will not directly impact
their bottom line and may be of little consequence, reported the Miami

"I don't think organic means as much to the small farmer anymore," Durando
said, referring to the label's effect on his sales. "I think it's more
important to have a quality, diversified selection of produce that sets you

According to Rose Koenig, a grower in Gainesville and member of the National
Organic Standards Board; "Certification is only necessary when you are not
dealing directly with the consumer. Many may likely choose not to get
certified, and really, that is just a business decision for the farmer."

One of the biggest threats to local organic growers may be the lack of
access to markets, according to Marty Mesh, director of Florida Certified
Organic Growers and Consumers Inc., a Gainesville-based organic
certification and consumer advocacy group.

"Independent health food stores used to say, 'You're a local grower? Sure,
I'll buy everything you've got,'" Mesh said. "Now, it's all large retailers,
like Whole Foods, Wild Oats and Natural Retail Group," the parent company
of Mother Earth in Gainesville, that have a lock on the market, he said.

Charles Lybrand, a honey producer and director of the Gainesville market,
said that for growers who sell their products to customers directly it's
more a matter of not being affected by choosing to forego federal
certification than (being) adversely effected." carried similar complaints from small farmers there,
particularly as Delaware doesn't yet have a USDA approved certification
agency. Farmers are finding alternative means of marketing their products.
A majority of the organic farming community in Delaware - consisting of
fewer than 40 farmers and retailers, according to farmers and state
agriculture officials - has resorted to words like "natural,"
"pesticide-free" or "authentically grown" to describe their products rather
than risk a $10,000 fine.

Ruth Linton, a member of the Delaware Organic Food & Farming Association,
which has applied to the USDA to become the certifying agency for organic
farmers in the state, has begun marketing her products as "pesticide-free."
Since the new regulations went into effect on Oct. 21, she said, she has
spent more time with customers explaining to them that her raspberries,
peaches, apples and other in-season produce are grown locally using the
organic certification standards.

Delaware farmers can obtain certification from agencies outside of Delaware,
but find the costs associated with the inspection prohibitive. For example,
Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey, a nonprofit
organization, charges $285 the first year for a farm grossing up to $5,000
and $235 every year after that. Farms grossing $750,000 to $1 million have
to pay $2,000 plus 2.5 percent of total sales. These costs do not include the
travel expense of bringing an inspector to Delaware.

In response to worries about cost, the USDA has set up a $5 million
cost-sharing plan approved last month that will help eligible farmers cover
75 percent of the cost of certification up to $500. Those who are eligible
must be certified by Sept. 30.

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