Introduction to the Southern Organic Resource Guide
Why was this guide created?
Organic products are among the fastest growing agricultural goods in the U.S. and worldwide. Part of this growth is attributable to the advent of the National Organic Program (NOP) and the National Organic Standards (USDA, 2000. National Organic Program Final Rule. www.ams. usda.gov/nop). These national standards have encouraged large production, processing, and distribution firms to develop organic divisions in their companies. Meanwhile, smaller scale producers increasingly see organics as a viable niche market.
The South enjoys long growing seasons and a varied choice of crops that can be produced. The climate, however, creates unique challenges to organic production, especially in pest and disease management. The infrastructure to support organic production is also a challenge. The development of regional organic certification agencies and markets in the South has been slow compared to other regions of the U.S. Currently, there are few certified organic operations, USDA-accredited certifying agents, and organic inspectors serving the states included in this guide. Involvement of land grant universities and their associated Extension Services in research and outreach related to organics has also been limited in this area. As a result, many southern farmers and farm advisors are unfamiliar with organic methods and regulations.
With interest and organic markets steadily growing, many growers are looking toward organic production, to become more ecologically and economically sustainable. For organics to thrive in the South, market development and technical support are needed. This support is especially important to growers making the transition to organic production, since they are most at risk of misinterpreting the Organic Standards, and most in need of technical assistance with their production practices and market development.
This guide is designed to help producers, and the people who serve them, identify organic information, inputs, markets, and certification assistance available in the South. As the first of its kind for Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee, we hope that this guide may also help build an organic infrastructure in the South by encouraging networking among farmers, researchers, educators, and business people.
Who will find this guide useful?
Farmers and advisors to farmers
This guide will help these people connect with one another. These connections are important for sharing technical information as well as for market development. According to the 4th National Organic Farmers™ Survey, conducted by the Organic Farming Research Foundation (2004, www.ofrf.org/publications/index.html), organic farmers felt that other farmers were their most useful source of marketing information. This guide also helps producers and others identify sources for organic inputs and seeds, local and regional organic markets, and people involved in organic-specific research.
This guide includes information on farmers’ markets and regional cooperatives. It also lists all certified organic operations in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. By buying organic food direct from the producer, consumers can be assured of getting fresher food, while supporting growers who are part of their community. Businesses that sell products used by organic producers This guide describes existing organic operations in the South, provides descriptions of some of these operations, and lists state and local organizations and agencies that provide assistance to organic producers. This information can help businesses better identify the needs of organic producers in their area, and thereby reach out to potential clients.
How is this guide organized?
Following the introduction are several regional resource lists.
- Where to Buy Organic Food
- Certifying Agents Currently Operating in The Southern States
- International, National, and Regional Educational and Outreach Resources
- Sources of Soil Amendments, Crop Inputs, And Livestock Supplies
- Sources of Organic and Untreated Non-GMO Seeds
- Sources of Production Equipment and Supplies
Then, state-by-state sections are provided, each with the following information.
- Statistics on the number and growth of organic operations in the state
- State resources including programs from state departments of agriculture, farmers’ markets, and university research and Extension activities
- Contact information and descriptions for all certified organic operations
- A state map locating the certified organic operations Profiles of featured operations, selected for innovative production or marketing techniques
- State farm characteristics from www.ers.usda.gov/StateFacts/
While every effort was made to include all operations, certifying agents, educational and outreach organization, and business, we may have inadvertently omitted some. Any omissions are unintentional. Product and seed listings are not comprehensive. These lists were created largely from those suggested by regional producers who were interviewed in compiling this guide. Inclusion or omission implies no endorsement or otherwise by the guide or its authors.
Following the state-by-state listings are three short resources that we thought might be of interest to readers of this guide.
- Most common mistakes made by certified crop operators and/or certification applicants
- Tips on setting up a farm tour
- An introduction to organic research
What is meant by “organic”?
Agricultural products sold as “organic” in the U.S. and bearing the USDA organic seal must be produced and handled in accordance with the National Organic Program (NOP) Rule, as established by the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, effective October 21, 2002. The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) regulates the use of the term “organic” and approves its use only for those producers who have been inspected and certified organic by an accredited third-party. (Note that producers selling less than $5000 a year in organic products may advertise them as organic without undergoing inspection and certification, but may not use the USDA organic seal.) Complete text of the regulations is available at www.ams.usda.gov/nop. Anyone seeking organic certification, or wanting to advise those who are, needs to be familiar with all the NOP provisions.
Why Do Organic Farmers Choose to Farm Organically? Out of the 17 categories provided, respondents identified their most important reasons for farming organically as:
- Land stewardship, ecological sustainability
- Chemical avoidance for family and farmworker health
- Chemical avoidance for environmental health
- Organic represents good farming practices
- Ecological principles—view farm as ecological system
Source: OFRF, 2004, www.ofrf.org/publications/index.html
Private certification agencies and state organic certification programs, accredited by the USDA, verify organic production and handling practices and grant (or deny) certification based on all available information, including the annual inspections. Producers must document inputs, field activities, production and harvest practices, and sales to show compliance with organic standards. For organic certification, fields must be free of prohibited materials (including synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides, and genetically modified crops) for a minimum of 36 months prior to harvest of an organic crop.
It is the nature of organic farming–and the intent of the NOP Rule–to use cultural and biological practices that control insects, weeds, and disease, while simultaneously building soil fertility and enhancing the overall health of the agricultural ecosystem. Organic farming systems are guided by nature but require intensive management. The following are part of what is required for USDA organic certification.
The producer must:
- Select and implement tillage and cultivation practices that maintain or improve the physical, chemical, and biological condition of soil and minimize soil erosion. [205.203(a)]
- Manage crop nutrients and soil fertility through rotations, cover crops, and the application of plant and animal materials. [205.203(b)]
- Manage plant and animal materials to maintain or improve soil organic matter content in a manner that does not contribute to contamination of crops, soil, or water by plant nutrients, pathogenic organisms, heavy metals, or residues of prohibited substances. [205.203(c)]
- Use proactive management practices to prevent pests, weeds, and diseases. These include crop rotation, sanitation, and cultural practices. Pest problems may also be controlled by introducing natural predators or traps. Weeds may be controlled with cultivation, mowing, mulching (some restrictions on materials), grazing, or flaming. Only when those proactive practices are insufficient may a producer apply a biological or botanical substance, or an allowed synthetic substance listed on the National List. [205.206, 205.601]
- Use production practices…that maintain or improve the natural resources of the operation, including soil and water quality. [205.200]
- Feed organic livestock only organic feed. Farmers must promote animal health through nutrition, pasture management, appropriate housing, minimal stress, and preventative healthcare practices. [205.236 – 205.239]