Ag breakfast speaker notes sustained growth of organic certification

Growing vegetables and crops organically continues to grow in demand each year.

On Thursday, Eric Pawlowski, a sustainable agriculture educator with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association was the featured speaker at the monthly Ag Business Breakfast Forum.

In addition to being an organic farmer himself, in his OEFFA role Pawlowski helps other growers enter into the organic growing circle and receive organic certification.

“We are a nonprofit organization by farmers for farmers,” he said of the organization.

Not all members of OEFFA are organically certified and of those who are, not all of them are 100 percent organic as many have some standard crops as well as their organics.

During his presentation, he often reminded those interested in achieving organic certification to pick up the phone and call with any questions.

“We want to help. It will save you time and money in the long run,” he said.

Pawlowski outlined the five steps necessary to become a certified organic operation. First, complete and submit an application. Second, undergo initial review. Third, have an inspection. Fourth, have the post-inspection review. And finally, get a decision on certification.

He said the certification is essential to assure the highest level of standards are being met. “Certified organic is the gold standard.”

During the program he ventured away from the OEFFA policy and expressed his personal frustration with growers who choose not to certify but claim their operation goes “beyond organic.”

“Personally that offends me,” he said. “How can you go beyond a standard if you are not willing to verify you meet that standard?”

He explained those who claim to be organic and are not diminish the power of the certification and the high standards they set for the organics. He suggested they develop their own name for it. This is necessary he said “to uphold the integrity of the label.”

He said those wishing to be organic not merely get in it for the premium price being paid for organics.

“I found that if you are in it for the price premium, you’re not going to make it. You have to be in it with your heart and that will show in your business,” Pawlowski said.

He offered descriptions of requirements such as buffer zones and the three-year time frame needed to transition a field to organic. He also stressed the importance of keeping detailed records of all action in the field and with the harvested crops.

By doing the right things and documenting what is being done most growers can avoid the dreaded “noncompliance.”

He also offered some of the top reasons people are deemed non-compliant. The reasons include problems with record keeping, use of prohibited substances, incomplete organic systems plan, incomplete or inaccurate organic system dates and statistics.

He stressed the need for proper communication, including being sure to read any correspondence from their office.

For more information, contact Pawlowski at 614-262-2022 or through www.oeffa.org