Ohio Organics Could Grow With EU Agreement

By Debbie Holmes
March 14, 2012

Organic dog treats ready for purchase at Heidi’s Homemade, Inc.(Photo: Debbie Holmes)

Organic farming in Ohio could get a boost from a new trade agreement between the United States and European Union. The deal allows organic products to flow more freely between the overseas markets.

Organic sales are a $50 billion dollar industry in the US and Europe, combined, and that figure could grow.

Lisa Weate stamps the expiration date on bags of dog treats at Heidi’s Homemade on Columbus’ west side. The treats are part of a test sample that will be sent to a company in London, England interested in selling the organic dog snacks. Most of the treats are made with spelt, a form of wheat that has a sweet and nutty flavor that is non-allergenic to dogs. A variety of flavors are added, like peanut butter, rye carob, white cheddar and parsley. Owner Rochelle Lavens says expanding overseas makes sense.

“We think we could probably grow our business 30 to 40 percent a year opening up to European markets. The fact that we can now have one London company opens up all kinds of opportunities for us with other countries in Europe,” says Lavens.

Lavens company benefits from the new trade agreement between the U.S and the European Union. Both sides agree to accept each others’ organic certifications. Prior to the agreement countries in Europe could opt out of the EU standard and force companies like Lavens to get separate permits from each nation to export organic products.

“It allows us opportunities to sell into the European markets whereas before if I wanted to I had to get special certifications, which becomes very expensive for small businesses,” says Lavens.

The streamlined process also means that organic farmers, like Gary Mennell of Medina County in northeast Ohio, can potentially sell more of their crops to Europe. Mennell and his brother have been farming organically for 30 years. They work about 200 acres growing spelt and soft red winter wheat, corn, alfalfa, and soybeans.

“ The more streamlined that becomes the easier it is for us to move grain across international lines,” says Mennell.

Mennell says he sells organic tofu soybeans to Japan that can make up to 60% of his income. Japan has its own certification process that Mennell says is stricter than Europe’s. But prices will be the deciding factor to where Mennell sells his crops.

“If the EU market is good this year and Japan’s not I’ll sell to EU, if Japan’s higher and wants our grain and EU doesn’t have the prices I can get from Japan, it goes to Japan. I’m going to be certified to go anywhere in the world I can,” says Mennell.

Carol Goland the executive director of Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association or OEFFA says a national organic certification program has only been in place for 10 years.

“It’s a great opportunity for organic farmers to broaden their horizons and go overseas and it provides a great opportunity for people to get into farming and organic farming, I mean right now quite honestly demand is outstripping supply,” says Goland.

OEFFA certifies about 700 organic farms and food processors in the Midwest…half of those are in Ohio.

“Where we really, really see growth is in organic processed foods, so I’m thinking convenience foods, organic TV dinners, organic mac and cheese,” says Goland.

Goland says the EU agreement also makes it more affordable and easier for small and midsized producers to reach the European markets with their organic certification. Consumers will also be able to access a larger variety of organic products year round. And prices could drop as quantities increase.