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Before You Transition to Organic

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Transitioning to organic is not a fly-by-night decision. Making the organic transition, whether a farmer, retailer or restaurant owner requires dedication, education and some careful thought. Before you can start the transition to organic it's smart to consider the following important questions.

Do You Have the Time?

Organic systems, whether at a farm, shop or restaurant can be much more labor intensive than conventional farming and shop keeping. Organic farmers put in extra time due to pest monitoring and management, finding hardy crops and organic seeds and managing livestock more carefully.

Retailers and restaurateurs may find it time consuming to locate great organic suppliers and to get staff trained and certified on organic know-how.

Anyone going organic will spend extra time spent going through the certification process, marketing, keeping records and implementing new processing and handling systems.

Do You Have Organic Marketing Skills?

Organics, while increasing in popularity, still aren't at the point where they sell themselves. Most consumers and buyers must be sold on organics, which requires some savvy organic marketing skills.

For example, why should a store buy fresh organic tomatoes for a premium, when conventional tomatoes can be had for far less? Why would customers pay more for an organic salad or meal?

As a seller of organic goods, it's very much your job to educate the buyer and inform others of organic benefits. You'll have to seek out potential buyers and create an organic marketing plan that will allow your business to thrive.

Are You an Excellent Record Keeper?

Extensive record keeping is required for anyone who wants to maintain organic certification. Organic farmers must keep records such as field maps, time-lines, farm histories and disclosures of all farming systems including production, harvesting, handling, storage methods and more

Organic business owners must keep records regarding purchase dates, supplier sources, product quantities plus keep documentation of organic handling and processing and pest control methods.

Well-organized, up-to-date records are extremely important and must be made available for inspection when requested by your certifying agent.

Will Your Current Finances Allow for Organic Transistion?

Going organic can be expensive. From the certification process itself to the purchasing of new equipment to training employees and so much more. Often a sizable investment is required when a farm or business goes organic. Luckily, there's financial help available, but usually not enough to cover all the transition costs.

Additionally, farmers cannot market products as organic while in the transition period. The extra income you'll eventually get from growing organics won't kick in for a while.

It's best to have a decent amount of savings accumulated before beginning the organic transition.

Can You Afford the Ongoing Expense?

Organic certification is an annual process and that means annual inspections and annual fees. Plus, if you're not marketing those organics you're investing in, the costs may not pay off.

Before transitioning to organic, do a basic organic economic analysis, which can help you figure out if the costs vs. eventual income are worth it and feasible. Chat with others about their organic business costs and market outlook and growth. Create an in-depth budget plan that includes all estimated costs, income, equipment purchases and so on. Identify markets and gather previous years of price data related to organic products.

Do You Have Organic Know-How?

Producers and processors must have a firm understanding of organic production and handling practices before attempting to transition to organic.

It's obvious that an organic farmer should know about crops, disease, insects and weeds, soil management, plant nutrition and so much more. However, consider the retailer or restaurant owner. They also should know the basics of organic crops, especially if planning sales and menus around specific items.

A basic understanding of NOP guidelines and certificating agents is a must. You should be willing to seek out information via classes, books, conferences and more.

Can You Find Organic Resources Locally?

It's easy enough to look online or in a book and find out about how to go organic. However, a savvy individual who wants to transition to organics will be acclimated to the local organic scene.

Experienced growers and businesses, county Extension agents, university organic specialists, regional organic groups along with workshops and classes are all potential sources of local, current organic information.

Local certifying agents are a great source of information and can be found easily via the USDA NOP website.

Are You Committed to Organic Integrity?

Your commitment to organic integrity is a big consideration before you transition to organic. A commitment to organics sustains you when the going gets rough, plus a team (in this case, team-organic) is only as good as its weakest link.

For each advocate for organics there's someone willing to argue against them. If you don't have organic integrity; if you're not willing to live up to organic standards; you diminish the value of the organic industry as a whole. As an organic producer or processor, you're not just representing yourself, but the whole industry and the consumers who fully believe in organics.

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