There are pros and cons to introductions on-farm processing into your organic farm operation. Anytime you add a new practice to your business there are benefits and also possible challenges involved, but adding on-farm processing into the mix means you'll have to consider many issues, not just one or two.
Possible Benefits of On-Farm Processing
- Processing is a good way to use up left-over or excess produce.
- Processing allows you to extend the selling season. For example, you can't sell fresh organic berries year round, but you can sell organic preserves year-round. Drying and freezing, also processing, are other good ways to extend produce seasons.
- You can process in the off season. For example, turn frozen tomatoes into sauce during the winter. This saves you hands during harvest time when you really need help in the field.
- Employees or family members who cannot do harder field work may be able to process, because it's less work intensive in some cases.
- Employees who might be laid off during the winter months could remain employed.
- Processing is an excellent problem solver for blemished or too small produce.
- Processed goods have a much longer shelf-life, in most cases than fresh, meaning you get to sell and market year-round.
- You can charge more for processed products, say an apple pie or applesauce, than you can for organic apples alone.
- More income year-round.
Possible Challenges of On-Farm Processing
- Depending on the processing you're doing, you may need to be certified as both a producer and a handler.
- Many processing procedures require various certifications beyond organic certification and knowledge of regulations that don't apply if you're only growing crops or raising livestock.
- You'll usually need some significant capital in order to invest in machines, equipment, packaging, labor and other items needed to process.
- You may need to add more structures to your property, and that's dependent on space availability and finances.
- Marketing strategies for processed goods are different than marketing strategies for fresh goods.
- Buyers of processed goods can be different than your usual buyers of raw agricultural products, so you'll need to spend time hunting down new buyers.
- Anytime you design or create a new product, it requires time to research labels, figure out packaging, look into trade-name requirements and develop formulations. All-in-all, processing can be extremely time intensive, especially at first.
- You'll need to source extra organic ingredients, which can be time consuming and difficult.
- Unless you've got all kinds of time on your hands, it's very likely that you'll need to hire a processing manager to oversee your operation.
- You'll need to learn how to calculate the organic composition of prepared products.
- You may need to spend more money on liability insurance.
As you can see there are pros and cons to on-farm processing. Before you jump right in, you'll want to research products, talk to your organic certifying agent, learn more about what organic handlers do and talk to other producers who have added processing to their operation.
The National Organic Program (NOP) suggests you consider marketing processed products without any organic claims at first in order to allow yourself more time to not only clearly develop your product formulations but also means you can establish your processing facility and familiarize yourself with processing regulations before fully incorporating organic labeling into the mix.