Officials celebrate organic ag opportunities
Organic industry's contribution to economy lauded
By SEAN ELLIS
KUNA, Idaho -- Idaho State Department of Agriculture Director Celia Gould says the department is holding its first Idaho Organic Week to showcase the diversity and availability of the state's organic products.
Thursday's kickoff press conference was at Rice Family Farm in Kuna. More than 35 different organic crops are grown on the 18-acre farm and the operation provided an opportunity for ISDA officials to emphasize the state's growing organic industry.
More than 250 organic operations in the Gem State produce dozens of different types of certified organic products, including vegetables, meats, milk, cheese, wine and nonfood crops such as hay and barley.
"I think it surprises people to find out what is organically grown in Idaho," said Brandon Lamb, manager of ISDA's organic certification program.
Lamb said the weakening economy has not adversely impacted the state's organic industry, which is growing about 9.5 percent per year.
The ISDA is encouraging organic producers and farmers to plan special events and activities to take advantage of Idaho Organic Week, which was June 18-24.
According to the latest USDA statistics, there are 254 organic operations in Idaho with 111,000 cropland acres and 37,000 acres of pasture and rangeland. Their combined total sales are $71.25 million.
Several organic operations in Idaho were highlighted during the media event. Together, they painted a picture of organic farming as a process that, while difficult at times, is a labor of love and can be profitable.
Rice Family Farm owner Lee Rice said while the paperwork and weed control are difficult hurdles, organic farmers can turn a profit "if you do it right and you have a good, quality product."
"I think we're coming out on top at the end of every year predominantly because we're direct marketing a lot of stuff," Rice said.
To become certified organic, a grower needs to have a good record-keeping system to document every step of production, according to Cathy Wilson, manager of Flora Company, a Boise nursery.
"This requires an attitude of cooperation and willingness to comply," she stated in a news release. "It is a lot of work for the grower, it is time-consuming and there is expense involved."
More than paperwork and time, "I would say that it takes passion to be organic," stated Mitch Lucero, co-owner of A+ Ranch, a family-owned organic turkey operation in Richfield, Idaho. "(My wife) Acee and I love the land and every animal that we care for on it."