Organic market matures with farm

Heather Smith Thomas/For the Capital Press Nate Jones operates one of the first farms certified as organic by the state of Idaho.

Nate Jones’ farm was one of the first certified organic operations in Idaho.

“Our farm was one of the original 11 to be certified organic by the state of Idaho in 1990,” says Jones. “I am grower number 6. I cash rent four different farms in the Glenns Ferry and Hammet areas.”

He started farming in 1975 when he came back to his father’s 160-acre farm.

“We started organic production in 1987. After we became officially certified we added more acres. On my dad’s farm we just grew alfalfa, wheat and beans,” Jones says.

“We weren’t intensely using insecticides or herbicides. After we started farming organically, I wondered if we might be able to grow potatoes or onions.”

They had never grown those crops so they didn’t have to unlearn the conventional production paradigm that says there is no way to grow an onion without a fungicide.

“I’ve grown onions now for 25 years and never used any chemicals,” he says.

For the first 12 years he farmed, it was difficult to make a living. He turned to organics because it seemed financially rewarding and more economically sustainable.

“Organic farming is economically viable; these markets are here to stay,” Jones says.

He recently started growing grain corn for an organic dairy and the yields are similar to those of his neighbors.

“We are being rewarded for our efforts, and it’s also fun, showing people that it can be done,” he says.

“We converted to pivots over the past six years. This allowed us to start growing corn, because we just had hand lines and wheel lines before that,” he says.

His mother still lives on the farm, and Jones has two sons, Hollister and Wilder, ages 22 and 26.

“Currently they are in college, but still help me at farmers’ markets,” he says. “We’ve been selling our produce at farmers’ markets for 20 years — 15 years at Ketchum, Idaho.”

The farmers’ market experience was good for his boys, he says.

“They both thanked me for making them do that,” he says. “Today it is really easy for them to talk to strangers. Now that they are in college, they realize they have communication skills that a lot of young people don’t have.”

The markets have evolved, and marketing is a major part of organic production.

“You can’t just haul your crop to town and hope to get the best price. You need to work at creating your own markets,” Jones says.

Organic prices used to be about 25 percent over conventional prices but in the past five years organic production has developed its own market.

“Today, big food companies want a steady supply. If you’ve been growing beans for a certain company, they want those beans again next year. At harvest, they are willing to talk about next year’s crop. They need to know they will have X number of beans coming in. Futures contracts on organic beans don’t exist,” he explains.

The companies must have a relationship with the grower. This is a better way to do business, because the grower also knows he or she has a market for the crop.

“There were a number of years we just grew it and hoped to find someone to buy it,” he says.

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