>> Spring 2017
>> Fall 2016
>> Spring 2016
>> Fall 2015
>> Spring 2015
>> Fall 2014
>> Spring 2014

field day

Challenges and Rewards in Going Organic 

Going organic in blueberries requires intensive crop management and considerable risk, according to Tom Avinelis of Homegrown Organic Farms in Porterville, California. But it can be rewarding.

“The realities of organic farming are that you are going to spend three times as much time management-wise, and you, long-term, are going to have to apply better science to what you are doing to be successful,” Avinelis said. “It is a very intense business. It has much greater risk of production than conventional, because we have fewer tools.”

Also, Avinelis said, organic growers must produce volumes equivalent to conventional growers to prosper, and, in some cases, even survive.

All that said, Avinelis told participants at the 2017 Oregon Blueberry Conference that done right, organic blueberry production can be a successful business model. But it wasn’t always that way.

Despite double digit growth dating back 20 years, Avinelis said the organic industry long struggled with distribution, pricing, consumer understanding of what organic meant and obtaining critical mass.

For many years, dating back to the 1980s, Avinelis said, the industry also faced pressure from conventional farmers and retailers, who were concerned over the message the organic industry was sending to consumers.

“A number of the major marketers were reluctant to handle organic because of the questions about what message are we giving,” Avinelis said. “Are we saying conventional is bad?”

As a result of that and other factors, the organic industry struggled throughout the 1980s, Avinelis said. “It didn’t have a sound marketing system set up, so they weren’t necessarily getting an increase in price for organic versus conventional. And you had this barrier of understanding.

“Retail didn’t recognize how to best deal with organics,” he said.

“Also one of the biggest challenges was defining what is organic,” Avinelis said. “It was very disconnected.”

A significant breakthrough occurred in 1990, he said, when Congress passed the Organic Food and Production Act.

“That helped put consistency to a fragmented industry,” Avinelis said.

Also, by the late 1990s, Whole Foods began actively promoting organic food.

“That forced other retailers to take a realistic look at what is organic, and what is it going to look like in the marketplace, and what consumer base am I driving to my stores,” Avinelis said. “The evolution from that has been very interesting, because even large scale, bulk type venues found that by offering organic in their venue, you drew a new level of customer to your store: That not only did they buy organic, they also purchased other higher margin items within the store.”

Another breakthrough occurred in 2002, Avinelis said, when the National Organic Standards Board put in place final rules and standards for organic farming.

“At that point, organic is a label that means food has been grown and certified along federal guidelines of the Organic Foods and Production Act,” Avinelis said.

“We have been able to certify the process and that brought consistency throughout the United States,” he said.

Another critical breakthrough occurred just recently, he said.

“(Retailers) came to an enlightenment about five or six years ago and began to do systems management about handling organic the same way as conventional,” Avinelis said. Prior to that, organic produce largely was distributing through regional wholesalers, he said, with some farmers just “sticking a couple of crates on the back of a conventional truck.”

When the Great Recession hit, some predicted it would spell the end of the organic industry.
“During the recession, the first article that came out in Produce News was, ‘this means the end of the organic industry,’” Avinelis said.

“We turned around and had the best organic citrus market we have ever seen,” he said. “It was a confirmation that organic is not a fad, but will continue to be one of the growing mainstays in production, because of growing demand of consumers.”

Today, the organic industry “is beginning to mature,” Avinelis said. “The market is becoming more programmed and you’re having a greater consistency in the differential between (the pricing of conventional versus organic).”

Avinelis added that farming organically typically will cost $1,500 to $2,000 more per acre than farming conventionally.

“So your production numbers need to be equivalent to what we have conventionally,” he said.

Challenges, Opportunities Ahead for Blueberries >>>

Foreign Production Increases Among International Developments >>>

Hive Placement Among Keys to Tapping Bees' Full Potential >>>

FSMA and Oregon's Blueberry Industry >>>

Challenges and Rewards in Going Organic >>>

WPS Pesticide Application Section 'Contentious' >>>

A Platform Based Fresh Blueberry Harvester >>>

Joe DeFrancesco - Major Commitment to Minor Crops >>>

Third Online Course Offered >>>

Thank you to the 2017 Oregon Blueberry Conference Sponsors >>>