2012 22.1 Dryland Organic Farming in the PNW

Meeting Opportunities & Challenges: The First Conference on Dryland Organic Farming in the Pacific Northwest

The first conference for Pacific Northwest (PNW) dryland organic producers was held in conjunction with the 2011 Annual Tilth Conference. This conference was designed to address the concerns of dryland producers in the PNW states
of Washington, Oregon and Idaho, where drought and a short growing season are major constraints. Organic dryland acreage in the PNW is slowly increasing, having reached 30,000 acres of grains in 2007. This one-day symposium, attended by approximately 100 participants, covered the nuts and bolts of production, and methods to find new markets for organic crops. It was a joint effort organized by Washington State University and the Tilth Producers of Washington. Most of this conference was recorded and can be viewed for free at the Organic website (http://www.extension.org/ pages/61391/dryland-organic-agriculture-symposium-fromthe-washington-tilth-conference-2011).

Development of alternative markets for organic dryland crops is one of the biggest challenges for producers transitioning to organic. While the majority of the conventionally-grown PNW dryland crops are exported in a well-established commodity market, development of a domestic organic market has been more difficult for producers. Direct marketing is unrealistic for most growers given the large acreage of a typical dryland farm (500 acres or more) and that consumers prefer to purchase value-added grains. Furthermore, there is a lack of basic infrastructure, such as a regional network of dedicated organic grain storage facilities, to enable development of a regional organic grain market.

The conference consisted of a morning session on “Finding and Building New Marketing Channels,” followed by an afternoon session that included discussion on the basics of dryland organic production and a farmer panel. Bob Quinn, a farmer from Big Sandy, Montana, delivered the keynote address. Mr. Quinn, an innovator in dryland organic production, described his diversified production regime that included an extended multi-year rotation and inclusion of vegetable crops such as squash. Mr. Quinn also discussed his farm’s business model based on the promotion of an alternative grain crop, Kamut®. Representatives from Organic Valley, the nation’s largest organic dairy cooperative, and Azure Standard, the largest distributor of organic bulk foods in the western U.S., described their companies’ needs in the organic food and feed industry. The other speakers, Lou Andersen of the Idaho Organic Feed Growers Association and Stacy Davies of Country Natural Beef, discussed how their cooperatives operate and the principles guiding each organization. All speakers emphasized trust between the customer and the farmer as the foundation for a successful business.

One of the major purposes of this dryland organic farming conference was to bring producers and potential buyers of organic grains together to discuss their product needs while building business relationships. Two facilitated networking sessions were held to help organic farmers in attendance broaden their connections with potential buyers. Eight companies sent representatives to explain their companies’ needs in the organic grains industry, which included feed grains, hay, chickpeas, oats, wheat and other crops. The complete list and contact information can be found on the conference website (http://csanr.wsu.edu/pages/Dryland_Organic_Agriculture_in_the_PNW_2011).

This conference was a timely event, bringing together producers, researchers, processors and other relevant parties to discuss the future of dryland organic farming in the PNW. It is clear that there is a substantial demand for organic food and feed grains, but without a formal structure, connecting buyers and producers of organic grains will continue to be a challenge.

Tags: 2011, Azure Standard, Big Sandy, Bob Quinn, Business, Buyers, Conference, Country Natural Beef, Dryland, eOrganic, Farming, Grains, Growing Methods, Idaho Organic Feed Growers Association, Kamut, Lou Anderson, Markets, Organic, Organic Valley, PNW, Producers, Production, Research, Stacy Davies, Symposium, Tilth Producers, Transistion, WSU