Huckaby urges USDA organic program to keep pace with market

11:42AM Oct 31, 2019
Jeff Huckaby, president of Grimmway Farms/Cal-Organic, testifies before the Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research Subcommittee hearing
( House Agriculture Committee )

The future of organic farming will depend on the federal government keeping pace with the organic marketplace, Jeff Huckaby told the House Agriculture Committee on Oct. 30.

Huckaby, president of Grimmway Farms/Cal-Organic, testified before the Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research Subcommittee hearing as part of a grower panel reviewing the state of organic agriculture.

“We need the support of Congress to ensure the U.S. Department of Agriculture not only has the resources to maintain, enforce, and develop organic standards but also to provide oversight and accountability when the regulatory process fails to move forward the standards demanded by the organic sector,” he told lawmakers. “To continue to provide choices for consumers and economic opportunities for farmers, the public-private partnership between USDA and the organic industry must continue to grow.”

Huckaby said organic farming must include continuous improvement and “evolution of the organic standards to meet consumer expectations.”

“The federal government must move rapidly to implement standards that farmers and the industry recommend through the National Organic Standards Board,” he said. 

Taking off

Grimmway Farms acquired Cal-Organic Farms in 2001 and expanded organic acreage. 

“We are the sole supplier to Costco for baby carrots, and have worked with this leading retailer to transition 100% of the carrots sold in their stores to certified organic,” according to his testimony. “We are also the leading supplier of organic vegetables to most of the major retailers throughout the nation.”

He said Cal-Organic grows more than 65 commodities on more than 45,000 acres in California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Georgia and Florida. 

He noted that the company expanded its operation to Georgia and Florida with the acquisition of Generation Farms in Lake Park, Georgia. This week, he said Grimmway Farms/Cal-Organic started its first organic harvest in that region consisting of more than 10 vegetables.

“While the climate in the southeast is significantly different than California, we are finding ways to produce high-quality organic vegetables,” he said.

In his testimony and responses to lawmakers, Huckaby also stressed the need for more certainty around the supply of a legal agricultural workers for U.S. farmers.

Huckaby also said that giving financial support to help conventional growers make the three-year transition to organic certification would be one way for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue to build the momentum of organic farming, 

“0rganic is a bright spot in U.S. agriculture with tremendous opportunity to change the future of our food system,” Huckaby said in his statement. “As consumers become increasingly interested in sustainable food production, nutrition and quality, organic farming can provide a path forward to improve the state of agriculture in the U.S.”

Looking to the future

Huckaby said that organic farming has grown rapidly over the past two decades, from an $8 billion-a-year industry when USDA issued the National Organic Program standards in 2002 to more than $52 billion now. Fresh produce is a big part of the popularity of organic, he said.

“While organic produce previously enjoyed rapid double-digit growth, it leveled off to a healthy growth rate of 5.6% in 2018,” he said. That is still well above the growth rate of all produce of 1.7%, he said..

He said plenty of opportunity remains with organic farming.

“Consumers are looking for high-quality produce and desire variety and year-round availability,” he said.

“As more Americans incorporate fresh produce into their diets, an opportunity exists for farmers who are willing to think outside the box.”

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