Our state's organic produce system is strapped for cash
Unless legislators agree to a funding increase, Nevada’s organic certification program could expire within a year.
The state program, which ran on general funds until around 2008, needs $65,000 to stay afloat. If it tanks, farmers and produce handlers must go through private certification channels instead, in a potential switcheroo that has some local business owners concerned. Amber Sallaberry, co-founder and general manager of the Great Basin Community Food Co-op in Reno, described the issue in ways that are both practical and symbolic.
“There are numerous farmers who are already in the program, who’ve already paid for the marketing, who have been a part of it and helped build it for years,” she said. “They would lose that certification and would have to go to an outside agency, either CCOF [California Certified Organic Farmers, a household name in the organic biz] or a private agency, a privatized company … or we could go to Oregon, someplace like that.
“They’d have to pay additional fees for travel, to get the certified inspectors in. It’s all feasible, but at the end of the day it’s just really, really regressive.” Should the program disappear, Sallaberry said, “It would just be a huge failure in our leadership. They’d be ignoring what people want in our community. They’d be ignoring the business that’s actually thriving.”
Sallaberry, who has garnered support from more than 60 area businesses and organizations, also hopes to see a livestock component added to the state program. If meat, eggs and honey become part of the deal, she explained, “that would take care of the budget right there.”
Nevada has no private certification programs of its own, but some organic businesses here—almost half of them, actually—are certified by out-of-state companies anyway, according to the Nevada Department of Agriculture. Private certification costs are pretty variable, said NDA administrator Dawn Rafferty.
“It’s really hard to compare, because they all charge differently,” she said, though she did note that some small farms may struggle to keep up financially if state certification disappears.
The NDA has no problem with organic certification, Rafferty added, save for the fact that the program is penniless. The livestock addition would require bout $10,000 in staff training, she said, “so we’ve been reluctant to enter into that until we know there’s a really big demand for it.”
That’s why the co-op is now compiling a list of would-be organic ranchers for the NDA.
“It’d be really nice to have the program be in-state; to be represented in our local economy, and to have those fees going back to our state,” said Nicole Sallaberry, Amber’s colleague and sister. “Organic practices not only require that you don’t use synthetic fertilizers, you don’t use GMOs, and you don’t use irradiation or sewage sludge, but you also have to improve the land and promote biodiversity. So it’s something that’s really beneficial.”
Though the organic industry has grown more than 3,000-fold in recent decades, she said, “I just don’t see any interest from the Nevada Department of Agriculture. I don’t know if that’s coming from higher-ups, or if it’s a political battle between people wanting to grow GMO crops here, but there’s definitely [consumer] interest.”