Nevada farmers face new regulations as state organics program closes
Our state’s floundering organic certification program was expected to die at a June 3 meeting of the Nevada Department of Agriculture, and it did. Consumers won’t be put out nearly as much as the farmers who’ll now seek private certification, though—their produce is still available, just bureaucratically complicated in some cases (see “Seeding Change,” May 28 RN&R, and “Battle Grown,” April 9). The NDA program will run through next March, then close altogether.
Meanwhile, a new bill is making the farming community uneasy yet again.
“Everyone got distracted in the pursuit to save organics when the real threat to Nevada’s local food supply was passing through legislative committees under our noses,” Great Basin Community Food Co-op manager Amber Sallaberry wrote in a mass email after the June 3 meeting.
She’s referring to Assembly Bill 77, an omnibus bill that as of press time awaited signature from Gov. Brian Sandoval. Part of the measure calls for all non-organic ag producers—minus ranchers who deal in livestock, poultry and animal products alone—to seek new certification from the NDA. The producer-certification program previously was optional, and not expensive so much as cumbersome. Now it applies to far more parties, including those at farmers’ markets, those who grow animal feed, those in the wine and nursery industries, potentially, and some groups that aren’t commercial at all.
“The language of the statute doesn’t exactly clarify if you have to sell it commercially or not,” said Rob Holley, of Dayton-based Holley Family Farms. “You have church and community gardens that grow food for people in need, and by the definition of the statute, they would have to have [a producer certificate] as well.”
That’s right—church and community gardens may need the state stamp, too.
“They’ve opened up a big can of worms,” Holley said, though he doubts it happened intentionally.
“A lot of it is unintentional,” agreed Mark O’Farrell, farmer and former chairman of the NDA’s organic advisory council. “It’s bureaucrats thinking they’re doing something to protect the public interest, and what they’re really doing is counterproductive.”
O’Farrell said the change amounts to “an increasing bureaucratic burden they’re placing on farmers, especially small farms, to meet the safety and health standards they have to require of large corporations, because those are inherently dangerous. … It’s in part to make it easier for them to assume control of the food supply, which apparently is what the mandate from the USDA will be when it comes down from the federal level [in the form of the Food Safety Modernization Act].”
As for A.B. 77, “We thought, ’No way in hell would this ever go through, because it’s so bad,’ Sallaberry said. “Now it empowers the NDA to regulate nearly all of the sectors of agriculture in Nevada.”