The Nevada Department of Agriculture could drop the state organic certification program next month
A day of reckoning is coming for the local organic industry. Nevada’s cash-strapped certification program is apt to fold anyway if it doesn’t get some help—like more state funding, obviously, or the lucrative addition of meat, eggs and honey—and with the 2015 legislative session ending soon, new funding seems unlikely. The Nevada Department of Agriculture has clout, however, and a June 3 board meeting could determine whether the organics program stays afloat.
The department’s organic advisory council is studying several options in the meantime: increasing program fees; bringing in more organic producers and handlers; convincing legislators to tap into the general fund (better hurry); or closing the state program altogether in favor of private certifiers. Nevada already has a handful of those, actually, and it’s a misconception that every state boasts a government-certification program. Only 16 do, and for all its crunchy goodness, even California isn’t one of them.
Killing the state program means a symbolic lack of support, proponents say, and personal costs can be huge. Take Kunall Patel, co-owner of Davidson’s Organics and a member of the Organic Advisory Council, who’s sitting on around $500,000 worth of materials emblazoned with the state-certification label. He says they’ll be moot if the state program closes—a system that needs a relatively piddling $60,000 to $70,000 annually.
“It’s a large deficit to the common man,” he said, “but it’s not a large deficit when you look at the state budget. It’s a drop in the bucket when millions of dollars are being spent on other programs.”
He calls it “depressing,” too, that the program has so few clients. Forty-one are enrolled, said NDA spokeswoman Rebecca Allured. That’s a bit more than half the number of certified outfits statewide.
The program won’t last, Patel said, “unless we reconfigure the cost matrix the NDA has; unless we aggressively market and get new clients; unless we raise the fee that businesses pay to be organic-certified; unless we get a bill mandated by the state or the NDA that says organic programming is important to the state of Nevada …. that there’s still going to be a deficit, but it’s important, and we’re going to keep funding it until the deficit isn’t there.”
Closing is an option, “but it’s far more open-ended than that,” Allured said of the June 3 meeting. “It’s not by any means a ’yes’ or ’no’ right now. We’re looking for a solution that works for as many people as possible.”
Amber Sallaberry, of Reno’s Great Basin Community Food Co-op, begs to differ.
“They’re going to make the decision that day, and it’ll be really easy to scapegoat lack of support, but the program has lost half of their producers because [the NDA] made an unstable program [in the first place],” she said. “It’s a bigger part of restructuring the plant industry.”