Bob Scowcroft on Organic Agriculture Trends and Challenges (at Washington State University)
Stay right there. Welcome everybody. Could I have it quiet, please. This is a joint seminar between soil science and crop sciences today. We're really fortunate to have such an honored guest. His name is Bob Scowcroft, and he's the executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation, which is based in Santa Cruz, California. It's a national organization. It promotes and gives research money to farmers' groups, as well as researchers at universities, for conducting research in organics. It was formed in 1992. Bob is one of the co-founders, and he's been the executive director since its forming. Before that, he actually worked for CCOF, which is the California Certified Organic Farmers. And if you know about certification, that was sort of
THE certification group. Even a lot of foreign countries, like Australia and New Zealand, would look at the California guidelines for their certification practices. He was executive director of CCOF for four and a half years, and then the six years previous to that, he was actually the national organizer for Friends of the Earth. So he's been involved in the environmental business, and certainly organics, for a long time, and of all the people I know, because I've been doing research in organics for about 20 years, he knows all the players. I know some of the players, he knows all the players, and today he's going to talk about the current state of organic farming in the United States. Welcome, Bob. Thank you. Good to have you here. It's really a pleasure to be here at WSU. Without going into great details, my strength was not in academia in my youth and I always find it amazing that I look out... I give about 60 presentations a year and looking out with Ph.D.s and masters and students that really want to
continue their career... And I always wonder, why in the world are they listening to me if they saw my grade point average. So I'm going to stay away from my college experience and talk about a lot of my real-life experience, and I'm going to try to keep it to about 30 minutes, because at this point, I agree to do these kind of presentations to hear what your questions are, because that's how I learn, you know, what are you thinking about and asking and envisioning the future as, so that I can take back to my board and my foundation and see and identify trends early on. So I'm not going to speak as long as maybe some others do formally, but I have three or four hours of presentations, so we can hang and talk for quite a while if you want. I've titled this a time of transition and contradiction, or subtitled it, thanks to being here for a day early with John and getting into what's going on and where and how around the word organic, because essentially there is another generation of incredible growth about to occur out there. There are barriers to that,
and there are opportunities available to that, but it will force a lot of us to look at many of the issues around organic that were not codified in the Organic Food Act. Things about labor, water, energy, distance traveled, local, eco labels, and all of those are coming to a head around the word organic now, and the contradictions that they pose and that many of you, I hope, will study, will help us be better organic advocates in the years to come. I'm not a farmer. No one's allowed to see my garden. I've been a organic activist and organizer for 27 years, back when organic was a Communist plot as a matter of fact. I want to thank John for inviting me here. Steve Jones, I also got to spend time with him this morning. And I want you to know that across the country in the land grants, WSU and you folks here and these professors are considered one of the most important organic oases in the United States. So I hope that
I can facilitate and agitate a little bit more to keep that so in the future. What I want to do is tell you a little bit about OFRF and weave through that some of the experiences that I see out, unfolding out there, because our story to some extent is the organic research story as well. We were founded by two organic farmers and myself in 1989,1990. We were a paper front and a tape machine for two and a half years, and then starting around 92, we got a couple of grants and a little bit of money, and we started to... we were, we were founded to fund organic research. We watched what was happening with the multinationals, we watched the money going into the university system, how it was leveraging the beakers and the computers, and organic, these particular organic farmers, said we've done everything else ourselves, there's no reason why we can't do the same thing in academia. We're a couple of zeros short with the amount of grant monies we make, and maybe the implications of the monies we're allowed to give. But the fact of the matter is, now 14 years later OFRF has made
224 organic research grants, and we've awarded 1.4 million dollars in 3000, 5000, and $15,000 increments. We have a passionate belief about the public domain and the information, the access to information. So we have spent an amazing amount of money and staff time to discover every certified organic farmer in the US. We have relationships with 89 certification groups or their chapters, just to get their registration lists, and a few of us, a few of them think we are the government. They don't want to give it to us. What do you want those certification lists for? And the fact the matter is you're certified organic, and your name has to be in the public domain, the consumer has the right to know whether you're certified or not. So we send, free of charge, this newsletter to every certified organic farmer in the U.S. that we can find, and we're not a membership group. And so you can just get on our website and register and say I want the newsletter and you'll get it forever, until you either move or say please this is, I don't want it anymore. So we have 20,000 people that are doing that, and we get this out about twice
a year, and this goes to... I'm a little interactive kind of guy, so I want you to shout out if you have an answer here. Does anybody know how many certified organic farmers there are in the United States? Anybody want to venture a guess? Anybody want to risk your reputation here to yell out? OK. Nobody. Two million farmers in the U.S. For the first time last year, the ag census did some organic questions and they discovered 11,998 organic farmers that claimed they were certified organic. However, the national organic program who's charged with accrediting certification groups has collected 8700 names. So there's see, math, 3200 give or take folks that are saying they're organic to the USDA ag census that are not certified. We need a lot more understanding of who those growers are and
what the interfaces between what certification groups are reporting and the census is discovering. We also largely make our grants throughout the U.S., and we've made I think nine to Canada. And you know, my board makes all the grants. I'm largely hermetically sealed from the grant-making process, because I have a lot of biases and a lot of friends out there. So my job is largely to ask for money all the time, and my board's job is to give it away. Somehow, and I don't know how it happened, but we did make one grant to Poland for organic mushroom research and, you know, those things happen. But the other eight or 10 to Canada, and the rest are in the U.S., and they're all over the U.S. Our board of directors, by our charter, a majority must be full- time certified organic farmers, and we've been able to regenerate five times now a board where we found organic farmers that had the academic experience and the practical experience to take a leadership role on the board. We require two scientists on the board just to keep the organic farmers from
really wandering too far afield and remember that academia matters as well. And then we have the players to be named later, and we always have two or three folks there. We're a self-nominating process. However, we have now a list of 20 some odd people that have found us. When I say self-named, -nominated, we have a nominating committee that's supposed to look out there. But the fact of the matter is, so many people are coming to us saying, this is one of the most exciting, innovative groups I've ever seen, I want to, you know, I want to do more, I want to be on your board, how do I get to do that? So we have been very blessed with talented people lining up to take seats when people rotate off. We have... also, see how do I put this, you know, we are a grant maker, that is our primary, primary mission, but in more recent times, we realized that making grants alone really wasn't making it anymore and that we...A gentleman named Mark Lipson published a report called "Searching for the O Word", and we use the current research
information cert system, the CRIS system, and we've got 75, 76 keywords, and we sent them through the CRIS system looking to see, for organic research reports. And we found that out of 30,000 projects, I think there were only 60 or 70 that were organic pertinent. And from that, OFRF created a policy program, and simplistically we called it "Our Fair Share" and we linked it to the size of the economy of organic agriculture in the U.S., and we think that there are about, about 1.8 percent of the food economy is certified organic right now. And so we want 1.8 percent of all the federal... We see that as an overlay. We think Washington State, if it has an ag research, not this institution, but the state government, if it has ag research, at a minimum, it should be putting that amount of money in organic ag research. So the policy program, from there we, we created the Scientific Congress of Organic Ag Researchers. We have a thousand
members on that list, but there's essentially a steering committee of organic farmers and scientists as peers, working on writing the organic research agenda. We wrote something called the Organic Research and Education Initiative and snuck it through the back door into the '98 farm bill. And then last year we wrote appropriations language to fund it. And it became $4.7 million of organic ag research money. That monies, the announcement was made that that was available in April, and those grants, the committees have met, and those grants have been made. And right now we're waiting for the politics of the Secretary's office, because some of those grants might be in Democratic districts, and anybody who knows anything about politics, they're just not going to announce anything that doesn't have a partisan spin to it. So certain groups have gotten those monies, and they've issued their own press releases. But a friend in the USDA sent over some PowerPoints and I just thought I'd
point out briefly that there were $4.7 million available through this OREI, and 105 proposals were submitted requesting $52 million. They say there are about a billion dollars available for ag research in different agencies in the USDA. So 1.8 percent, we want $20 million annually. First go around, $52 million was requested. So even there you can see there's a need. And if you have an environmental perspective, you might say 1.8 percent is not enough, or a consumer perspective. Eleven proposals were recommended for funding out of those 105. And I have a breakout for those of you that are really into data or policy here on what was agronomic, what was crop, what was horticultural, but that, I'm not sure that'll be announced before the elections. But we, we do know the grand numbers here, and we know that there's a need for more organic research money. We...
Being a, being an organizer myself, every once a while I can't restrain myself and not get with the activists out there, and we come up with these ideas. We decided that, watching the rural coalition, we would decide that we would create an organic caucus on Capitol Hill. And remarkably enough, we, when we got this idea, the OFRF policy program went in and we said we want three Republican and three Democratic co-chairs to launch it, and I call it the Organic Ark, you know, two by two, they're going to march out there and promote organic research. Remarkably we found three Democrats to join three Republicans, and we now have 34 representatives in the organic caucus. Remarkably, while again this would be a neat research project, it's generally accepted that there are more Republican organic farmers than there are Democrats, and that that's not the image you get from California. But anybody that's traveling to Louisiana and Nebraska and Maine and Texas and met organic farmer groups, their, their external politics that might be different than some, but their passion for organic and
the word "conserve" and conservatism relative to their organic farm is very important to them. And we have used that and worked with that, and we honor that to bring this organic caucus forward. And this caucus helped support the appropriations money. And we have gone back now to Congress for the appropriations process. We have a full-time staffer that's our legislative... We have nine employees, a budget of almost a million dollars. We have a staff scientist, two policy experts... And she emailed me... I've been on the road since Thursday... The Senate has finished its markup, and essentially the mandatory reduction was 10 percent across the board to fund this activity overseas that I'm not going to bring up here today, but they're cutting budgets across the board to fund our adventures elsewhere. Organic was one of the few lines that not only was level-funded but actually got some new money in the Senate Appropriations process. And here too I have the break out of the numbers for ERS,
but more important, Breese Tensor and Mark Lipson wrote the committee print language, the intent of where we want this money to go, and if any of you here are thinking of policy as a future, the action is all in writing the committee print language and getting the staff of these ag committees to accept your version, or your interpretation, of how these monies should be spent. As three or four years pass or 10 years pass, and it's like well, maybe organic is this, and the policy activists say no, the committee print said, for example, the committee directs no less than 500,000 be used for the collection of information on the financial condition, production practices, resources used, and economic well-being of organic farming households. We need more data on what a sole-proprietor organic farm looks like. So we got that in the committee print to back up that 500,000 so it wasn't hijacked elsewhere. We also have the staff scientist. We also do a little bit of research ourselves. We surveyed the
nation's organic farmers, and we're never going to do it like this again. But we just published 120 pages of mind-numbing data. If you're having trouble sleeping, boy, take this thing and open it up. It will be very helpful for a good night's sleep. It also has phenomenal, unique numbers, charts, average high, low, and medium yields, high, low, and medium prices for every organic commodity in the U.S. And this, this survey, there's nothing like it out there. And our staff worked on it farm it out and work in cooperation with some, some academic institutions. And, who knows, there might be some dialogue with WSU actually, because I don't know if anyone's here, but we have been...Erica Walls, who produced this, has been talking with some folks up here, on maybe a different way to survey organic farmers. The entire PDF is available on our Web site.
This too is free of charge if you ask for it. We do like postage and print, but we feel very passionate about the public domain. And there are a thousand fields of data and there are more than a thousand stories from those data fields in here. Here's a simple one. The last survey, 28 percent of the organic farmers used computers for marketing and business activity. This survey, two years later, 81 percent of the organic farmers used computers for marketing business activity. So there's something happening with technology that has really swept across the organic community relative to the business plan. I brought three or four of these with me, but those of you that are computer savvy and friendly, go to our Web site and download it. That's www.ofrf.org. OFRF also...Pardon... It's the Fourth National Organic Farmers Survey.
Another thing OFRF does is look at all the land grants, following the theory of 2 percent of Our Fair Share. We felt that, Jane Subi is the author of this, we felt that we should put a little pressure on the land grant system to devote a portion of their acreage and their resources towards organic research. We basically embrace the conventional system if you will. We just want our fair share of it. So we did State of the States. We looked at the land grants for two years, and Jane has produced a remarkably unique document of all the research activity relevant to organic systems in all the land grants in the U.S. And since I spent a lot of time talking to the media, I tend to talk in sound bites. So the way the media has been most interested is, we think there are 886,000 research acres in the land grant system in the U.S.. and the first survey found 151 acres out of those 886,000
certified organic. 151 acres certified organic research out of 886,000. So Jane was really excited to report in this one that it has skyrocketed to 495 acres out of 886,000. The good news is there are another thousand or so acres in transition, and we're beginning to see some land grants use the data in here to leverage their own state governments to catch up with other ones who are doing more organic research. I told a story earlier today about Minnesota has 200 acres of those 495, and Wisconsin I think had three or four. So somebody did this great chart of Minnesota being all the way out here and Wisconsin being right here, and brought it to the governor's office and said we have Organic Valley, the largest co-op, it's doing 200 million dollars of organic sales, and we have five or six, three or four acres of certified organic research? And not only that, Minnesota is kicking our tush, you know, how can we let Minnesota do this? And so the governor declared an
emergency task force for organic research. You know football analogies work sometimes. And we have a very exciting, now, development and resource dedication in Wisconsin to catch up to Minnesota. It is all based on State of the States, and this too is on our Web site, and this too we can send you the hard copy if you want that as well. Couple of other things -- I tend to do a lot of media work. There was a time there where I was doing an interview every day, every day, five days a week, a reporter from somewhere was calling me. I just brought, if anybody's really interested in that, I brought just the last three months of clippings. We keep just a cover of all the clippings and the quotes and what papers. Last year I did five Associated Press interviews that appeared on average between 80 and 200 different newspapers. I sent my folks, I printed out the one from the Laotian Daily Times. It was written in Laotian, but it had my name, Bob Scowcroft. So I
thought that was... Actually I don't know if Laotian is the name of the language. I forget I'm at an academic institution, probably somebody, somebody knows that, but OFRF by, by our longevity, our staff, and our experience has become... and thanks to Google, where you type in keywords, we show up as being quoted all the time, and if you're a newspaper reporter on a quick deadline, you might as well call somebody that has a hundred quotes, that probably knows, or at least has the appearance of knowing, what they're talking about than calling somebody that has one or two quotes. But the interest in organic in the media is remarkable. I almost had, I decided not to bring it with me and hold it up, because this is, you know, it is still possibly a career ender. And then I wanted to do a story on organic ag research, and you know the little voice inside of me said, you know, Elvis Appears on Organic Farm.
You know, organic carrot looks like. But I went ahead and played it straight, and I conducted the interview. And then we had a little contest to see in the office who was going to tell us they saw it, article first. You know, I mean, do you really want to run in and say, Hey I just saw you in the National Enquirer that I picked up in the, you know it has certain implications for your own reading you know, perception of what people think you read. But lo and behold it did come out about three months later, and they played the story totally straight. And the title was, "Should You, Should You Feed Your Children Organic Food?" and they quoted me extensively. They had a picture of a farmer's market. In the last line, in the, the sentence was "The Enquirer has determined that organic is the way of the future." And OK, now, you know, how are you going to bring that home on your resume? But then our clipping service, which we don't have any more because it's too expensive, and Google's out there, delivered the clip, and the National Enquirer circulation is 2.1 million people
read it every week. So if you believe in the public domain and you want, and you make a policy of speaking to anybody, you take your risks on their editorial skill and that's what came of that. Lastly around OFRF and some of these threads I've tried to put together here: Our budget is about $1 million a year. We award approximately 150 to 200 thousand dollars of that every year to five to $15,000 grants. And I think in, for all of us, I'm saying where your money comes from is very important. Every one of you should always ask follow the money. It is critical out there. So OFRF wants to tell you that we get about 40 percent, 45 percent from family foundations that believe in organic or sustainable ag. They believe in organic research, but they feel they don't have the capacity to make the grants themselves, so they give it to us to re-grant. We get about 25 percent of our money from corporations. The government line is it actually increasing, we're probably up to seven or eight percent of our funds from the federal government, mostly through a very innovative program in the EPA
regions, a sustainable ag pest reduction, pesticide reduction program. Some regions are now giving us a portion of money to re-grant in their regions for organic ag research. And we get about 10 percent of our money from individuals, and we get about 15 percent of our money from really great parties. We have superstar chefs that cook benefits for us, and we're about to do our first rock and roll benefit in Washington, D.C. Tracy Chapman did do a benefit for us two or three years ago. So what we try to practice in fundraising is definitely, is the thematic sustainability. So if a corporation goes in a direction that we're not happy with, we don't have to worry about losing that money. We can stay right on track, right on message there. If individuals, the economy, goes down, we hope the family foundations will pick it up, and since our parties are so great, we always do well there as well. So in the, oh man, already 25 minutes. OK. I wanted to point out a couple of other... Get into some
more of the... Really have two sections left. Not so good news and some good news, and it's kind of a collage of the trends that I see out there. I'd like to read something that was published recently. All I can do is just show you, you know, kind of hand-up, it's photos of bread and food, and it says the ideas are simple and appealing. We eat too much, mostly of the wrong things. Our food comes to us, not as nature intended, but altered by Man during both growth and processing, and this tampering has produced increasingly bad effects on Man and the ecology. With this philosophic armament, a dedicated and growing band of people, most of them young, has taken to cooking and serving no-nonsense natural and organic foods. On a mass scale, organic foods and a supermarket economy are incompatible. Only a few small chains do stock organic produce.
In the main, the demand is met by small country-style stores, most of them on the two coasts where the movement started. I prefaced this by "published recently"; it was published in Life magazine in 1970. In those, 1970 Life did a special on organic food and was not politically correct in my own mind but basically said organic foods and supermarket economy are incompatible. And what's really missing, and it's been my theme in the last two days here, is we're already losing our 70s and 80s history in professorial and activists and the people that were in this article. That was 34 years ago. And many are retired or are in the later stages of their activism if they are still in fact activist, and I think it's, you know, Life really now, now it's called an obesity epidemic, and Life said it then. Now we have a couple of different words for it, but we can't really think about the future without being fully vested and understand some of the past. And so I've been on
my stump here, really calling for revolutionary reference librarians. I want, you know, to see clenched fist librarians out there trying to collect the oral history of the professors of the 70s and the 80s to, to document what these activists did then and why. Because as you go and study, you see, you know most of you are looking for published papers, and because of the set up in the system in the 70s and 80s, those institutions that publish those pages couldn't deal with systems research. You had to be one mono crop or one discipline. And so a lot of our history is oral or is at farmers' conferences. So if any of you know people in library sciences, collectively we're, we're in need now of the collection of that oral history. So that's my pitch for anybody looking at master's or future directions there. So here's some of the not so good news out there. Major corporations now have organic
divisions. One person told me of the 11 largest multinational agribusiness companies on earth, nine of them have organic divisions. Some of them won't tell you that or don't even know that, because they're so small, but organic is now in just about every corner of the agricultural community. What that means, with that kind of economy of scale, the price pressure on organic farmers for the raw materials is actually, it's going down. The growers now have to pay for their compost or their cover crops, their seeds. There's a lack of organic seeds out there, but because of the economy of scales and the larger entities starting to do this, they need a ceiling on their prices. So we're seeing in some commodities, salad mix used to be 18 to 24 dollars a box and it's now six to nine dollars a box. It's very hard to sell that commercially. The national organic program is not good, not so good news. It's been totally unable to really offer, render coherent interpretations of some of the rules and regs. And it has not
functioned really very well at all with the National Organic Standards Board, the advisory group with that. We need a lot more interactive respect for them and we need, I mean, that we've actually tried to get appropriations for an executive director of the National Organic Standards Board. But that's really got to move forward, because it's not helping to have different interpretations of the organic rules in different parts of the country. It could be an entire seminar, and it's probably a significant discussion around here, but genetically modified organisms are not so good news for organic agriculture. I profoundly recommend the Sacramento Bee's special report. I brought three or four of these with me. It's called "Seeds of Doubt." I think there, this is a Pulitzer-quality work and they certainly packaged it for their application to that, because this is, they printed thousands of these to get a special order, but it really looks at genetic engineering. It starts in Mali about seeds and then just
looks at all the U.S. and Europe. The issues are complex, and as I said are, are an entirely separate seminar. The immediate concern is the organic rule just says you cannot use genetically modified organisms in organic. It doesn't say anything about drift, about pollen, about the marketplace, about compatibility, zones in between. So there is this emerging significant economic impact to organic grain producers, of whom the marketplace is demanding testing and verification that they don't have any GMOs in their crop. Not so good news, that emerging confederation of privately funded nonprofits that are beginning to organize attacks on organic, using bogus science. Of course, that's what they say of us, so maybe that's maybe that's fair. They're trying to reframe the message and they're trying to... They have a lot more money than we do, so they have op eds and use all the tools that are available to everyone out there to get
their message out. Land use, water use, suburban sprawl. This occurs throughout agriculture. Reduction in research funding, throughout all agriculture. Significant problems with publishing in the public domain. Anybody that studied the work, really the history of ag research, the Bayh-Dole Act, Birch Bayh and Bob Dole, came out in the mid 80s, and that really reframed a lot of the public research and encouraged patenting and allowed professors to, and encouraged deans and departments and professors to have a personal financial interest in patentable research that they conduct. So it's very hard to patent cover crop rotations or companion planting information. It's a lot easier to patent a new seed variety. So we saw a lot of money rush towards that, because of the financial benefits, and some of the activists are calling for the repeal of the Bayh-Dole Act. We're... That's out on our outer edge. We also have...
I'd say not so good news is the issues around nutrition and obesity, and you know Homeland Security is now appearing in the ag, in the borders of ag imports and exports, and that's impacting organic as well. I'll close with just a quick... I have 11 items here, I probably should have done the... what's his name, the Tonight Show, you know 10 top items. But the good news out there is that organic sales are 10.4 billion. And then there's 0.4 billion in pet, cotton, and shampoo organic sales. Pet food is not really regulated yet. Cotton is not totally regulated yet, under the Organic Foods Act. And shampoo and personal hygiene products, it's mayhem over there. So I really try to stay away from that. I talked about certified organic. Another really good news, and I called it not so good news before, now I'd say it's good news, that major companies have organic divisions.
If you're a family farm advocate, concentration in organic is an issue to you. But many of my environmental brethren from the Friends of the Earth world remind me that there are now corporations with 10, 20, and 30 thousand acres certified organic. And if you're an eagle, or a fish in the water, or a monarch butterfly, or a beneficial insect, you're not really concerned on who owns that land, but you are much happier on 10,000-acre organic farm than you would be on a mono crop. So what the major companies have done is brought organic to an economic strata, if you're a consumer activist, that we in the natural foods movement of those 70s have never been able to do. Whole Foods and Wild Oats are able to do it as pretty remarkable indigenous chains. But now you have organic in the four major supermarkets and that one great box store that's coming to a community to near you soon.
Actually, that box store is now considered the number one seller of organic food in the nation. And of course they don't release their sales figures, they don't break them out, but most of the people, I call it GNA, generally nodded in agreement. It's a real academic term for you, where people go, yeah, that's right, I sell to them probably, yeah they probably are the biggest. [You're talking about Walmart] Oh John. Yeah that's, yeah, Wal-Mart is probably the number one seller of organic food in the country. And... you really threw me off. The American Vegetable Grower, premier conventional publication, has an organic section now in almost every publication. Jane Subi, our staff scientist, writes an organic research column for them. That goes to 340,000 readers, and they have an organic research and informational marketing section. Down in California, the Farm Bureau... A lot of people like to diss them. It's... For the elder professor, diss is a term my daughter uses a lot.
Four to six California Farm Bureaus are now run by organic farmers, and most of the others have organic farmer activists in the Farm Bureau community. There are 54 Farm Bureau chapters in California, so, you know, don't get too excited. But these are trends that you should really keep an eye on. And for me, this is why... If I can manage my speaking schedule, I'm much more interested to go to a Farm Bureau talk than go to a group of organic activists, unless John and Steve are leading them. I come here. Government agencies are making organic grants. We have the EPA regional money. You have risk management money. You have the organic research and education money. Across the board now, in an economic research money is getting grants and making them as well. ERS is collecting organic data. Consumers are purchasing more organic food than ever before. A number of land grants are creating or expanding their organic research programs. We call them organic oases. There are a remarkable amount of organic jobs opening up out there. The major companies, particularly the production companies,
are sweeping up the post-docs and the Ph.D.s in soil sciences and beneficial insects. And one or two even hired social scientists to look at rural vitality as part of their systems. They're paying phenomenal wages for them right now. Field managers... A couple of years ago, a larger company, about 1500 acres in organic production needed an organic field manager. Starting salary was $120,000 for that position. There's more organic research land, larger audiences, and a great group of people to meet, visit, and talk to. And that's what keeps me going, each and every day. Thank you very much for inviting me here. I went a little too long but... No, you're perfect. I'd love to take questions now. I don't know...want to help coordinate here? Questions? So when you're speaking to farmers or maybe some of the larger corporations, what do you see
them as focusing on the largest hurdle moving towards organic, what is the argument that you hear? Marketing. It's one word. You know, how do you educate consumers without building negatives on the other food? Almost all growers are relatively unique organic to their community. They go to church with their neighbors, their kids play in Little League. And so they don't want to say, my neighbor's a bad farmer, because generally their neighbors are good farmers. But they have chosen organics, so they need marketing assistance in the positives. What, how can I market this in a manner that doesn't put negatives on my neighbors? Corporations are sort of in the same zone. If I go on ad for my organic tomato juice here, what does that do to my conventional tomato juice over here. How do I differentiate that and market that? And you know, I used to be a little more obnoxious in the old days and, you know, point out that for, you know, there was a wave in produce that all of a sudden everybody was saying theirs was was fresh. You know
that in the 50s and 60s and 70s, all of a sudden you saw fresh as a big marketing term. And so I'd say to these guys, you know, it didn't mean that everything else was stale. You know, it was just a marketing term. And you have geniuses, you should be doing, and, you know, try to work on the marketing side of this and be positive about it. But that comes up every time. I suppose it depends on the scale but how successful, what's the success rate of people that are going into, changing over to, or going into organic farming efforts? That's a great question. I can, I can point to one ag economist actually, Dr. Karen Klonski. In California, to be an organic farmer, on top of everything else and certification, to use the "O" word in the state, you have to register with the State Department of Agriculture. It's a very small fee, and it's a one-page form. But the state wants to
know all the registrants. There are 80,000 farmers in California, and 2300 have registered. So the numbers are starting to get pretty real there. But what, so Karen studied the registrations and published a number of papers in the Giannini Foundation ag econ series. And what she noted over 10 years was over any given two-year cycle, 40 percent of the register's registrants dropped out, 40 percent, and 43 percent of the new ones joined up. So there was a net 3 percent growth every two years over that 10 year. So people were trying, it didn't work for them, it's not them, you know, there's way too many organic kiwis, never mind, and there's not enough organic radishes, I'm going to go for it. But that's the grower exit and entry. What she also discovered was the net, every two years, of acreage increase was 30 percent. It's that some segment of that group figured out how to do it and had their marketing and their
program in place. So they sat down okay, I'd put 10 acres in my little form, now I'm going to put 50, now I'm going to put 400. And so you've seen the net acreage grow remarkably. And that has implications of concentration as, you know, carrots really got to figure out how to do it, and they bought two other carrot companies. There's 17,000 acres of organic carrots coming out of California, 27,000 acres of mixed lettuce, both managed by an individual firm. So the next generation of research there is what's bringing those farmers in and what's pushing them out. That, I'd like to see that done in other states. You have what, 500 growers here? They're all yours. No. There are, I think there about 500 in this state, and I think that would be a really nice micro study, to see how they've grown and who's dropping out
and who's coming on because... and we need it done on a state level because it just doesn't, you know, it's apples and carrots. A paper of that type wouldn't really work in California, but it would be very important here. Bob, I have a question. You were talking earlier about the fact there's about 12,000 certified organic farmers in the United States, and that's the high, I think there was a lower estimate. Let's say there's 12,000, there's two million farmers, that's some 1.6 percent. How big can that number get? Can that be 5, 10 percent,15 percent? What do you, where do you see it going? Yeah, I'm putting my guesstimate on the line, to see... I can't tell you about the number of farmers. I'd rather use the rule of the farm gate, that 1.8 percent of the food economy. I think organic is poised to go to 4.5 percent just in the next three to five years. And I think it could be as much as 7 to 10 percent
in 10 years, in part for two reasons. One is that organic has grown. You know, they love to say 20 percent a year, but it's grown indigenously, without any using conventional marketing tools. So with rare exceptions, nobody has gone on ads on the Saturday morning cartoons to talk about organic cereal, for example, but it's getting close. So you see, if you see, actually probably the first group that will do it is... Silk soy milk and Horizon Organic Dairy are now owned by Dean Foods. That is a 500 million dollar certified organic annual sales, owned by Dean Foods, Horizon and Silk. I read in a trade publication that they have a $28 million dollar advertising budget. So they do things. I just came from Farm Aid the other day, and Silk sponsored Farm Aid. You're seeing, I saw my first Silk ads on TV. NBC affiliates. So imagine, 28
million goes very quickly if you're a Super Bowl-type advertiser or something else. But it can be regionally very effective. But you're just beginning to see that kind of advertising there. The other area is just the infrastructure is still profoundly immature, and there's quite a bit of activity now in food service. AP did a story about a company, I guess it's some same company named Bon Appetit serves about 150 college campuses, and they have made a pledge to try to buy local and buy organic when they can, but they also have some things that they have to buy for their whole 150 campuses, and now you see the processors delivering those organic materials to them in a food-service format. Butter, you know, for a while there you had to get and open each paper to get your little stick to serve butter in a food service. Now you can buy 10- and 20-pound blocks, which is the way butter is delivered in a food-service system. I know it could turn, you know, you can buy drums of organic tomato paste, I don't know if they're 55 gallons, but you can, you can buy
that, and that's what a food-service company would use to make pizzas for your students coming through there. So now you see the emerging of a food service, which is really your number twos, is the raw material. That is poised to take off. Most of the major organic companies actually have food-service divisions and are making their mini-successes. And I guess lastly I'll say, with the supermarkets and that big box store, at least one has begun to investigate... I don't know how much you know about the, I don't know if I'm getting too detailed here, but a lot of the food is made by just co- packers who's, who will make a zillion jars of tomato juice and then it'll come out under five different brand names. Basically the same tomato juice, but one has an ad on TV and the other goes in the co-op. But it's both certified organic. Well, one of these stores now is all over the Greater Bay Area saying that they have their brand, ah heck, Safeway. Safeway Select is,
has 25 certified organic Safeway Select items available in your store right now. That. Yeah. And so it was really bizarre, I was driving along the highway rocking out really loud on my rock radio station, and the ad was sponsored by Safeway Select Certified Organic. It was really just kind of a culture clash and I had to really stay focused on the road on my, I won't say the band's name, but... The Sacramento Bee article you mentioned, or the series of articles. One of the touchy issues was something you touched on, that GMOs in organic and whether or not it is a possibility, whether it could or shouldn't use those kinds of things. And when I was living in Davis awhile back, Davis, California, the local food co-op had a debate in their newsletter whether or not this was a good thing or a bad thing. I'm wondering what your impression is of how intense that debate
is within the organic community. What about your organization, and what is your perspective on it? The debate is profound right now. Unfortunately it's, it's deteriorating rather than productive, in my own mind. The one clarification, the Organic Foods Production Act does not allow, it is against the law to use a genetically modified organism in an organic system. What it's silent about is the drift or unintended consequences of borrowing your neighbor's combine or the mill, somebody, you know, mislabeling a seed. We now have gene fragments in a lot of seeds. That's a big issue out there. So the OFRF board struggled mightily, and we actually have a policy posted on our Web site that says that it is intellectually conceivable that genetic modification may play a role in the future in, in organic. We're, we're not ready to throw the entire bathroom out the,
out the door, but until health and safety studies are done, until consumers right to know, they were, that was our bias. You know, the right to know how your food is grown is critically important. That until and when, we wanted a moratorium on the introduction of these, until we understood its environmental impact, its health impact. So, you know, some people just, "oh great, your moratorium, I'm with you" and other people are saying "it's conceivable it could be used? Wait a minute you guys are..." So in some ways, we've kind of pushed everybody's buttons, but other, when people think about it, "Well that, that's kind of a responsible, you know, we're not really with you here, because we think it's good or we think it's, but we can kind of see where you're coming from." That's allowed us to get into some venues and keep the debate on a civil level. But it's really, cutting to the chase, until and when. He said the percentage allowance for the GMOs...
The... because there is no criteria, no direction in North America, there is no, I mean there's debate and dialogue and private retreats and invit-, invitation- only meetings to try to figure this out. But at the moment, there is no written criteria for background contamination, as there is, for example, pesticide residues. There is written criteria for the unavoidable 50-year DDD in your soil and the uptake into root crops. I think it's 5 percent of the EPA allowable limit. You could still have something organic and have background contamination. But there's no regulations in North America about GMOs. Now Europe is, that's what they are engaged in right now around organic, and I don't understand the parliamentary system of EU and its ability to override different countries there, but we could see something as much as
0.9 percent background contamination by weight of, not used, not allowed, but unavoidable or unexpected drift or contamination in organic. That's pretty far along in the EU organic regulatory system. You mentioned the national organic program's the not-so-good news. But so there are specific elements of that that you found not so good news? We should talk later. You know, I think it's, it's fundamental. You know, we wrote this as a public-private partnership, and the culture of many of the regulators and some of the departments of USDA is public? partnership? We are the regulators, we are the inspectors. And so we have a situation where we wrote the statute to have the National Organic Standards Board actually have statutory power. It's the only USDA advisory board that has statutory power. Any
organic interpretation or rule, at least the way we thought we wrote it, could not come solely out of the USDA's off-, it was based on the mistrust of the 60s and 70s. We didn't want to hand organic to the USDA, who had told us it was a communist plot or told us it would starve America. But we did want enforcement and, and some institutionalization of the term. We felt that's how the market would grow. But at the same time we wanted an organic standards board that would have the right, that no Secretary of Ag could issue a directive without the NOSB's, National Organic Standards Board's, approval and the NOSB, this advisory group, could not issue a directive without the secretary signing off on it, putting it into Federal Register. And what's unfolded is they've ignored that. They've issued a number of directives on their own, "we are the USDA", and they've created some bad will. So much so that a number of groups have sued them. There's a big case in New England where a certifier had, did not allow certification of a, of what they said was a
factory poultry operation, that access to outdoors was written in the Organic Food Act, and they did not allow certification. The USDA overruled them and said they are certified in our eyes. So then they said, "well, what's this do to our accreditation, if you're saying that our rule, you've accredited us as an organic certifier, how can you take Section 409 Part C and say it's in balance? You don't get to do that, or it or we've interpreted it differently." And that's in civil court right now, and then there's been a number of other interpretations in more recent times. You know, I gave a quote to The Chronicle and called it, you know, organic management by crisis. There isn't leadership in the national organic program that has a system of interfacing with the Organic Standards Board to say "hey, we need clarification on access to outdoors. You know, is it a hole in the wall that they get to go out, because they're not going to want to go out in Minnesota at 10 below. But they really, and they might not want to go out in Louisiana at 105. So then how big does the hole have to be? Does it have to have a door?"
You know, so that's really fine print but it's critical to some of the points that we're at now. We're getting regulations, and all we ask for is public testimony, discussion, Organic Standards Board's recommendation, and secretaries can say yea or nay, and that's not happening. You said you'd like to see 1.8 of the research budget applied toward organic. Correct. How would you delineate that, since you, the door's been left open for GMO research, it sounds like, based on what you said, and there's a lot of like integrated pest management, where the applications are going through conventional and organic. So how do you cut that piece of pie? Sure. Well, it's organic pertinence, organic relevance, within the Organic Foods Production Act. So it's not, I mean we, I was telling the, whenever I get in a real bind I declare myself a flexitarian.
You know, "hey, I'm flexible about this, don't get mad at me." You know, IPM is great, sustainable ag is a fantastic community of dialogue. But if it's a little bit of herbicide, it's not allowed in the Organic Foods Production Act. So we want 1 percent, 1.8 percent of those monies, that are specifically pertinent, relevant, and legal to the Organic Foods Production Act. So IPM relative to that organic money would not be included in that. And Jane, when she wrote State of the States, did not include that research, even though we all know many of the researchers, many of the scientists, we in conferences introduce people to each other, but, but relevant to our policy program, the, the framework is the OFPA or our criteria for better, for worse. I think that I've heard a number of people raise questions about that organics or standards for organics can disregard some ecological issues that
exist whether the system is organic or conventional. So therefore there's a lot of interest in people about my age, say the mid 20s, getting into org-, or agriculture for motives to maintain a smaller system. I think Holland has a kind of a color-coded system, you have local, you have organic, there's different delineations within organic. Do you see a future in the United States going in that direction, to try and preserve some integrity of this small farms' existence? Boy, it's like I handed that question to you. We as a board, we have a board member who has taken several sabbaticals over to Europe and studied organic over there. And he kind of uses the technical term of multi-functionality. Those of us without strong academic backgrounds call it the "beyond organic" dialogue. And I think our board is going to try to set aside a $40,000 package to find two or three grad students to write the definition of multi-functionality or to
explore that in a, in a white paper format for the, for North America, because the Swiss have proven academically that organic has multi-functional benefits. Energy, water, rural revitalization, local communities, things like that, and that we don't have the terroir here. We don't have a sense of place at all now, unless you're Alice Waters and Chez Panisse maybe, you know, it's really difficult to even talk about it throughout the country. But our board wants to begin to, that dialogue, and we want to fund that and really at least get academia to try to visualize what a sense of place and multi-functional benefits of organic as the floor of a, of a larger, when I say larger, I mean a bigger embrace of a smaller area, what that might look like to a community. Kaypay Valley in the northern California, Alexander Valley in Mendocino, have some intriguing, I think, attributes of what a multi-functional local organic ag system
might look like. So if I can raise the money, the board's going to, I don't know how we'll do the call yet, that's going to be their job, but we're going to be looking for a couple of folks to write. A little over time. Anybody else? What's organic going to look like? Great question. I think we're out of time. I think that, I, I think in 20 years that organic could be as much as 40 or 50 percent of the marketplace, could be half of it. It's remarkable. I didn't really talk about overseas. I mean, China has a crash organic research and marketing program, for example, under way. I think that it, the food system that delivers that largely will be dependent upon who owns the water and the price of oil. And so those are the two wild cards.
I think the 12,000 farmers know how to do it and are making some or all their living doing it has largely anecdotally proved that it's a production system that works, but the rate within which we are exhausting our water supply will require incredible innovation on moisture knowledge in producing food. And the price of oil, I mean, it's still, you know, even if it's local you're still putting it on a flatbed and driving it to the market. And never mind putting it on 18 wheelers or air freighting it into New York high-end stores. So how energy is managed will play a critical role in the growth of, I think, our food system in general, and organic is big enough now that it is, the trends you see in ag are similar to the ones that we see in organic as well. So how's that for a flexitarian response? I'd to have everybody thank Bob for his talk today. I'm really glad you could come. Thank you very much.
Bob will be around for a few minutes if people have some questions they want to ask him directly, come on down. It's great to see a full house, really great. ... ... ... It was really, it's great to look at a room. OK. Thanks a lot. Hi. I do not know...
... And then you can find me or I can put you through. ...call it the organic dating service. All I'm doing is introducing all these people to each other. ... their perception of the reality ... Absolutely. I mean the Whole Foods...Can a lower class family of six afford organic foods? They, if you go to the Eastern Oakland Market, and look out over the organic booths, and where the lines are in East Oakland is the organic farmers market. They're always longer. It's, the fact of the matter is, it's a matter of delivery systems and accessibility, not necessarily price.... Oh, well, you know it's also true to an extent too. I mean the markups in some of these stores are unbelievable. There's The Packer, the conventional newsprint Produce, also does something called the The Grower. And they do, they hire Gallup to do Fresh Trends, which is really a Gallup, they published this book this thick called Fresh Trends, and "this percentage of Americans are eating artichokes now". It's all about
produce industry. In the last eight years, they started asking organic questions and they asked the elitist, I think originally asking it to "see, show Gallup" because they hire, and they were stunned to see, and it stayed consistent the whole time, the actually lower the economic family income, the higher interest was in buying organic. So some of the sociologists said, "well it's, you know, this is, you can't buy a car for your family, but you can go to the market and buy organic food." Yeah, there you go. But it's a discretion, with what little discretionary income, rather invest in a high-priced item. Is it a supply and demand sort of thing? That too. That causes the high price or is it production? All of the above. I mean largely now carrots, apples, leaf lettuce, starting to approach the, approach the conventional prices if you will. Actually I have a story.
I met a conventional produce buyer in the 90s for a major company. He was the first one to bring organic, he had broccoli, about six items in there. Wow, it's really great, we have it here and the prices are kind of close. This is a dollar twenty and this is 99. He said, yeah this is the greatest thing you know, I'm paying a dollar 19. I'm selling it for what I got for. So I'm giving a premium to them but nobody's really looking at that I've just increased conventional setting. That's what I've got, is these people, you know, look and say oh yeah. And so I'm selling enough to keep that organic broccoli moving through and I make it a penny on it and it's one mill everywhere else. So I'm making a penny, that I've just taken that mill or one penny broccoli made cents. You know, these marketeers, you know, that his, he was very well known as one of the originals to bring organic in. And I don't think he's ever said it publicly but he brought in in entirely to ramp up his
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- Bob Scowcroft on Organic Agriculture Trends and Challenges (at Washington State University)
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- Bob Scowcroft, organic food activist and executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundations, speaks on the transition and contradictions in the organic food movement, particularly as applied to agricultural research and regulations. Federal, corporate, and academic barriers and interests are identified. Following his lecture, he receives questions from the audience.
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Speaker: Scowcroft, Bob
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- MLA: “ Bob Scowcroft on Organic Agriculture Trends and Challenges (at Washington State University) .” 2004-09-20. Northwest Public Broadcasting, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. January 27, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-296-46qz65jv>.
- APA: Bob Scowcroft on Organic Agriculture Trends and Challenges (at Washington State University) . Boston, MA: Northwest Public Broadcasting, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-296-46qz65jv