Do you need to be certified organic?

Posted on 05/13/2009 at 12:00 AM by Christa Hartsook

Blog entry written by Andrew Larson, Small Farm Sustainability Coordinator, Iowa State University

Do you need to be certified organic? It depends on your customer…

If you’re asking yourself this question, it’s probably safe to assume you are not a purist who would certify their farm organic simply for personal philosophy, but rather a grower who is deciding which market attributes and avenues best fit your business and your lifestyle. Getting a farm operation certified organic is certainly a commitment of time and resources (i.e. paperwork, inspections, certification fees), so it’s wise to make sure that farming organically fits your values and your marketing structure.

Those growers who are “relationship marketing” in a face-to-face context, such as farmers markets or CSAs, have the opportunity to interact with their customers directly, explain their production practices, and let the customer decide whether or not to buy. Those growers who are marketing in a more anonymous context, through a wholesaler or retail grocer for instance, might find that a third-party certification like “organic” will lend the credibility, and the traceability, necessary to command a premium price.

Several growers are finding success in the marketing “gray area” between conventional and organic. Their products may be unsprayed, pastured, natural, or local – credence attributes that are not necessarily verifiable, yet appealing enough for certain customers to pay a small premium while avoiding the “sticker shock” that can come with certified organic items. They read the local market and carve out a niche that is appropriate for their operation.

Do your market research and create a marketing plan for your farm, keeping in mind your lifestyle and income goals. This will help you decide if organic certification is right for you.

Categories: Organics