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Growing Organic

Canada’s organic agriculture industry is booming at home and ready to go international

The times, they are a-changin’ – back.

After years of skepticism the federal government has finally awoken to the possibilities of organic farming in Canada. With more than $1 billion in annual sales and an annual growth rate holding steady at 20 per cent, the grassroots organic movement has snowballed into an industry that demanded recognition. Organic farming, after decades of struggling and battling conventional farming to make it onto the supermarket shelves, is now the fastest growing sector in the Canadian food industry.

On June 8, federal Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Lyle Vanclief announced more than $600,000 in funding to help Canada’s organic farmers gain a foothold on the growing international market: $375,000 for an accreditation assistance program to bring national standards in line with U.S., European and Japanese standards; $130,000 to publish an Organic Field Crop Handbook, with information to help farmers reach Canadian standards; and $100,000 to partially fund the 2002 International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements World Congress in Victoria, which is expected to attract more than 1,000 delegates from around the world.

"There is excellent market potential all over the world for organic products," said Vanclief. "Canada’s organic sector produces top-notch products and is primed to seize emerging opportunities. That’s why certification is so important. To really tap this huge potential, we need to ascertain products destined for the international market meet a national standard and establish a reputation for Canada as a supplier of the highest quality certified organic products."

While Canada’s share of the international organic market barely registers, the industry is predicting a global market share of between five and 10 per cent by 2010.

The National Standard of Canada for Organic Agriculture, which is regulated by the Standards Council of Canada, has set organic guidelines for farmers that meet international standards. While most of Canada’s organic associations already meet or exceed those standards, a national standard was crucial for presenting a unified Canadian front on the world market – organic consumers are fussier than most when it comes to reading labels or questioning their food, and any deviation between standards in Ontario and B.C. could hurt the reputation of Canada’s organic industry.

Part of the funding went to Canada’s certifying organizations to cover a portion of the cost of being officially credited by the standards council.

Last week (July 12), the federal government launched an organic agriculture centre in Truro, Nova Scotia, at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College. Backed by $854,000 in funding, the new Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada will develop courses and educational content for aspiring organic farmers and conduct scientific research on organic growing and recovery techniques.

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