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Demand Spikes for Organic Beef

By Yvonne Teem
Dayton Business Journal
February 24, 2006


Local farmers question feasibility of certification requirements

Bob Harris thinks he has all his cows in a row. He feeds his herd of 55
beef cattle organic hay, corn and wheat, and avoids using pesticides,
chemicals and herbicides on his 160 acres of farmland near Oxford in
Butler County. Harris is trying to get the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm
Association's stamp of organic approval on his cattle by summer and open
new markets to his beef. But even if an area farm abides by most organic
methods, as Harris is doing, obtaining that certified organic label may be
just out of reach.

There aren't any producers in southwest Ohio that are certified by the
OEFFA. Those who do produce beef with organic methods, but aren't
certified -- and there are few of them -- usually sell to individuals such
as neighbors, friends and anyone else out of their homes or farms.
But demand for organic beef is starting to spike in supermarkets and
restaurants, said Sylvia Upp, OEFFA certification coordinator. And if
local producers want to meet that demand in the coming years, they'll have
to get certified because supermarkets want that official approval.

Certified organic beef sales in 2003 were $10 million nationwide, and
they're expected to grow at least 30 percent each year from 2004 to 2008,
said Barbara Haumann, senior writer for the Organic Trade Association, a
Greenfield, Mass.-based business association focused on organic trade.
But getting beef certified is difficult and costly. Farmers must make sure
their cattle are fed and housed correctly. Cows cannot receive antibiotics
and must be processed through organically certified slaughterhouses -- but
those facilities aren't easily accessible because there aren't any in this
area. Other issues such as fees, the added burden of paperwork and the
challenge of selling to retail stores stunt farmers' ability to get
certified.

Harris isn't looking to sell to retail stores in the near future, but he
wants to certify his herd so that individual buyers who aren't familiar
with the farm can feel comfortable with their purchases.

Harris, 89, takes his cattle to meat processing facility Robert Winner
Sons Inc. in Greenville. While Brian Winner, president of the
slaughterhouse company, said his facility is considering one day becoming
certified, the fees, paperwork and effort aren't worth the few customers
who want it at this time.

Even if small-town farmers do have their cattle certified organic, they
may have a hard time breaking into the retail store market. Jack Gridley,
director of meat and seafood of Dayton-area grocery store Dorothy Lane
Market, said local farmers likely would have to band together in a
cooperative in order to have enough supply to offer a supermarket like
Dorothy Lane.

Nationwide, supply is not meeting the demand for organic beef because
there's not enough organic grain to feed the cattle, Gridley said. His
stores sell some organic cuts, but much of it is "all natural," which
means the meat isn't certified. Dorothy Lane gets its natural and organic
beef from large producers in Colorado and Minnesota.

Dan Kremer, owner of EAT Food for Life farm in Yorkshire in Darke County,
processes and sells just one or two cows per month. If he wanted to get
his cows certified, he would have to pay the certifying agency -- like
OEFFA -- a royalty or a yearly fee. OEFFA charges more than $600 a year to
certify a farm with livestock.

Right now, he sells his products at Second Street Public Market in Dayton
and to other individuals, and the demand for his beef is greater than his
supply. Yet the cost and effort to become certified organic aren't worth
it, he said.

In addition to the fees, farmers sometimes have to pay more for feed.
Gridley said some farmers buy more expensive organic grain to sustain
their cattle, but others, like Kremer, let their cows graze on grass.
Extra costs that may be incurred are passed along to consumers: At Dorothy
Lane, certified organic ground beef costs $6.49 per pound, while its
naturally grown but uncertified beef costs $3.99 per pound. Kroger charges
$2.19 per pound for its conventionally raised beef.

While organic beef has higher prices that can make up for extra costs, it
also has higher demand. And that's why many farmers want the official
approval on a product that's becoming more popular each year. As the
winter months wane, Harris waits for a reply from OEFFA. But even if he
wins certification, other issues remain.

"We hope that small family farms like ours can continue to have organic
products (and) increase organic beef as a niche market," Sibyl Miller,
Harris' daughter, said about her father's farm. "But it's possible that
the larger, more commercialized farmers might see the value of organic,
and there (would) be that competition."

 

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