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Oregon's Organic Agriculture Solidifies its Place

Two separate acknowledgements of organic agriculture in Oregon give validation to the practice, including Organically Grown in Oregon Week September 13-19 and the signing of a "letter of intent" that paves the way for greater cooperation in the future.

09/08/2010- Source, Oregon Department of Agriculture

Special week & signed letter of intent give more validation

Years ago, organic agriculture was considered by many to be a fringe sector of the industry aimed primarily at a marginal type of consumer. Not anymore. Organic foods have gone mainstream and their popularity continues to rise. Two separate acknowledgments of organic agriculture in Oregon give validation to the practice, including Organically Grown in Oregon Week

September 13-19 and the signing of a "letter of intent" that paves the way for greater cooperation in the future.


"In the early days, organic agriculture was a fairly limited and narrow program, and the distribution of products was not widescale," says Dalton Hobbs, assistant director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. "Now, organic agriculture is a fully arrived segment and a very important part of the retail setting."


Governor Ted Kulongoski has issued a proclamation designating organic agriculture's special week in recognition of the importance of organic farmers, processors, and distributors. The week long celebration will include farm tours, grassroots events, in-store tastings, and a public awareness campaign. On September 15, there will be a presentation of the 2010 "Oregon Organic Coalition's Awards in Excellence" at a luncheon ceremony in Portland. While the special week was first recognized in 1988, the governor's proclamation this year seems to give even more credence to organic agriculture's growth.


"It's an agricultural practice right at home in Oregon," says Hobbs. "We have very good growing conditions, wonderful soils, and a favorable place to produce food. So we've seen a tremendous amount of interest in organic production."


The governor's proclamation points to a five year period (2004-2009) when the amount of land used to produce certified organic products expanded from 31,092 acres to 137,000 acres, with more than 435 certified organic farms. The result is a sector of Oregon agriculture responsible for more than $89 million in farm gate sales in 2008. That still is a relatively small percentage of overall agricultural production in Oregon, but it remains a rapidly growing part of the farm economy.


Of course, the increase in production would not take place without an increase in consumer interest and demand for organic foods. Retailers have recognized the trend and have responded. Consumers no longer need to find stores that exclusively offer organic products. Chances are they will find what they want in their friendly neighborhood grocery store.


"Even the larger, major multiple retailers have decided to offer sections devoted to organic produce," says Hobbs. "They even carry wide ranges of processed organic foods. I think it's clearly part of the mainstream now."


A pioneering state in so many ways, Oregon was the first to adopt statewide organic standards in 1973, the first to publish organic certification standards in 1987, and the first to establish a statewide advocacy group- the Oregon Organic Coalition

- to help promote the industry.


"All this was well in advance of the current national organic program that draws on many of the elements that were pioneered here in Oregon," says Hobbs.


The idea of establishing a letter of intent came from Oregon Tilth– which provides a majority of the state's organic certification and supports the organic sector through education, outreach, and advocacy. With support from ODA, Oregon Tilth brought together a number of agencies and organizations to pledge their support for organic agriculture on paper. With the signing of the Oregon Organic Agriculture Letter of Intent on Cooperation, the signatories acknowledge the state's history with organics, the practice's spectacular growth, and the need to work together to ensure its future. The letter of intent establishes "...a framework for cooperation among Partner organizations and agencies on organic program activities that involve the conservation of natural resources, expansion of economic opportunity, and responding to consumer demand for products grown and processed organically in Oregon." It sets up an annual strategy meeting among partner organizations, encourages additional research and outreach, promotes information sharing on best practices, and gives support for organic agriculture on a national level.


The letter of intent contains the signatures of ODA Director Katy Coba and Bob Levy, chair of the State Board of Agriculture. Other signatories include Chris Mertz, National Agricultural Statistics Service State Director; Ron Alvarado, Natural Resource Conservation Service State Conservationist; Sonny Ramaswamy, Oregon State University Dean of Agriculture; and, Oregon Tilth Executive Director Chris Schreiner.


"The letter of intent is a significant step in recognizing organic agriculture's contribution to Oregon's diverse agricultural sector," says Schreiner. "Through this pledge of collaborative support, the partner organizations are committing their resources and knowledge to maintain Oregon's position as a national leader in the organic sector."


While the spotlight next week will shine on organic agriculture, ODA's Hobbs is hoping the entirety of Oregon agriculture's story will be told in the weeks and months to come.


"All agriculture is important in Oregon and I think we need to continually tell that story," says Hobbs. "Agriculture is a continuum, from having a few chickens in the backyard to large scale operations. Whether it is producing conventionally using synthetic inputs or whether it is organic, it is all important. It's not one versus the other. Together, they create a very rich and vibrant tapestry in our state."


With the signing of the letter of intent and the governor's proclamation, next week is organic agriculture's turn to tell the story.


For more information, contact Dalton Hobbs at (503) 872-6600 or Bruce Pokarney at (503) 986-4559.
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