Two thirds of Canadians purchase organic products weekly, and organic is the fastest growing part of the Canadian agriculture landscape. With a booming $6.9 billion in annual sales, Canada is the sixth largest organic market in the world. Yet, despite double digit production growth, demand continuously outpaces supply. Given this impressive and sustained growth, it is crucial to continue supporting Canada’s organic industry. Farms are the keystone component. Without sustained efforts to provide training in organic techniques and support Canadian farmers to transition to organic, Canada may find itself trailing behind in the global movement towards bettering agricultural systems.
As a response to growing domestic and international demand for Canadian organic products, the Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA) sought to support farms as they convert to certified organic. COTA launched the Organic Conversion Support Program in 2019, through the Support Organic Change Fund. The program assists converting and future organic producers financially with their added costs incurred while transitioning to organic farming by reimbursing producers for paid certification costs up to $1,000. The fund has proven to be a key piece by the organic industry in supporting and growing our supply chain through an incredibly difficult year for farmers.
Seeds of Change has returned as a primary sponsor of the program, joined this year by Mill Street Brewery, as a way to give back to the organic community in recognition of their 20th Anniversary. Thanks to these generous funders, the 2019 edition of the Organic Conversion Support Program funded 41 farmers and contributed 6,167 new organic hectares nationwide.
“Our association is dedicated to strengthening the expansion of organic farming in Canada, and through COTA’s organic transition fund, more farmers won’t be left alone to bear the costs of certification on their own,” says Tia Loftsgard, Executive Director of the Canada Organic Trade Association. Tia adds, “Seeds of Change and Mill Street Brewery’s contributions to the program encourage more farmers to adopt organic practises on their land. Not only is this ensuring long term viability and sustainability of the Canadian landscape but also protecting the health and wellbeing of the farmers as they adopt more organic practises.”
The program has done a great deal in assisting farmers during the transition to organic farming. Converting to organic is no small feat for a farm. It requires a significant dedication of time and resources, something Canadian farmers often find lacking. And yet, year after year, farmers make the decision to join the movement.
Scorched Earth Winery in Kelowna, BC was one such farm supported by the Organic Conversion Support Program. General manager Anita Pazdernik rationalises the choice her family made to convert the winery to organic farming practices: “After purchasing our vineyard, we submitted numerous soil test samples to determine how healthy the vineyard was. The lab results came back to show that we had ZERO organic matter and ZERO nutrients in the vineyard.” As she explains, the family “immediately chose to convert to organic after learning that the soil had been completely stripped of any nutrients whatsoever, after 30 years of conventional farming. We chose to grow organic because we strive for a sustainable future for our children, their children, and our pets.”
In a year that has seen difficulties throughout the organic supply chain, the Organic Conversion Support Program has proven to be key to supporting and growing the organic supply chain at its most fundamental level. Building capacity and resiliency within Canada’s organic systems ensure a better future for all.
COTA is thrilled to announce that the program will be continuing on into a third year of funding. The Organic Conversion Support Program is continuing to support farmers, and applications for the 2020 reimbursement program will be open until June 30th, 2021. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis for producers who are in the process of converting, or who become certified in 2020 or 2021. In order to qualify for the program, farmers must be in their first, second, or third year of pre-certification, or already certified organic and increasing their organic acreage. Eligible costs are certification and consultation expenses, up to a maximum reimbursement of $1,000.
Want to learn more about our program guidelines? Find more information about the Organic Conversion Support program here:
Do you meet our Organic Conversion Support Program guidelines and want to apply? Get in touch with Caroline Bernard, Member Relations and Executive Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a funding project you’d like to propose for COTA’s Support Organic Change Fund? Contact Kim De Lallo, Member Relations and Business Development Manager at email@example.com.
The Canada Organic Trade Association is a membership-based association for the organic industry in Canada: representing growers, processors, certifiers, provincial farmers’ associations, importers, exporters, retailers, and others throughout the organic value chain. COTA’s mission is to envision organic products becoming a significant part of everyday life, enhancing people’s lives and the environment. Through our leadership and collaboration, COTA provides a strong voice for organic in Canada. COTA brings together the diversity of Canada’s organic sector: from farmer and processor to retail, including food products, fibre and textiles, personal care, and emerging sectors such as organic aquaculture.
Feature image: overlooking the vineyards at Scorched Earth Winery. Credit: Scorched Earth Winery.