Why are Some Farmers Opting Out of Organic Certification?

Some farmers think organic certification isn't for them.

If you’ve ever been to a farmers market, you’ve probably noticed there are quite a few farmers who grow without pesticides, but the produce they sell doesn’t have the certified organic label. You make think, “why don’t they just get certified?” Their reasons may surprise you.

It’s not about the government (but it kind of is)

The United States government wants organic farmers to succeed—that’s one of the reasons the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a multimillion-dollar fund available that’s specifically meant to help producers and farmers get organic certification. “This year’s kitty for the federal organic cost-share program totals over $12 million and could defray as much as 75 percent of a farmer’s total certification costs,” the Press Herald reports.

But even with all that funding and support, there are many farmers who opt out of the certification because:

  • The farmers dislike government regulation.
  • The farmers don’t want to spend the money for the certification.
  • The farmers dislike dealing with the yearly paperwork.

The cost for farmers who opt out

The choice to forgo USDA organic certification has cost some people a lot of business.

Bill Hinck of Meadowood Farm in Yarmouth, Maine said his farm lost customers when he didn’t get certification—some natural food stores and restaurants stopped buying from the farm. He lost almost $10,000 a year in annual sales.

“Even though I wasn’t doing anything different,” Hinck adds.

He also says that farmers market customers ask him about his organic status every week at the local market in Portland. He’s been selling there since 1985 and although he was an organic farmer for 28 years, he’s now considered “all natural.”

Hinck could get the help he needs to become organic again. “The wholesale customers he lost offered to pay for his certification, which would be administered as usual by MOFGA, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association,” the Press Herald reports.

“He’s also aware that the government would happily pay for most of the costs associated with organic certification. But Meadowood Farm is done with that.”

But he is just fed up with the process, and, as he says, is “tired of jumping through hoops.”

However, not all farmers think the organic certification is too arduous. At least the number of organic farmers in Maine hasn’t suffered too much.

Farmers who opt in

Kate Newkirk, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) interim director of certification services, says the numbers of Maine farms going organic “has been steadily increasing, about ‘7 to 8 percent’ annually,” the Press Herald reports.

“We’ve seen a big boost in processors in the last year,” Newkirk adds.

And Newkirk explains that although the organic certification process is time-consuming, it’s improved over the years.

“The majority of the 480 producers and growers MOFGA certifies are in a database that allows them to simply update last year’s numbers,” notes the Press Herald.

However, Newkirk understands why some farmers choose not to get certified.

“Usually it is a personal thing, and they are not interested in certifying,” she says.

“They just don’t believe in it.”

She also adds sometimes organic farms leave after they’ve built a customer-base.

“When they have a strong customer base, then they cease the certification process. MOFGA doesn’t serve as the organic police; that job falls to USDA’s National Organic Program,” the Press Herald adds.

There are other certifications farmers can get, though:

  • Certified Humane
  • Biodynamic
  • Non-GMO Project Verified
  • And in Maine, there are five farms and producers who have obtained the Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) certification. “It was started in 2002 as an alternative to the USDA’s national program, a form of rebellion for organic farmers who didn’t want to pay the government for a seal they felt they already deserved,” explains the Herald.

How do you feel about organic farmers who stop getting USDA certification? Do you trust other certification processes? Would you still buy from them?

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2 Oregon Goat Cheese Farmers Who Opt Out of Organic Certification
Livestock Operation Has Organic Certification Revoked

Image of organic produce via Shutterstock