Kashi and QAI's cooperation on the Certified Transitional label isn't just bringing more organic food into the marketplace – it's also making life easier for American farmers.
For a conventional farmer to have his or her land certified organic takes a good deal of work, money, and time. Before he can even be considered for organic certification, a farmer is required to farm as though he was already an organic grower – using organic seeds, eschewing all substances forbidden by the organic regulations like synthetic pesticides and GMOs, planting cover crops, and in the case of livestock farmers, feeding animals organic feed – for a period of three years. The payoff is a major premium on products – sometimes even triple the conventional price – but until the certification has been earned, the farmer is doing expensive work without the pay. It's perhaps no wonder that despite a growing demand for organic, currently, only 1 percent of U.S. farmland is certified organic.
But in 2016, QAI and Kashi launched a new label that changed what it means to transition to organic.
The Certified Transitional label rewards farmers moving toward organic beginning in the very first year of their transition. While a similar program was proposed by the Organic Trade Association in early 2017, the program has since been stalled at the USDA. For now, Kashi and QAI's program is the only one available to farmers.
Eric Thalken has been producing certified organic corn, soy, and peas for about ten years or so, but he has also been interested in transitioning more of his land to organic, something American agriculture sorely needs: the current dearth of American-grown organic grains contributed to 36 million pounds of fraudulent organic grain imports reaching the United States last year.
Current low conventional grain prices should make the transition to organic a no-brainer for most farmers: $3.40 per bushel for conventional skyrockets to $9 for organic. But the cost of the transition has scared off many farmers; the Certified Transitional program softens the blow.
"In regular corn and soybean agriculture right now, there's really not a lot of money to be made," says Thalken. “You can just about break even with the transitional program." He cites a current $4.50 price per bushel for Certified Transitional corn.
The Certified Transitional label is small, for now, but since its 2016 founding, it has grown exponentially. Today, 15 farmers have already received more than $1 million in premiums above conventional prices through the program, producing wheat, dates, sorghum, almonds, corn, oats, and rice for eight Certified Transitional products from Kashi. On Tuesday, Kashi announced a new product joining its chocolate shredded wheat cereal and chewy nut butter bars: a Cinnamon French Toast cereal made with Certified Transitional corn grown in part by Thalken.
"It's a neat way to farm," he says. “I’m basically transitioning as fast as they will allow me to.”
Not everyone who opts for the Certified Transitional label will eventually go all the way to organic, Thalken notes, but every little bit helps in converting even more American acres to organic.
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