Pitfalls await exporters of organic produce

05/01/2009 03:16:55 PM
Don Schrack

TULARE, Calif. — The growing worldwide demand for organic fresh produce presents opportunities for domestic grower-shippers, but exporting can be a minefield, a panel of exports told a seminar at the World Ag Expo earlier this year.

“The global organic market is approaching $45 billion a year,” said Tiffany Landry, who oversees the export program for the Organic Trade Association, Greenfield, Mass., and owns Landry Consulting LLC, Austin, Texas.

That figure includes all organic food items, not just produce, she said at the Feb. 10 seminar.

Grower-shippers must receive U.S. Department of Agriculture organic certification before exporting produce, but that status does not eliminate all hurdles.

“There is no equivalency with any other nation,” Landry said.

Being prepared and enlisting the help of the right people can guide a grower-shipper through the exporting maze, said John Taylor, co-owner of Taylor Bros. Farms Inc., Yuba City.

Working with a good freight-forwarding partner is essential to a successful export program, he said.

The freight forwarder can help with the many combinations of documents required by the various countries, Taylor said. Educating wholesalers who receive the produce is another element, making certain they understand cold chain and controlled-atmosphere storage requirements, moisture content and other issues, he said.

Export requirements are fluid — many countries are developing their own organic standards, Landry said.

“An exporter can invest in building a customer base in a country, and then the country changes the rules,” she said.

Among the changing rules will be the implementation of Canada’s organic standards June 1, Landry said. U.S. grower-shippers will be required to obtain Canadian organic certification, she said.

Price can be another hurdle, Taylor said.

“Wholesaler mark-ups and retailer mark-ups can price you out of the country,” he said.

The Internet can be a helpful tool for grower-shippers planning an export program, Landry said. The Foreign Agricultural Service can be found on the USDA Web site, www.usda.gov. The U.S. Trade Association offers four sites targeted at grower-shippers in specific geographic regions.

Support from the Organic Trade Association can be found at www.ota.com/export.html, she said.



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