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Coalition files lawsuit to prevent soilless agriculture from receiving organic certification

Coalition files lawsuit to prevent soilless agriculture from receiving organic certification © Réussir Fruits et Légumes

© Réussir Fruits et Légumes

 

The US Center for Food Safety filed a lawsuit with a coalition of organic farms and stakeholders challenging the US Department of Agriculture’s decision to allow hydroponic operations to be certified organic. According to Planetwatch, the lawsuit contends that hydroponic operations violate organic standards because they fail to build healthy soils and asks the court to stop the USDA from allowing hydroponically-produced crops to be certified. The US is one of the few countries that will allow hydroponics to be certified organic. Mexico, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and 24 European countries all ban hydroponic vegetable production to be labelled organic. 

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the body assigned by Congress to advise the USDA, has repeatedly asked the USDA to ban organic certification of hydroponics. The NOSB recommended in 2010 that hydroponics be prohibited from organic certification. The USDA continues to ignore that recommendation. In January 2019, the Center for Food Safety filed a legal petition asking the USDA to ban hydroponics from organic certification. The USDA denied the request that same year.

The lawsuit claims that denying the petition violated the Administrative Procedure Act and the Organic Foods Production Act, which requires farmers to build soil fertility to obtain organic certification. Hydroponic crops are grown without soil using water-based nutrient solutions. Synthetic salts are the most common nutrients used in hydroponics, and most of them are not allowed in products certified organic.

“Healthy soil is the foundation of organic farming,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety. “Organic farmers and consumers believe that the Organic label means not just growing food in soil, but improving the fertility of that soil. USDA’s loophole for corporate hydroponics to be sold under the Organic label guts the very essence of Organic.”

The basis of organic agriculture is to feed the soil, not the plant. Dave Chapman of Long Wind Farm told Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont: “Organic farming is based on enhancing and cultivating the wonderful balance of the biological systems in the soil. It isn’t just about replacing chemical fertilizers with natural fertilizers.”

One of the objections to hydroponics is that it relies heavily on fertilisers. Oregon Tilth Certified Organic states that hydroponics relies on large volumes of soluble fertilisers with little nutrient cycling. Commercial hydroponic growers will rarely reveal the fertilisers they use, according to the Texas Organic Research Center. Another objection is that hydroponics use chemicals, which organic producers are prohibited from using.

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Surge in UK farm shop sales

Surge in UK farm shop sales
© geograph.org.uk

 

Farm shops in the UK have recorded a surge in sales during recent months. According to research published by the Farm Retail Association (FRA), the appeal of these outlets is that they provide reliable and affordable access to abundant locally sourced fresh seasonal produce. Of the farm retailers surveyed by the FRA, 92% reported a significant rise in new customers since the lockdown began. Around 79% stated that they had introduced click-and-collect services during the coronavirus pandemic, including completely contactless drive-through channels, while 67% reported having introduced home delivery services. Indeed, the country’s farm shops have processed an estimated 1.4 million home delivery or collection orders since the lockdown measures were introduced.

The FRA stresses that farm shops provide calm environments with easy-to-follow social distancing measures that allow shoppers to feel safe, whilst also allowing communities to benefit from new services that were not previously available.  The UK’s network of farm shops is estimated to have a combined turnover in excess of £1.5bn. 

FRA chairman Rob Copley said: “The last couple of months have clearly shown that farm retailers can react nimbly to customer demands because of their size, independence and direct relationships with local farmers. They have also shown that they are proactive, supportive members of their local communities. We have members who prepare and deliver ready meals to local community groups that support the most vulnerable members of society. Others are donating produce to local school hubs, frontline NHS staff and other key workers.” 

The farm shops will now be hoping that these consumption patterns become long-term habits as the lockdown measures begin to ease.

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Grant of 1 million USD for Georgian farmers

Grant of 1 million USD for Georgian farmers

EU and FAO are going to grant 1 million USD as the financial support to small farmers of Georgia (Caucasus) who had suffered due to the pandemic of COVID. This grant will be divided between farmers of 22 municipalities for drip irrigation systems. “Thanks to their installation, the crop of vegetables will grow. Food safety is the key for stability in these troublesome times,” stated Karl Khartsell, EU Ambassador to Georgia.

EU sponsors the agriculture and rural development of Georgia in the frame of ENPARD. The main goal of this program with total budget of 179.5 million euro is to reduce poverty in rural Georgia.

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COVID-19: MEPs demand better aid for EU fruit and vegetable growers  

COVID-19: MEPs demand better aid for EU fruit and vegetable growers  

 

The EU’s Agriculture Committee has endorsed a set of exceptional market measures to help the EU wine, fruit and vegetable producers but rejected another one for not being good enough. To ensure that the wine, fruit and vegetable sectors get further support as quickly as possible, the Agriculture Committee decided to proactively greenlight the delegated regulation tabled by the EU Commission on 4 May, instead of waiting for the two-month objection period to pass. The measures provide for additional flexibility to farmers and producer organisations when it comes to making changes in operational programmes or extending support linked to green harvesting and mutual funds.

Call for further measures to help the sectors

But MEPs also launched a procedure that could lead to the rejection of another delegated regulation the Commission adopted on 30 April. They voted by 36 votes in favour to 11 against, with one abstentions, to recommend that Parliament vetoes an older set of market measures for wine, fruit and vegetable producers, which are already in place, for not going far enough .

MEPs want the Commission to improve the original aid package with additional targeted measures. These should include increasing co-financing rates, extending the list of eligible measures and expenses under the fruit and vegetables operational programmes, allowing carry-over of unused funds from these programmes to the next year and providing additional regulatory flexibilities within and beyond the national wine support programmes.

The committee also extended the deadline for a potential veto by Parliament to give the Commission more time to improve the proposed measures. The new deadline for rejecting the delegated act has been set for 31 August.

“The Commission’s support measures for the wine, fruit and vegetable growers are by far not enough and we have repeatedly asked Commissioner Wojciechowski to improve them. This has not happened so far and therefore we have endorsed today only some of these measures and we have put our green light for the other ones on hold. We have also extended the deadline for our potential veto to give Mr Wojciechowski more time. We urge the Commission not to waste it,” said Agriculture Committee Chair, Norbert Lins (EPP, DE).

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BioTropic GmbH supports organic farmers worldwide

BioTropic GmbH supports organic farmers worldwide

BioTropic GmbH is successfully supporting small growers to meet the EU-requirements for organic farming. That´s why during this year, several PPP (Public-Private-Partnership) projects of BioTropic have been co-financed by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. “In a current PPP in Costa Rica, a massive production of organic curcuma and ginger will be improved by training local farmers,” said export manager Udo Bürk.

BioTropic has its own banana and mango ripening chambers in Duisburg, as well as commercial offices in Italy, France, the Netherlands, and Spain, and its own production for tropical fruit in Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and Ivory Coast, all of them exceeding the principal quality standards, such as EU-organic, Demeter, Naturland, and Fair Trade.

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SPAR Gran Canaria partners with local government to support farming sector

SPAR Gran Canaria president, Ángel Medina /// © Canarias7, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

 

SPAR Gran Canaria has partnered with the local government (El Cabildo) to create a Programme of Support for local farmers and producers affected by the current pandemic. To mitigate the impact of the closure of hotels and restaurants and the resulting surpluses, SPAR Gran Canaria is directly helping producers in the management and sale of local produce.

During this exceptional state of alarm, SPAR Gran Canaria has committed itself to supporting local communities through its Me Gusta (I like it) initiative. As part of this initiative, SPAR purchases the volume of product it can sell from the surplus of fresh produce that farmers, cheesemakers, and other local producers have available.

SPAR Gran Canaria’s fruit and vegetable logistics centre supports farmers keen to offer fresh local products which meet the quality standards required by the chain. SPAR also encourages its customers to consume fresh produce to support the numerous families working in the sector as well as a healthy lifestyle.

SPAR Gran Canaria president, Ángel Medina, said that SPAR has always supported the sector and that he hopes this philosophy will also be transferred to other brands operating on the Canary Islands in these critical times.

Antonio Morales, president of Gran Canaria’s local government, stressed that this extraordinary support programme in close collaboration with SPAR Gran Canaria will help prevent that the output of many families is wasted. He stated that the collective efforts are already showing results in a crisis of this magnitude.

Among the local producers being supported are the Coparlita Cooperative, San Nicolás, a cooperative of eight members representing 20 families. The cooperative has benefitted from the sale of almost 17,000 kg papaya surplus to SPAR. This has allowed the cooperative to retain its team of employees.

Another beneficiary is Carmen Estupiñán, responsible for the artisan cheese factory El Parral, Ingenio, on which 12 families depend. SPAR Gran Canaria has bought a greater quantity of cheeses from this producer and is also promoting them instore.

Producers interested in contacting SPAR Gran Canaria can do so by email at compra.fyh@spargc.es

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Calls for greater EU efforts to protect farmers against price volatility

eu farmers

The European Committee of the Regions (CoR) has called for the EU to do more to safeguard farmers’ incomes. The committee has made recommendations to protect against the high volatility of agricultural product prices and preserve rural communities.

The CoR recommends in particular that the directive’s scope be broadened and the list of prohibited unfair practices be extended to all actors in the food chain. It also proposes including a prohibition in principle of unfair trading practices to respond to possible future abusive practices. Although the CoR welcomes the initiative by the European Commission to introduce European legislation to combat unfair trading practices, it nevertheless believes that this directive will not be enough unless the overall framework is changed.

Given this state of affairs, rapporteur-general Jacques Blanc said, “It will also be necessary to make contractualisation attractive for producers, to introduce additional measures on price transparency, tackle over-concentration of the distribution, agri-food and agri-supply sectors, and develop fairer international trade relations in agriculture.”

Farmers’ incomes are today 40% lower than the average salary. The value of an agricultural product is currently shared out as follows: the farmer receives an average of 21%, the processor 28% and the distributor 51%. Local leaders are convinced that action is needed to reverse this trend and increase the value to agriculture of household food expenditure, as recommended in the CoR opinion on the post-2020 CAP.