State organic certifications increasing again in Idaho

After a long hiatus, the number of state organic farm certifications is again on the rise in Idaho.

Demand has been increasing for years, but the state Department of Agriculture in August 2017 had to stop accepting new applications so staff could focus on the organic program’s existing enrollees, who must re-certify each year.

After hiring and training employees last year, the department in January again began accepting new applicants.

“Interest in organic in Idaho continues to grow,” ISDA Organic Program Manager Gwen Ayres said.

Skylar Jett, trade specialist in ISDA’s Market Development Division, said the state ranks sixth nationally in organic acreage and is a top-10 producer of several organic products including barley, hay, potatoes, dairy products and hops.

She said the state as of mid-June had 337 certified organic operations. ISDA certified 249 — 241 in Idaho and eight in other states.

Ayres said ISDA is the largest of 15 organizations that certify at least one organic operation in the state. Food producers are certified to the standards of USDA’s Organic Program Rule regardless of certifying organization chosen.

“An organic farm in Idaho is held to the same rules as a farm in Oregon, Maine, Florida, etc.,” she said.

The 249 ISDA certifies compares to a current capacity of 280, including existing and new enrollees, Ayres said. There is some room for growth, as the department is working with just over 20 new applicants.

Capacity can change based on how many farms are entering or leaving the program at a given time, she said. Earlier, when ISDA was temporarily not accepting new applicants, the department offered a waiting list or information about other certifying organizations.

Ayres said ISDA in 2017 requested the state give additional spending authority for fiscal 2018. Two full-time staff were added. The organic program over the same period got additional part-time administrative support in cooperation with another division.

The organic program has been fully staffed since August, she said. Reopening it to new applicants marked the completion of new-employee training.

Organic Week, July 14-20, aims to inform consumers about this growing segment of food production while recognizing the contribution its producers and processors make to the state’s economy, she said.

Scheduled events include a consumer-geared overview by Ayres from 6 to 7 p.m. July 17 at Collister Library and a pollinator and beneficial-insect field day July 19 at Global Gardens, both in Boise. ISDA plans to connect with producers and sellers.