Is There Profit Potential With Organic Producers?
Luckily for ag retailers, not all organic farmers are like Wedel. Like their conventional counterparts, most are in the market for crop inputs and services. The difficulty for farmers can be finding them. While providing inputs and services to this small, but growing market is a fraction of Wilbur-Ellis' overall business, it is one the organization takes seriously. They carry more than 70 products certified for organic use. Although most are plant nutrient related, the company also carries pesticides labeled for organic use.
According to Dick Barrett, director, branded product, Wilbur-Ellis looks at organic producers much as it does any specialty market. That's especially true of those transitioning to organic.
"They are no different from someone starting to grow a new crop," he said. "We believe that anytime you participate in a new or different segment of agriculture, whether organic or not, you learn something. Our objective is to be a good listener and constantly learn so you are able to help your customer in their business."
Barrett reports the company's organic business is growing at a similar rate to its conventional business. It is careful growth designed for long-term customer and consumer confidence. "We don't sell anything to the producer that we haven't tested or developed a confidence in the supplier's testing," he said. "If we aren't confident in a product, we don't recommend it. If the customer wants to take a chance on a product we can't recommend, we don't participate in the business."
ORGANICS ARE ANOTHER SPECIALTY CROP
Orvin Bontrager, a Servi-Tech, Inc. crop consultant, takes a similar view with a longtime organic client. While Bontrager has more than earned his stripes as a consultant in conventional agriculture, he admitted to having perhaps learned more from his organic producer than having taught him. One reason is the tendency of organic producers to try things recommended to them by other producers. In part, this is due to the limited number of commercial inputs available. It is also likely due to organic producers being risk takers in the first place. Bontrager noted that some products provide a return and some don't.
"You definitely have to recognize that for true hardcore organic farmers, it is more philosophy than science," said Bontrager. "However, the things they are doing can coordinate with conventional agriculture. If you see both sides of the issue, there is more common ground than most would admit."
Bontrager works with his client on his use of compost, directing where it is needed. He’ll also recommend products, an example being Entrust Naturalyte, an Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) listed, Dow AgroSciences insecticide.