Is There Profit Potential With Organic Producers?
"I probably know more about the product than the local Dow rep," said Bontrager. "It's a good product for growing corn organically and works effectively if put on properly. You have to be scouting and be on top of problems as most organic products don't have residual."
Bontrager's duties extend to working with custom applicators applying products such as Entrust Naturalyte. "It took a year or two to get a local aerial applicator to work with my grower," said Bontrager. "It required flushing his tank thoroughly to make sure it wasn't contaminated by other chemicals. The pilot was nervous about applying to organic fields and wanted me involved as a third party."
MEETING CERTIFICATION CHALLENGES
Whether meeting with organic or conventional growers, Wilbur-Ellis sales rep Kevin Cochran approaches their needs in the same way, searching for solutions to their particular problems and advising them on the best “proven” products. One of the biggest problems for Bontrager and his client is accessing products. Although the local ag retailer can order products like Entrust Naturalyte, the limited market doesn't justify keeping it in stock. That may change as more and more biological products are introduced, assuming these largely "natural" products are registered with OMRI and other organic product certifying groups. Product availability also may change as the market grows and retailers and consultants see new opportunities.
Servicing organic business does offer its own challenges due to product certification. All products must meet USDA's National Organic Program (NOP) standards and be certified by organizations such as OMRI and Washington State Department of Agriculture Organic Program (WSDA), two entities who review and validate products for compliance with the NOP rules. The California Department of Food and Agriculture introduced its own organic review program for fertilizers earlier this year.
"Our challenge is to make sure we are not recommending a product that isn't certified, and certifications do change," said Barrett. "While the burden of knowing about certification falls on the producer, as a trusted advisor, you want to be an aware resource. It is a challenge to be on top of it, especially when it is not a significant part of a sales representative's business."
"In every area, there are some organic producers, and there is potential to work with them," said Bontrager. "I wouldn't want it to be my main source of income, but it is an interesting part of the stream. It lets me visit more intelligently with folks at meetings, whether other consultants, ag dealers, or those not involved with production agriculture. If a segment of the public is willing to pay the higher price for organic food, then we will produce it. I am convinced we can learn from each other. Producing organic food is no different from any other specialty crop."