INNOVATION PROJECTS

THE CANADIAN ORGANIC INGREDIENT STRATEGY
2021-2023

In the spring of 2021, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau announced an investment of $297,330 for the Prairie Organic Development Fund to help farmers in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario to improve their business knowledge. Click here to read the release. 
The Canadian Organic Ingredient Strategy will provide farmers with tools and support to incorporate organic farming practices that help meet the growing demand for organic foods in Canada.  This investment will help PODF develop new tools such as a nutrient budgeting app to optimize crop rotations, to produce new podcasts, videos and fact sheets and to update and expand the www.pivotandgrow.com website, while delivering 76 producer training events (on-line and in-person) in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. The funding will also help organic associations to expand their reach and capacity to deliver hybrid on-line and in-person conferences across the Prairies.
The project will help Canadian farmers benefit from increased knowledge and skills in organic farming methods, which can improve soil health and boost farm resilience in the face of changing markets and climate change.
 
Objectives/Expected Outcomes
  • Enhanced business skills, resilience and profitability for organic field crop, livestock and vegetable producers, the Prairies and Ontario
  • Increased adoption of environmental beneficial land management practices by all participating producers (organic, transitioning to organic, conventional)
  • Increased supply of organic ingredients for Canadian food processors and exporters; Increased numbers of organic producers and acres under organic management; New learning and connectivity tools and enhanced digital learning opportunities for producers
  • Build relationships between organic and conventional agriculture
Rationale for the Project
  • Growing domestic supply to meet growing global and domestic demand for organic and food and feed.
  • Improve knowledge and skills to drive production efficiency, farm profits and farm resilience.
  • Meet the demand of a growing interest in organic methods from conventional and young producers.

2021-2022 TRAINING

In 2021-2022, the four organic association project partners, which include Organic Alberta, SaskOrganics, Manitoba Organic Alliance and the Organic Council of Ontario, delivered on-line business training workshops. In this COVID year, all training was on-line and sessions covered a broad range of business topics, including marketing, record keeping, managing labour, cost of production as well as organic production basics. 2,487 people registered for the training sessions in the four regions. Most of the events were recorded, which means that the the information will reach even more people as producers discover this treasure trove of free resources.
A sampling of the recorded events is linked here:
Crunching the Numbers: Business Management on Organic Farms, originally broadcast on January 20, 2022. Workshop presented by the Manitoba Organic Alliance.
Organic Vegetable Certification 101, originally broadcast February 1, 2022. Workshop presented by the Manitoba Organic Alliance at the 2022 Direct Farm Marketing Conference.
Organic Grain Markets Webinar Spring 2022, originally broadcast April 13, 2022. Workshop presented by SaskOrganics.
Organic Grain Markets Webinar Harvest 2021, originally broadcast October 20, 2021. Workshop presented by SaskOrganics.
Introduction to Certified Organic Production and Record Keeping, originally broadcast April 19, 2022. Workshop presented by SaskOrganics.
Greenlander! Expanding the use of Cover Crops in Organic Vegetable Production, originally broadcast December 11, 2021. Workshop presented by the Organic Council of Ontario in association with the 2021 Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario Virtual Conference.
Reduced Tillage in Organic Field Crop Production, originally broadcast December 11, 2021. Workshop presented by the Organic Council of Ontario at the 2021 Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario Virtual Conference.
Grain Buyers Meet and Greet-Expanding Your Market, originally broadcast December 11, 2021. Workshop presented by the Organic Council of Ontario at the 2021 Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario Virtual Conference.
Cost of Production of Organic Field Crops, originally broadcast on March 9, 2022. Workshop presented by the Organic Council of Ontario and the Canadian Organic Growers.
Easing Organic Record Keeping, originally broadcast on March 29, 2022. Workshop presented by the Organic Council of Ontario.
Considering the Benefits and Challenges of Different Approaches to Labour in Organic Production, originally broadcast January 26, 2022. Workshop presented by the Organic Council of Ontario at the 2022 Guelph Organic Conference.
Less is More: Reducing On-Farm Food Waste in Organic Vegetable Production and Exploring Alternative Packaging, originally broadcast January 26, 2022. Workshop presented by the Organic Council of Ontario at the 2022 Guelph Organic Conference.
Integrated Weed Management in Organic Production, originally broadcast January 28, 2022. Workshop presented by the Organic Council of Ontario at the 2022 Guelph Organic Conference.
Talking Shop: Farmer Social Series with Steve Kenyon, originally broadcast March 15, 2022. Workshop presented by Organic Alberta.
Talking Shop: Farmer Social Series with Heather Kerschbaumer, originally broadcast March 22, 2022. Workshop presented by Organic Alberta.
Talking Shop: Farmer Social Series with Derek Axten, originally broadcast March 29, 2022. Workshop presented by Organic Alberta.
Talking Shop: Farmer Social Series with Allison Squires, originally broadcast April 5, 2022. Workshop presented by Organic Alberta.
Talking Shop: Farmer Social Series with Steven Snider, originally broadcast March 1, 2022. Workshop presented by Organic Alberta.
The Prairie Organics 2022 Virtual Conference also received vital support from the PODF Innovations Fund. Check out the presentations here

RESOURCES

In 2021-2022, the Manitoba Organic Alliance produced a series of podcasts on topics of keen interest to organic producers. Listen to the pods here:
Carbon Sequestration with guest Kris Nichols from KRIS Systems
Plant Breeding with guest Aabir Dey from the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security
Intercropping with guest Scott Chalmers from Westman Agricultural Diversification Organization
Transitioning to Organics with guest Nic Podoll from the Rodale Institute
Thoughtful Tillage with guest Allison Squires from Upland Organics
Biologicals with guest Dale Overton from Overton Environmental Enterprises

PLANS FOR 2022-2023

PODF has exciting plans to introduce a number of new resources designed to improve organic production and to connect organic producers to one another. The four partner associations are all planning IN-PERSON meetings beginning this summer with farm tours. Both Organic Alberta and SaskOrganics will be hosting conferences supported by the Innovations Fund. 
Resources in the works for delivery in the winter months include fact sheets, videos, farmer profiles and an app to help farmers better match crop nutrients across their rotations.

THE PRAIRIE ORGANIC GRAIN INITIATIVE
2015-2019

The Prairie Organic Grain Initiative was a 4.5 year (2015-2019), $2.2 million dollar program dedicated to building resilience and stability in the Canadian organic grain sector. The project focussed on the four streams described below. Click here to view the final evaluation report produced by Tapestry Evaluation and Strategy.
TRANSITION STREAM
GOAL: To bring new entrants into organic farming
 
APPROACH: Focus groups were held in Saskatchewan to study the perceptions of mainstream farmers of organic farming. Participants were also asked what they considered to be the key barriers to transitioning to organic. The marketing company behind the focus groups identified characteristics of producers who they thought would be ideal candidates for recruitment. The target farmer should have a business focus, strong management skills be open to new market opportunities. Once the target was identified, a strong business case was built to counter each of the key concerns raised by producers in the focus groups. This business case formed the centrepiece of a communications strategy that was then rolled out in main stream media and in the places where farmers gather such as at conventional farm shows. The program also included a training program for new entrants, including a 1 800 Organic Expert line, farmer-to-farmer mentoring programs, farm clubs, transition workshops, a new website, field days and conferences. Throughout, the approach has been to provide opportunities for new organic farmers to network and learn from long-time organic producers.
RESULTS: 
  • Focus groups with mainstream producers in Saskatchewan
  • Media materials for new organic growers and a marketing campaign to reach prospective organic growers
  • Attended 15 conventional farm shows
  • PivotandGrow website developed to host extension materials and to communicate directly to producers about training events
  • Downloadable Transition Starter Kit for new organic growers
  • 1-800 Ask an Expert phone line to match new farmers with expert advice
  • B-2-B Directory to help new growers find input suppliers, grain buyers and other resources
  • Between 2015 and 2018, the number of organic producers in the three Prairie provinces increased by 36% from 1290 to 1756
OPTIMIZATION STREAM
GOAL: To scale up organic grain production and improve grain quality by transferring the latest science and practice related to organic best management practices to organic producers.
APPROACH: Our extension strategy had four areas of focus:
  • Soil fertility
  • Managing weeds
  • Crop rotations for weed and fertility management
  • Grain quality
Preferred extension methods involved peer-to-peer learning, and matching farmers and exemplary practitioners together to transfer the latest science and methods. Extension methods employed a mix of one-to-many activities such as conferences, farm clubs and tours and one-on-one activities such as agronomist farm visits and the 1-800 Ask an Expert phone line
RESULTS: 
MARKET DEVELOPMENT STREAM
GOAL: To accelerate sales of Prairie organic grains by providing opportunities for organic producers and grain marketers to attend international trade fora
RESULTS: 
  • Created an Exporter Directory to link organic producers to export markets
  • Attended 13 international trade events with 71 Canadian organic businesses (producers, processors and importers/exporters)
  • As a result of this outreach, Prairie operators met with 188 international buyers, 30 of which are now purchasing Canadian organic grains
DATA STREAM
GOAL: To build tools to to improve industry benchmarking
APPROACH: In the conventional world, producers have instant access to up-to-date grain prices and Statistics Canada carefully tracks the grain inventory. In the organic sector, relevant data are much harder to find. The quest for better data began by starting with the basics. The goal was to collect and disseminate basic data which could be used to benchmark the health of the organic gains sector and to improve price transparency to help level the playing field between producers and buyers
RESULTS:
  • Check out the latest Organic Agriculture in the Prairies report (2019 data)
  • Previous Organic Agriculture in the Prairies reports are also available 
  • Collection and aggregation of current pricing information from grain buyers and improved dissemination to producers has created a more transparent marketplace for organic growers
  • Grain Quality Needs Assessment with organic grain buyers