Organic expo, conference hits growth spurt

Guelph Mercury

GUELPH — The upcoming Guelph Organic Conference & Expo began as a modest half-day seminar in the early 1980s, put on by some University of Guelph grad students.

This year’s four-day event Jan. 29 through Feb. 1 at the University Centre is expected to attract 1,800 attendees from across Canada and parts of the U.S. They will take in a host of workshops, seminars and an organic conference dinner, another highlight. It also features a two-day trade expo, Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, with 157 information and food sampling tables.

While the expo is free, there are various admission fees to attend conference workshops and seminars. Details are at

The theme this year is Organic By Design, with both food basics and innovation integral to a growing movement that eschews synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and focuses on cycling of resources, ecological balance and biodiversity.

The theme invites participants in part to explore the various aspects prominent in organic farming today, like livestock husbandry and handling, and crop marketing based on soil health.

In fact, keynote speaker Dave Jacke, of Massachusetts, will speak about the design of perennial polycultures, described as “thriving and varied ecosystems of abundance delivered through renewable resources and self-sustaining agricultural methods.”

“The organic grower works with nature,” conference manager Tomás Nimmo said Monday.

The 34th annual conference put on by his non-profit organization takes on a broad variety of topics, including urban agriculture, bees and other pollinators, food sovereignty and innovation diversifying crop flavours. The busiest day, Saturday, features five major organic farming themes with four workshops each.

The event boasts an introductory component to organic farming and its products, intended for people unfamiliar with organic growing and wanting to learn more. That includes some of the workshops.

Nimmo, who spoke at the inaugural conference, said the domestic organic farming sector is larger than many people realize, though organic sections in supermarkets are expanding. But industry proponents want to seed further growth.

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Strong Demand & Prices for Organic Grain In Ontario Hot Topic at Guelph Organic Conference JAN 31, 2015

Tom Manley, President of Homestead Organics near Cornwall, Ontario and Dan Bewersdorff, Organic Grain Program Director of Herbruck’s of Saranac, Michigan will be offering similar prices.  (Although Herbruck’s is based in western Michigan they source from Ontario as well as Michigan, Illinois, Ohio and Indiana.)

Even with organic yields being lower than conventional, Tom estimates that for 100 acres of organic corn, farmers could increase their profit by $700 to $1360 per acre versus conventional.


And it’s not just corn.  “I need a lot more of everything,” says Tom.  “Growing niche products such as hops, millet or hemp isn’t necessary.  There are very strong markets for soybeans, corn, wheat, barley and oats,” he adds.  All three buyers expect organic soybean prices to be in the range of $29 to $34 per bushel.

“In my 17 years in organic, the prices have never been so high.  They’re 2 to 3 times that of conventional,” says Tom.  “It’s very lucrative,” he adds.

Demand for organic grains is being driven by consumer demand for organic food in a wide variety of categories.  As the largest organic egg producer in the United States with over 1 million chickens, Herbruck’s sees this trend first hand. 

“The demand for organic eggs is growing so then the demand for organic grain grows too,” says Dan.  “What we can offer growers is a good, solid, established market,” he adds. 

With strong demand and prices two to three times that of conventional, why aren’t farmers lining up to convert?

“It’s a big step and requires people to change how they have been farming for the last two generations,” say Dan.

Rita notes that, “many conventional farmers have also taken on jobs off the farm.  Their plates are already quite full without adding the learning curve of converting to organic.”

TM 2“When a farmer is operating a thousand acres and it’s profitable, there’s that idea of ‘if it’s not broken, why change?’,” says Tom.  “It’s very sad that farmers aren’t converting.  Consumers want more organic, and farmers are missing an opportunity to step up to the plate,” he adds.

Personal reasons have often been a key motivator in becoming organic.  Rita notes that many organic farmers, “have experienced health challenges in their families and started re-thinking chemical applications.”  She also finds that “family farms are sometimes looking for an income boost so they can include more family members in the operation.”

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