The challenges of organic and all-natural farming are often daunting to producers who are considering crossing from the traditional styles of old. Being certified as an Organic farm requires intensive farm planning, a waiting period and fees. Still, the market for natural produce  has experienced amazing growth in the last 10 years and promises continued growth. “Since 1997, when they began tracking the data, the natural food market has had a sustained growth of 20 percent each year. The market is expected to continue to grow 15 to 20 percent each year for the next five years,” said Ron Rainey, of the University of Arkansas Extension Service.  
  He added that since produce is often sold directly to the consumer the farmer is able to develop a relationship with the buyer called relationship marketing. Feed-back from the end user is given directly to the person who can influence the product, the farmer. This type of marketing empowers both the consumers, by letting them know where, who and how their food is grown, and the producer, by providing vital information on what and how much the consumers want.
  “At this time there is no national designation for “all-natural." Although, there are some groups such as Certified Naturally Grown that have established an “all-natural” program,” said Rainey. He encouraged growers interested in this niche market to consider the USDA National Organic Program. He summarized the process into four steps.
1. Contact a certifying agent. One of the drawbacks to organic farming in Arkansas is that there are no certifying agents here. They have to come from Missouri or Oklahoma. A listing of certifying agents can be found on the USDA website. These agents have gone through training and will assist the grower throughout the certification process.
2. Develop a farm plan. During this step the certifying agent will visit the farm. A farm plan documents the acreage, history, crops, practices of the farm and monitoring procedures.  It will also include what surrounds the farm and water testing.
3. Transition period. To use the USDA Organic label a farm must go through a three year transition period to allow the soil to convert to organic. No pesticides or chemicals may be used during this time. Produce can still be grown organically, but it cannot be sold as “Certified Organic."
4. Fee for certification process.  The certification fee varies based on farm size, number of crops and the individual certifying agent. The fee is paid for the services of the certifying agent. The USDA does not require a fee, only that the farm has been certified by a trained agent.
Rainey went on to say that consumers interested in purchasing organic or “all-natural” produce look for names like “pesticide-free," “chemical-free” or “sustainable." He added, as a word of caution, that because of the absence of a national designation for “all-natural” produce that a brief conversation would usually be enough to tell if the grower supports natural practices.


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