American organic soybean imports, especially as meal, continue to dwarf import of other organic crops.
In fact, if American farmers tried to grow that many soybeans to make into meal, it could disrupt the whole organic system, says Ryan Koory, senior analyst with Mercaris, an American organic market intelligence company.
Why it matters: Organic production needs to be balanced among several crops in a rotation. When demand for one crop grows more than others, it makes managing that rotation a challenge.
Rapid growth in organic livestock production is driving the increase in soybean meal being imported into the United States. About 70 per cent of all soybean product imports to the U.S. is soymeal.
Organic livestock production is easier for large integrated farms to get into than crop production, so some of the largest producers of poultry in the U.S. are now raising organic chickens. They are buying most of their feed, and much of the protein in the ration, supplied by soybean meal, is coming from places like India.
There’s been a sharp rise in demand for organic chicken, which the large producers are trying to fill.
“If we shut off imports, the implications would be catastrophic,” says Koory. “It would throw things totally out of whack.”
If imports were replaced by American soybean production, the volume needed would also increase the volume of other organic crops. Because of the requirement for a diverse rotation on organic farmers, that would mean even more crops that are difficult to market, says Koory. To replace soybean imports would require 864,000 acres of organic soybeans.
“Maybe we need to solve the import issues by addressing the demand,” he told the annual meeting of the Organic Council of Ontario (OCO).
By that, he means making sure that those who produce organic livestock have to also produce a portion of the feed for those livestock.
Koory says he sees the need for co-operative farming models, where farmers work together to get the rotations they need, yet can achieve the scale to be competitive and supply markets, including livestock operations.
Good marketing information in the U.S. and Canadian organic sector is hard to come by, says Koory.
In Canada, he says it just doesn’t exist, so in his OCO presentation, he mostly focused on American numbers.
Information on imports is scant for the U.S. too, because some categories differentiate between organic and conventional imports, but others do not.
There was a corn import scandal several years ago when non-organic product was passed off as organic through Turkey. That meant a decline almost to zero of organic corn imports from Turkey. However, there has been a significant increase in cracked corn imports, a commodity harder to track than whole corn.
Koory says that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (NOP) is supposed to monitor imports and potential fraud, but it is “grossly underfunded. It doesn’t have the manpower or the financial resources to do what they are chartered to do.”
The current president isn’t interested in funding greater oversight of organic programs, he says, so he doesn’t expect to see much improvement in funding for organic oversight anytime soon.