Among its list of eight predictions for the organics industry over the next decade, certification company Quality Assurance International forecasts “harmonic convergence” among international organics standards.

Such efforts to blend standards have begun in some parts of the world. For example, as of June 2012, organic products certified in Europe or the U.S. may be sold as organic in either region.

“This partnership between the two largest organic producers in the world will establish a strong foundation from which to promote organic agriculture, benefiting the growing organic industry and supporting jobs and businesses on a global scale,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a news release when the deal was announced.

Greater interest in trade

The U.S.-EU equivalence agreement has ignited trade interest, said Christine Bushway, executive director of the Brattleboro, Vt.-based Organic Trade Association.

“The agreement is still very new, but U.S. organic companies have started or intensified trade with the EU, and USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service is monitoring influx in trade through the export codes available,” Bushway said.

Early estimates show a doubling in select commodities between 2011 and 2012, which is probably linked to the agreement, Bushway said.

“The OTA Booth at BioFach 2013 in Germany in February has never generated more interest, and the U.S. Pavilion is nearly sold out,” Bushway said, referring to the World Organic Show, Trade Fair & Congress on Feb. 13-16 in Nuremberg. “These are good indicators that the agreement is generating trade.”

Bushway cited, as an example, U.S. exports of organics to the EU grew from 2011 through October 2012 for:

  • grapefruit, from zero to 25,783 metric tons;
  • apples, from 361 metric tons to 708 metric tons;
  • strawberries, from 71 metric tons to 201 metric tons;
  • organic carrots, from 43 metric tons to 105 metric tons;
  • organic cauliflower, from 8 metric tons to 53 metric tons; and
  • organic blueberries, from 3 metric tons to 24 metric tons.

QAI forecasts a continuation of that trend over the next decade.

“It certainly makes sense because there are a lot of products we get from Europe. Same parameters would be great,” said Bruce Klein, marketing director with Secaucus, N.J.-based shipper Maurice A. Auerbach Inc.

Jim Roberts, vice president of sales with Naples, Fla.-based berry grower-shipper Naturipe Farms LLC, said convergence of standards already has led to more shipments.

“We’ve done some,” he said. “We’ve actually put more conventional fruit, although we’ve seen some pretty good organic growth in blueberries.”

Other problems

More standardized certification requirements are a positive step, but they don’t address other problems connected to shipping to the Euopean Union, said Matt Roberts, sales manager with Sedro-Woolley, Wash.-based shipper CF Fresh Inc.

“It’s easier. The problem is that with the EU, in general, the business isn’t what it used to be,” he said.

CF Fresh doesn’t ship fruit to Europe in the volumes it had done before, Roberts said.

“We don’t see the business, especially in the United Kingdom, where we did a lot of exporting before,” he said. “The fruit they use is similar to that the slicers here use. There’s less money and less risk.”

The main export market for Oxnard, Calif.-based Deardorff Family Farms is Canada, whose certification standards are comparable to those of the U.S., said Tom Deardorff, president.

Asia, he said, is probably the next offshore marketing frontier for his company, and that won’t happen right away.

“I think it will take a lot of market development and education to get there, but it is an avenue that needs to be pursued,” he said.

For now, there’s no pressing need to go in that direction, Deardorff said.

“One reason we haven’t is we’re trying to satisfy our own marketplace here first,” he said.