(Sept. 21) GARDEN GROVE, Calif. — Exporting organics can be fraught with challenges, but about five dozen industry professionals learned how to deal with some of those challenges Sept. 17 at a seminar organized by Certified Organic Products Export Strategy — COPES — based in Santa Cruz.

The event was highlighted by presentations from Kevin Latner, agricultural attache’ for the U.S. Department of Agriculture; James Riddle, policy analyst for Organic Independents, Winona, Minn., and vice chairman of the National Organic Standards Board; and a panel discussion featuring Lisa Sternlicht, organic export manager, AMS Exotic LLC, Los Angeles; Brian Quigley, industrial and international manager, Small Planet Foods, Sedro-Woolley, Wash.; and Stacey Ogo, international sales director, Falcon Trading Co./SunRidge Farms, Santa Cruz.

Latner, who most recently represented U.S. agriculture in Japan, started things off on a high note.

"These are pretty heady times for the organic industry," he said, citing a growth rate of more than 50% in Europe for the past four to five years and more than 20% in the U.S. and Japan.

Latner described the status of the organic industry in Japan as similar to that in the U.S. before the National Organic Program took effect in 2002 — there are numerous organic certifying agencies.

Consumers there tend to trust self-certifiers or individual growers who vouch for the organic authenticity of their product over government certification, he said.

During the panel discussion, Sternlicht dispelled some of the myths associated with shipping to the United Kingdom — like buyers being overly picky and sellers having a difficult time collecting their money.

"It's not as scary as it might seem," she said.

Each market has its own specifications, and she encouraged grower-shippers to communicate with exporters or the end customer to learn what those requirements are.

Quigley, whose first export venture was selling raspberries to Japan in 1978, elaborated on the importance of partnering with companies that have expertise in the export field and who can help with things like collecting payments and analyzing the market to see where one's product may be a good fit.

He also suggested that organic grower-shippers consider co-packing for Japanese distributors and retailers, and he recommended participating in trade missions to meet potential buyers and to learn about foreign markets firsthand.

Ogo, who discussed Canada and emerging markets, said a successful organic export program calls for "patience, persistence and resourcefulness."

Contrary to how it is perceived by many U.S. grower-shippers, "Canada is an international market," she said.

Canada is on the verge of adopting a nationwide organic policy, she said. Currently, only the province of Quebec has such a policy.

Ogo cited Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore and, to an extent, South Korea as emerging markets for organics, particularly for staples. But she warned that competition is tight.

Matt McInerney, executive vice president at Western Growers, Irvine, a co-host of the seminar, encouraged those interested in exporting to Canada or Mexico to consider joining the Ottawa-based Dispute Resolution Corp.

The Western United States Agricultural Trade Association, Vancouver, Wash., and the California League of Food Processors, Sacramento, also were seminar co-hosts, said Jeanne Ikemoto, program manager for COPES.

Another seminar, with different topics and speakers, is scheduled for November in Santa Rosa.