Organic produce is available out of Ontario, although some growers and shippers in the province question the category’s viability.
Jamie Reaume, executive director of the Newmarket, Ontario-based Holland Marsh Growers Association, said organics in Canada, as in the U.S., has its ardent supporters, as well as detractors.
“It’s like anything else,” he said. “We’ve got increases with people involved with the organic sector.”
However, Reaume said, the allure of organics can fade if it compromises its earth-friendly bona fides in certain ways.
“The idea that you can fly organic asparagus from Thailand defeats the purpose,” he said. “We’re seeing an increase in organic production, but it will fade and local becomes the new organic. That’s what we’re going to see more of: people wanting to get more local.”
The organic category seems stalled, said Doug Pearce, partner in Leamington, Ontario-based Pier C Produce.
“I haven’t seen any growth,” he said. “We did some organics a few years back and did a trial. The market was too small for us. That’s not to say we won’t do them again in the future. Those projects are on hold.”
Scott Biddle, owner of Simcoe, Ontario-based Scotlynn Commodities, said he also hadn’t seen much positive momentum in the organics sector.
“I haven’t had customers pushing for it,” he said.
Ontario Sweet Potato, based in Waterford, offers organic product, and there are plenty of takers, said Bob Proracki, the operation’s owner.
“It is a growing market,” he said. “People are becoming more and more aware of what they’re putting in their mouth and have a distaste for what comes from China.”
Proracki said the price premium isn’t much of an issue in the Toronto markets, where he sells his sweet potatoes.
“It’s not really much-affected because we deal with a quarter-million people walking in front of our 10 market stands,” he said. “They’re interested in local-grown stuff that tastes good.
“They’re specific to what they want because all we sell is sweet potatoes and value-added sweet potato products. I charge a premium for our product because it’s organically gown, and they keep coming back.”
Paul Procyk, owner of Wilsonville, Ontario-based Procyk Farms, said the debate over the viability of organics is as energetic as ever.
“It depends on the consumer and retailer on whether it’s different from conventional,” he said.
He said cost is a factor.
“It’s going to have to come toward a similar price to keep people interested,” he said. “I don’t believe in organics. I’m more of a safe-food leader. We’re telling people safe food is where it’s at.”
The debate is far from settled, said Tony Moro, president of Bradford, Ontario-based Bradford & District Produce Ltd.
“We use crop-protection materials here,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of misconception in the organics. Is organic better? To me, it’s inconclusive. They have crop-protection materials that are just as lethal. They can fall under a different category. People have mentality that it’s better for you.
“It’s a hypocrisy.”
Organics doesn’t have enough of a payoff to make the effort worthwhile, said Paul Otter, co-owner of Woodville, Ontario-based Woodville Farms Ltd.
“I follow monthly who’s going down, and I see a lot of organic farms going under (bankruptcy) protection,” he said, referring to the organic business in the U.S. “It’s the same here.”
Food-safety requirements also could get in the way, Otter added.
“One thing they want them to do is wash crops in chlorine, but you can’t do that. That’s going to put them all out of business right there.”