While the organic sector has been expanding in value and acreage in recent years, there are still numerous challenges involved in organic production. There are concerns related to acquiring organic certification, the availability of pertinent research, and challenges facing the scalability of organic farming. President and CEO of JV Smith Companies, Vic Smith noted that advancements in agricultural technology are going to play a critical role in addressing some of the major production needs in the organic sector.
“You’ve got to have new innovations to help us. For example, we’re working hard on mechanical or automated weeding, and that’s extremely important to us because the labor cost in the U.S. keeps rising,” said Smith. “If we can get tools like that; innovative ways to deal with our weeds, bring in some automated, bring in some vision capability, some more robotic type capability, [that] definitely would help in harvest too.”
Part of developing useful tools and techniques to increase overall farming efficiency is communication between all of the various areas in the organic sector. Collaborative events such as the Organic Grower Summit, which was recently held in Monterey, serve as an important starting point for conversations to better confront the challenges growers encounter. “These opportunities to get together, meet other people in different areas, talk about different ideas, different concepts, is just huge,” Smith noted.
The 2017 Census of Agriculture showed that the number of certified organic farm operations increased by nearly 40 percent over the previous five years. The relatively expeditious growth in recent years may have reached its peak, causing concern for some growers who were projecting a more significant growth rate. “We got used to double-digit growth and some pretty significant double-digit growth. But in our sector, its leveled off at a much higher plateau and then it’s inching up in the single-digit range,” said Smith.