What is Organic Farming?
Organic farming is farming without the use of synthetic chemicals, artificial fertilisers, pesticides, irradiation or genetically modified organisms. Soil health is critical in producing wholesome organic produce. Only free-range animals are allowed in organic farming systems and the use of cages is not permitted. Holistic farm management techniques are integral to organic farming.
An organic system aims to be sustainable. Emphasis is placed on the use of renewable resources, conservation of energy, soil and water resources and the maintenance of environmental quality.
The production cycle is as closed as possible with careful use of external inputs permitted by organic certification standards. The basic aims of organic farming are to achieve optimum quantities of produce of high nutritional quality without the use of artificial fertilisers or synthetic chemicals.
What is Certified Organic Produce?
Certified organic produce is produce that has been organically grown, harvested, prepared and transported in systems that guarantee the produce is not contaminated by synthetic chemicals, genetically engineered material, been fumigated or irradiated. Produce must be labelled as "certified organic" with a registration number and a certifying body's name displayed prominently on it.
Certifying Bodies have been established in Australia and overseas to reassure wholesalers, exporters, retailers, and consumers that produce is organic. The Organic Industry Standards and Certification Council (OISCC) audits organic industry organisations against the requirements of the National Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Produce (Sept 2016) to ensure that the integrity of organic product is maintained.
Growth in Demand for Organic Food
Demand for organic food has increased dramatically over the past few years. Australia's organic industry (food and non-food) is currently valued at approximately AU$2 billion (2021 Australian Organic Market Report).
Global increases in the area of certified organic farmland and production volumes are not keeping up with global demand, signalling the potential for even greater growth for Australian producers, processors and handlers.
There are significant opportunities for certified organic producers where a market is undersupplied, but it is vital that prospective new entrants research the demand for a product before developing it. Suggestions for how to research the feasibility of a product include:
Approaching wholesalers or retailers with a very good understanding of the organic market for advice on products that are needed and those that aren’t needed.
Familiarising yourself with gross margin tools and doing your sums.
Align products with current food trends and consumer preferences.
Communicate with potential buyers about the gaps in the market, what time of year these occur and the specifications for the produce.
Stay in contact with other organic producers, local service providers and industry groups to keep up to date with market intelligence.
Aim for forward contracts and certainty of sales
If you are looking to export, make sure you identify the international market access requirements and clearly define the comparative advantage your produce or product has.
Organic Farming in Tasmania
Organic farms can be found Statewide and are involved in varying enterprises from wine to sheep's cheese. There are approximately a dozen large enterprises but the majority of the organic farms are small-scale operations where lifestyle and philosophy play a big part in the reason for being involved.
The industry is expanding but needs more large scale operators to achieve economies of scale to service national and international markets. Demand is growing for organic products and returns are often higher which may offset possible lower yields. Many farmers value-add their produce and a new level of activity may be expected as larger organisations respond to demand from consumers.
The product produced during the first year or "pre-certification" phase has to be sold on the conventional market so the potential loss of yield is critical as no premiums are available. Once the property achieves "in conversion" status after one year, produce can be sold as "in conversion" at a small premium. This phase lasts two years. It takes a minimum of three years to fully convert to organic farming.
After several years of producing organically, yields can rise to pre-conversion levels as management improves under the new regime. With the premiums available for organic product, financial returns are comparable or exceed conventional farming.
Opportunities, Issues and Constraints in the Tasmanian Organic Industry
A 2005 report into the Tasmanian Organic Industry highlighted a number of industry related issues, with the major concerns surrounding the labelling of organic products and inconsistent supply.
The report, entitled Opportunities, Issues and Constraints - The Tasmanian Organic Industry, provides information concerning the general state of the industry, the major barriers to growth and potential for industry development.
The report details the views of 33 industry respondents and is intended to provide the foundation for further action and investigation. Interviewees were classified as retailers, growers/producers, wholesalers/distributors and processors. A representative sample from across the industry and state ranging in size and sector were chosen for the project. The questions examined both the supply and output side and also a general industry section allowing respondents to raise any other relevant issues.
Opportunities, Issues and Constraints - The Tasmanian Organic Industry (181 KB)