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Nevada Organic Producers Rush To Find New Certifier

Rob Holley
Esther Ciammachilli

Rob Holley owns an organic farm outside Dayton, but with the demise of the state's organic certification program, Holley and others like him are looking for other ways to stay certified.

The Nevada Department of Agriculture recently decided to dissolve its organic certification program, which will officially end next year.

Now, producers who were certified though the state will have to find another option or risk losing organic status.

That’s why a group has banded together to form a new in-state organic organization, but they have their work cut out for them and it’s not clear if they’ll be ready on time.

As he strolls through his modest garden in Dayton, Rob Holley snacks on green leafy produce and root vegetables. He says that’s one of the things he loves about organic gardening.

“I haven’t sprayed it with anything. I know where it’s from. I can pull a carrot out of the dirt, wipe it off…it’s gotta be pretty clean for me to eat it because I don’t like dirt in my teeth,” Holley said. 

Holley is one of only about 80 organic producers in Nevada. Of these, roughly half, including Holley, are licensed through the Nevada Department of Agriculture. But in March of next of year, that’ll change when the NDA ends this program.   

“Basically the fees that were being collected on the program and the cost of the program greatly exceeded the amount of revenue that the program was able to generate,” said Jim Barbee, director of Nevada Department of Agriculture.  

He says the program is no longer sustainable. Low numbers mean low returns. It brought in roughly $50,000 in annual revenue, but it cost about $120,000 to run. To cover this deficit, the department was moving money from other areas.

“Like inspecting nurseries and green houses to ensure plant material isn’t diseased or that Nevada citizens aren’t being shipped poor quality plant material. We were having to pull monies, revenue from those programs to support this one,” Barbee said.  

The state’s organic certification fees were relatively cheap and, Barbee says, this contributed to low revenues.

But this was also why the program was so attractive to farmers like Rob Holley. Fees are based on production and the NDA’s scale slides between $300 and $3,000.

Now, Holley will have to shop private certifiers to find a cost he can afford. But before that day comes, Holley and handful of other organic producers want to see if they can establish a Nevada-based certifying agency. 

The answer is yes.

Holley is a member of Basin and Range Organics, a brand new non-profit.

Its goals include: providing and expanding USDA organic certifications, as well as training and supporting new organic farmers in Nevada and neighboring states.

But, Holley says, getting started is an arduous process and time is the enemy.

“One of the questions we have to ask is whether or not we can have that program inspected through a desk audit, inspected through an on-site audit, and then actually existing for long enough so that people can place their certification application with that certifier prior to their expiration date,” he said.

For organic farmers, like Rick Lattin, that date is less than a year away. Lattin says he’d like to certify with Basin and Range if they’re ready by next summer, but if they’re not, “It means to me that I’ll have to either give up on organic certification or sign up with an out-of-state inspector.”

Lattin owns a mid-sized farm in Fallon where he grows everything from asparagus to zucchini. His certification fees are currently in the thousands of dollars and even if he has to switch to a private certifier, this won’t change much.

The real cost of organic farming, Lattin says, aren’t the fees. The actual devil is in the details.

“For example, every seed we purchase we have to record whether that seed is organic or untreated, where it came from, where we planted it. Then we have to keep the empty seed packets after we’re through planting, and they come through once a year to make sure our seed packets match with our planting records,” he said.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg lettuce.

Lattin must keep diligent track of his produce from seed to sale, and this information must be made available upon inspection.

Then someone has to review all this paperwork. That’s where Basin and Range Organics will have their work cut out for it.

Officials say the next step is to find funding to hire a USDA certified inspector. From there, it’s making sure all their ducks are in a row as they stare down next year’s deadline. 


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