News And Events

OCIA Continues Building Roots as World Celebrates International Year of Soils

Friday, February 27, 2015

Lincoln, NE - The Organic Crop Improvement Association, one of the few farmer-controlled organic certifiers, convened its 30th Annual General Membership Meeting with 65 attendees at Council Bluffs, Iowa, Feb. 11 and 12.

OCIA member delegates came from Canada, Mexico and the United States to represent chapters and operations by electing a board and setting goals for the organization. They also had a chance to network with each other. The more farmers talk among themselves, the better the organic community will be, said Jack Geiger, 2015 OCIA president. He said his number one goal for the board is to continue to maintain its international cost effective, family farmer controlled certification programs. Geiger a sixth-generation farmer in Kansas whose father Jake started certifying with OCIA in 1989. OCIA has made great strides with staff being responsive to individual operations' concerns, he said.

Jack Geiger (right,) 2015 OCIA president, talks about goals for the organization during its Annual General Membership Meeting at Council Bluffs, Iowa, Feb. 12. Susan Linkletter (letter,) 2015 first-vice president, organized the session to get input from the membership on how to make OCIA a better organization to do business with. Photo by Demetria Stephens.

OCIA members approved a surplus budget that kept all fees at the same levels as 2014. Members' goals for 2015 included working with organizations that share similar values. The meeting also provided networking opportunities, a trade-show and speakers.

Joe Maxwell, Vice President, Outreach and Engagement of the Humane Society of the United States, spoke about public expectations for animal welfare on Feb. 11. OCIA members later discussed ways to improve organic standards internationally with regard for animal welfare.

John Bobbe, Executive Director of the Organic Farmers' Agency for Relationship Marketing presented a web series on, "Organic: The Real Natural" on Feb. 10 that featured farmers talking about the importance of organic certification. Some of the farmers were members of OCIA chapters.

Chapters continue to be one of OCIA's strengths, offering local support and lower costs. OCIA's South Dakota 1 chapter saw benefits from the changes made by OCIA in recent years. The chapter had extra funds in its treasury after its expenses went down when OCIA International staff took on more of the paperwork responsibilities in 2014, said Wilford Secker, OCIA's South Dakota 1 chapter administrator.

The chapter wanted to host a workshop for years with Neal Kinsey, owner and soil consultant of Kinsey Agricultural Services. His last workshop with the chapter was in 1998. Secker analyzed how mush it would cost to host a workshop with Kinsey and expected to lose money with the costs associated with facility rental, meals and Kinsey's personal costs totaling $21,000. Then he realized it could make money if it had 100 attendees and charged $100 for chapter members and up to $250 for non-chapter members. The workshop had 140 attendees, with 90 participants who know "just about nothing about organics," Secker said.

Building soil fertility is a basic principle of organic agriculture and gaining more attention this year with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations declaring 2015 the International Year of Soils.

"Healthy soils are the basis for healthy food production," according to the FAO.

Kinsey demonstrated the Albrecht method for soil testing and explained the basics of what a soil test is, how to do it and why it's important, all in common language, Secker said. Farmers could use Kinsey's information on their own farms, do soil testing, improve soil and the viability of their operations, Secker said.

"For being a world-renowned soil specialists," Secker said, "he's a humble man."

Kinsey gave a balanced presentation that impressed everyone, Secker said. It had attendees from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, South Dakota, Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky on Jan. 27 to Jan. 29 at Aberdeen, SD. It's something a chapter with a little reserve in funds can consider doing, he said. The chapter plans to host an advanced course with Kinsey on macro and micronutrients in January 2016.

Kevin Koester, 64, attended the workshop and said he would probably do more soil testing on his 758-acre farm where he grows corn, soybeans, spring wheat, oats and alfalfa.

"You may have all the nutrients there, but they're fighting each other because they're not in the right amounts," Koester said.

He said he learned that soil deficiencies might be shown above ground with the kinds of weeds that grow and balancing the soil might displace weeds. The workshop fit in with OCIA's mandate, crop improvement, Koester said.

Koester has been a certified-organic farmer in OCIA's South Dakota 1 chapter since 1991. Koester's father-in-law always farmed organically and was a promoter of organics in the area. Koester said he searched out OCIA and learned more about organic certification with his chapter, then learned to farm through trial and error, including whom to do business with. Some businesses he had worked with didn't survive. Organic farmers could survive a little better than non-organic farmers, even if they didn't make sales because they didn't have as many input expenses, Koester said. There is a growing market for organic products because there's still a strong demand, he said. The price and demand for organic products remains high.

Koester, 64, is watching another generation trying to grow organically now. Koester said his son Jason, 28, is getting involved in OCIA much the same way Kevin did when he first joined. People initially just wanted their certificates, but he said there's a point where they will think, "Yeah, well, I'd like to go to that meeting."

Koester joined committees at the chapter and international levels that reviewed files for compliance with the OCIA International Certification Standard. That was prior to the USDA National Organic Program becoming effective and his election to the board in 2009. He just completed the term limit of six years on the board where he had served as OCIA president since 2012.

"Being on the board probably isn't for everybody, but it does give you a sense of why the business is there and what you can accomplish with it."

Members of the 2015 OCIA International Board of Directors at the Annual General Membership Meeting (from left) Susan Linkletter of New Brunswick, Jeff Kienast of central Iowa and Elliot Driscoll of eastern Iowa, Dale Maass of Wisconsin, Joel Koskan of South Dakota and Demetria Stephens of western Kansas and Jack Geiger of eastern Kansas. Not pictured, Nathan Cook of Ohio and Guy Laberge of Alberta. Photo by Demetria Stephens.

Four new board members were elected by acclamation to the nine-member OCIA International Board of Directors; Nathan Cook of Ohio, Guy Laberge of Alberta, Elliott Driscoll of Iowa and Joel Koskan of South Dakota.

Koester gave his last message as president at the AGMM. He challenged the 2015 board to continue to promote OCIA in the organic marketplace with efficient service and reasonably priced organic certification. He said he enjoyed working with other members of the board and saw many changes over his two consecutive terms. Although the number of staff has declined, the organization now has no employee turnover, he said.

Koester recognized the staff who have been with OCIA for five and ten years at the closing banquet of the AGMM: Mark Gooden, Finance Director (5 years); Sheli Fletcher, Chapter Member Services Administrator (10 years); and Ann Tvrdy, Regional Certification Coordinator Lead (10 years). Not present at the banquet as he is currently working in Mexico, Lebi Perez, Inspection and Training Coordinator for Latin America, has been with OCIA for fifteen years.

"Consistent staff make for consistent work," Koester said. "They've really taken off with efficient service they've given us."

OCIA's next AGMM will be at Minneapolis, Minn., in February 2016.

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Date Published: February 27th, 2015
Author/Title: Demetria Stephens, OCIA International Board Member
Address: OCIA, 1340 N. Cotner Blvd, Lincoln, NE 68505