Transitioning 10,000 Acres
Matt Kollasch and his father were operating a 10,000-acre conventional farm when they made the decision to transition to organic. The cost of operating conventionally had become unsustainable.
“Times got tough,” Matt recalled. “Rent was high. Inputs were high. Markets were low. The potential to create more income with fewer acres was the main reason we even tossed the idea of transitioning to organic around.”
Although organic farming carries unique challenges, because operators abstain from the use of synthetic inputs—like industrial fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides—and rely instead on natural inputs, after an initial investment the annual cost to operate organically can be lower than the cost to operate conventionally. This, paired with the higher prices that organic products command, often leads to more profitable enterprises.
Matt and his father decided to learn all they could about organic farming.
“We were fortunate enough to have some neighbors around us that had transitioned to organic a few years prior, so we sat down with them and started talking about organic farming,” Matt said.
Their conversations with their neighbors, additional research, and their economic reality drove their decision to transition to organic.
“We decided we were going to give it a try,” Matt said.
Initially, the family thought to transition 500 of their 10,000 acres. Incremental transitions like this are common for large operations. The learning curve and financial costs associated with transitioning to organic often make a full transition unrealistic for such large operations. Even smaller operations can benefit from a gradual transition.
The Kollaschs, though, quickly committed to a larger transition. “By the time spring came we had decided to transition around 1,000 acres,” Matt said.
Their second year, they transitioned 800 acres. An additional 800 acres followed in their third year.
“We decided if we didn’t think the farm could be farmed organically, we weren’t going to farm it,” Matt said. “We dropped all of our acres we were farming conventionally.”
Applying for Certification
The Kollaschs experienced very few setbacks during their initial transition period. Although they were farming in a new way, the endeavor went well. Over time, however, they encountered challenges.
“We have found that farming organically is difficult and that every year is different,” Matt admitted.
Controlling pests and weeds became more onerous. In place of synthetic herbicides and pesticides, the Kollaschs relied on mechanical controls. They had to learn how to use tine weeders, rotary hoes, and cultivators in place of chemicals. It was an entirely new way of thinking and farming.
At the same time, they had to begin seriously considering who they would certify their operation with. Many organic certification agencies exist, and although the end goal is the same for all, the services provided along the certification path vary from agency to agency. Once again, the Kollaschs turned to their neighbors for help and guidance.
“Luckily for us, there were a bunch of farmers in our area who were already organic,” Matt said. “After talking with a couple different farmers, we decided to certify with OCIA.”
The first year presented challenges. Matt remembers feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of paperwork provided. But he also recalls feeling supported throughout.
“The people at OCIA were very patient and helped us get through it,” he said. “They were helpful and answered questions I had along the way.”
Now, fully certified, Matt and his family see benefits to operating organically beyond increased profitability.
“We have been given the chance to raise crops in a way that benefits our soil by not using chemicals,” he said. “We are growing a product that will help create a healthier and better tasting food system. We have even seen drastic changes in our soil health, and we continue to watch it change.”
Each day allows Matt and his family to learn something new about organic farming that helps change the way they look at life. Matt has one piece of advice for anyone considering a transitioning to organic: be patient.
“Create a network of people that support what you are trying to achieve,” Matt said. “Be patient, and have a plan B, and C.”
Every operator’s path to organic certification is different. Learn more about about the different paths to organic certification in our “Operator Spotlight” series.
- Allan Kettle: In the mid-1990s, Allan Kettle decided to organically certify his Alberta farm. For Allan, the decision to pursue organic certification was easy. Allan’s father, who operated the farm before him, had never used synthetic fertilizers or sprays. Allan continued those practices when he took over the farm.
- Variety Coffee: Variety Coffee has a simple mission: provide customers with the freshest, highest quality coffee possible. The Brooklyn based coffee roster and chain of cafes does this by sourcing coffee beans from around the world, focusing on acquiring beans that reflect growing seasons of different coffee producing regions.
- Jack Geiger: The farm crisis of the 1980s forced Jack Geiger’s family to consider farming methods that required fewer and less expensive inputs. They naturally turned to organics.
Learn more about organic agriculture, certification, and OCIA International.
- Should you transition to Organic?: The decision to transition a conventional operation to organic is deeply personal. Organic certification requires resources, like time and money, and perseverance in the face of the challenges that you will inevitably encounter along the way. Is transitioning to organic the right step for your operation?
- Organic Certification Process:All operators seeking initial organic certification must complete a similar six step process regardless of which certification agency they partner with. The certification process can feel intimidating at first, but knowing what to expect can help alleviate much of the stress you might initially feel.
- Organic System Plan: Every operator must submit an organic system plan. But what is included? And how will the plan provided YOU with benefits beyond certification?
- Healthy Soil: Cultivating healthy soil requires establishing ecological balance and increasing biological diversity. But how can you establish healthy soil on your farm?
- Why Certify with OCIA?: Choosing an organic certification agency is one of the most important points in an operator’s certification process. Let us tell you why OCIA is the right choice for you.