2019 Organic Grower Summit Looks to the Future

The Organic Grower Summit tackled a wide variety of issues and topics, attracting hundreds of organic growers, producers, and processors to its third annual conference held in Monterey, CA last week.  Presented by California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) and the Organic Produce Network (OPN), the event featured a sold-out exhibition floor showcasing companies advancing the latest trends in soil and plant health, bio-pesticides, seed, food safety, and ag technology.

Kicking off the two-day event were a pair of educational intensives focused on organic soil health practices and growth of ag technology.

Haley Baron, education and research program associate with the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFR) and the moderator for the session on soil health, says farmers are desperate for information. “Conventional ag has had the benefit of hundreds of millions of dollars in research over many years,” she said, “and now, on the organic side we’re playing catch-up. The goal is to give organic growers practical advice—a toolbox that is science-based and backed by research.”

Baron said conferences like OGS are an important vehicle in which to disseminate information culled from the latest research and gain valuable insight into areas and issues important to growers and ripe for research.

In the second educational intensive, founders and CEOs from six of the most progressive ag tech firms shared their thoughts on precision and automated technology----and talked about the challenges in supply chain efficiency and food waste management.

“Our tent has gotten bigger,” said OPN co-founder Tonya Antle, “and with that comes new challenges. We wanted this summit to address growers’ real-world issues.” With that in mind, OGS organized a series of educational sessions which offered a dynamic mix of old school experience—successful strategies born out of years of working the fields day in and day out—and new technologies and markets offering a glimpse into the future.

Keynote presenters offered three unique perspectives on how organic agriculture can drive social and economic change: hemp as a possible plastics replacement, sustainable ranching with a social conscious, and an ambitious initiative to sequester in soils one trillion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

According to keynote presenter David Perry, Indigo Ag President and CEO, he aims to eventually pay participating farmers $15 to $20 per ton of carbon that they sequester using many of the tools already familiar to organic growers. Called the Terraton Initiative, Perry said regenerative farming practices can improve both the quality of soil and the profitability of farms, while at the same time reducing global warming. The Terraton Initiative has already signed up 13 million farmers.

The educational sessions focused on the nitty gritty issues facing organic growers every day: how to manage water and pests, compost composition, increasing yield and quality and, of course, profitability—how to thrive in a tough and demanding business. From emerging hemp and cannabis markets to changing consumer attitudes, cost pressures, and the economics of ever-expanding regulations and certifications, the educational sessions provided a platform for lively debate and back-and-forth discussion. 

One family that has navigated those issues and built a successful multi-generational business was honored at OGS with the Grower of the Year award, sponsored by AGCO. The Lundberg family has been producing quality organic rice and rice products since 1937. Today, the third and fourth generations carry on the family heritage of using sustainable farming methods that produce quality products while improving the environment for generations to come.

CEO Grant Lundberg accepted the award on behalf of the entire family, and told the story of his family’s farming roots, “In 1937, my grandparents were farming in central Nebraska in the dustbowl and they experienced environmental  catastrophe and that motivated them to move to California and instilled in them a sense that you need to take care of the soil for the future. In 1969 a future customer asked us to grow organic rice, and that started us on this journey,” he said.   For the Lundberg family and so many others attending OGS, that journey continues into an exciting and unfolding future.

By the numbers, OGS was attended by nearly 700 people, including 200 organic growers and 90 exhibitors on a sold-out tradeshow floor. The summit also included several social events providing networking opportunities and an exclusive screening of the award-winning short documentary “The Last Harvest.” Produced by Driscoll’s, the short film shines a light on ongoing labor shortages and immigration reform and was followed by a lively discussion on challenges and possible solutions from industry experts.