The Import Debate

Recently, in Organic agriculture there has been a debate on the integrity and viability of imports. In the last three years, the quantity of Organic corn and soybeans imported from other countries such as India, Turkey and the Ukraine have increased yearly along with the demand.

This has been a discussion mostly confined to the Organic community, until an article from the Washington Post on May 12th opened the bag of worms to everyone to see. The article exposed a chink in the integrity of the Organic system, and a concern of not only Organic farmers, but also of processors and consumers. It was revealed that a barge of soybeans from Turkey left the country as ordinary beans, but arrived to America with Organic paperwork.

The soybeans, raised conventionally, were miraculously declared to be “Organic” by someone’s paperwork in the system, a blessing that increased their worth by 4 million dollars.

This is a danger that has been a concern of many, and has only aggravated already rising tensions. Before we delve further into the arguments, lets look at the parties involved.

Parties and Their Interests

Organic Grain Farmers were enjoying high prices in the US until imports became more common. It wasn’t very long ago a bushel of Organic corn was selling for $16.00 at feed grade, now it’s down towards $8.00. So it isn’t very hard to see why the farmers are less happy with processors able to get cheaper foreign imports and have to lower their prices to remain competitive.

Organic Processors suffer from another problem, the lack of supply and a high demand. Every year the Organic marketshare grows, and it’s not just in vegetables. Americans want their Organic products, and they want Organic goldfish snack crackers. The rising demand for Organic processing requires a higher volume of Organic grains than are being grown domestically, making importing something a necessity that not even processors like.

Brokers are the middlemen who make their living finding who wants something and finding it for them. These are the souls who are responsible for moving barges of Organic products over seas and bringing them to the states for Processors.

The Arguments

There are some in the Organic community who have resorted to demagoguery over the issue, stirring the pot to have people join their organizations and battle for the prices “you deserve.” Blaming imports, they have sought to coddle American Organic farmers that they deserve higher prices than foreign Organic farmers.

More level headed people have agreed that there can be cheating in the system, but that’s true of anything, including the US Organic system. At the MOSES Conference in 2017, this became a hotly discussed problem, to which several concerned parties made comments during the sessions pointing out that we have cheating at home as well as abroad.

Before the articles release, I had the opportunity of talking with a couple of Organic farmers over the import question. The ones I spoke with agreed that while they don’t like that it reduces their prices, that’s the world the live in now and have to accept it. Imports are a result of economics, not malice.

Within the United States we have a high demand for Certified Organic grains that just are not being produced domestically. To keep the machine running, we have to bring in products from elsewhere and so far it has been India, Turkey, and the Ukraine primarily. It’s a difficulty we face in general, and have only become disgusted with for the moment because its our food.

Most of our products have become imported in recent decades, while there are some good pushes for American made products, most of our goods are made over seas because of cheaper labor (again, economics).

The Aftermath

After the article was released, I asked a friend who purchases imported Organic grains for animal feed what he thought was going to happen next. His ideas are likely, and so I’ll mention them here briefly:

  • Prices will rise on Organic grains as people scare
  • Imports will be reduced and be under greater scrutiny
  • A new “Homegrown” label or something of the kind will start popping up

Each idea is probable and I’m sure someone is already working on each one right now.

This year in our nation, and others, we’re seeing a strong Nationalist movement taking place. “America first” and other slogans are emphasizing on doing things right at home before cleaning up after others. It’s not surprising then that we have more concerns over the importation of our food and clothing these days, but I think it needs to be shifted. Instead of worrying about how another countries Organic system is flawed, we should focus on improving the one we have here at home first.

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