CORVALLIS, Ore. – What does it mean when food is certified as sustainable, organic or salmon-safe? That's a question that nettles both growers and consumers.
To help sort out the answer, a new clearinghouse of information and technical support is being created in cooperation with Oregon State University to help farmers and ranchers understand and consider the increasingly stringent and detailed requirements of certification as they look to new ways to market their products.
The Oregon Sustainable Agriculture Resource Center (OSARC) is the result of more than 27 participating organizations, including farming, food processing, environmental, and governmental agencies. The group, convened by Thayne Dutson, dean of OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences, worked with the governor's Oregon Solutions Project to help connect growers with the information they need.
Increasingly, consumers are willing to pay a little more to know that their food has been produced in a way that insures public goods such as clean water and air, habitat for fish and wildlife, and greater energy efficiency. But up to now, the technical information necessary to certify sustainable practices was scattered across many state agencies or other resource groups.
The new center will consolidate that information through a $50,000 grant from the newly established Oregon Governor's Fund for the Environment, to be matched by $109,000. Additional funds have come from CoBank, a cooperative bank that finances agricultural businesses.
"We believe there is an enormous support for the value of Oregon agriculture and how Oregon family farmers care for their land, the environment, and nearby communities," said Rick Jacobson, president of NORPAC Foods, Oregon's largest fruit and vegetable cooperative. NORPAC growers recognized early on that they needed better access to often highly technical information to evaluate their sustainability practices for soil and water conservation, integrated pest management, safe and fair working conditions, and wildlife habitat.
"Oregon farmers are leaders in producing safe, wholesome high-quality food,” Dutson said. “With mounting market pressure from global competition, we believe the information that will be available through OSARC will help Oregon farmers continue to meet those challenges on the farm and in the marketplace.”