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OGS returned to Monterey with praise

By
Aaron Gonzalez, digital editor

The Organic Grower Summit, held Nov. 30 – Dec. 1 at the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel & Spa in Monterey, CA, provided two exceptional days of thought-provoking educational sessions, a sold-out trade show floor and a variety of networking opportunities for attendees.

Presented by Western Growers and Organic Produce Network, OGS 2022 brought together organic growers and service providers with information and education related to the continued growth and opportunities while addressing challenges in the production of organic fresh food.

A myriad of educational sessions and intensives covered topics, including indoor and vertical growing with its impact on the organic fresh produce industry, organic grower challenges and solutions, innovations from five of the most progressive ag tech and equipment companies, farm profitability, systems and technologies developed to promote healthy and sustainable food and agricultural systems by the AgSharks —  three ag tech startup finalists from the Western Growers/S2G Ventures 2022 AgSharks competition.

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Tom Barnes of Category Partners and 
Lonnie Gillespie of Farm Fresh Direct
host an educational session.

A major topic and issue discussed during the first day of educational intensives was regarding the finalization of NOP’s Strengthening Organic Enforcement initiative, which would affect many operations working in the organic industry. All operations involved in organics have been encouraged to review the regulations because once implemented, the SOE will require some operations that were previously exempt from certification to get certified.

"Compliance and enforcement is there to preserve organic integrity," said John Foster, chief operating officer of Wolf & Associates, who was the moderator for the educational intensive panel on Getting Ahead of the Curve to Avoid Regulatory Speedbumps.

Emily Musgrave, organic program manager for Driscoll's and panelist, said, "The organics industry has evolved since the Final Rule in 2002. We all agree that we want standards that morph and change with the evolving industry that also keep up with the changes in technology and also help eliminate the bad actors."

Additional educational sessions provided an overview on how organic fresh produce sales at retail are changing in an era of inflation and the increasing role of biological tools in organic crop production.

Tom Barnes, CEO of Category Partners, co-hosted a discussion regarding the softening demand of organics while taking a deep dive into the data, provided by NielsenIQ, on organic fresh produce sales and explored consumers purchasing behaviors.

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Dave Puglia of Western Growers, Brie Reiter
Smith of Driscoll's, Michael DuPuis
of Divine Flavor and Tom Nunes V of The
Nunes Co. took part in a roundtable
discussion. Photo by Debbie Miller.

According to Barnes, a total of $2.3 billion of retail organics were sold during Q3, equating to a 4.1 percent increase from Q3 2021. “Organics represent 12 percent of the total produce department,” said Barnes. Distribution of organics was down 2 percent year-over-year, this being the first time Barnes recalls seeing a decrease in the last 15 years.

Dave Puglia, president and CEO of Western Growers, moderated a grower keynote roundtable that discussed the state of organic growing with panelists Brie Reiter Smith, vice president of product leadership for Driscoll’s, Michael DuPuis, quality assurance and public relations coordinator for Divine Flavor, and Tom Nunes V, president of The Nunes Co.

The thought-provoking keynote roundtable explored the perspectives of these purveyors of organic production on topics such as supply chain issues, inflation, labor, new innovations and technologies.

While addressing the unique differences and challenges faced by conventional and organics, Nunes said, “We try to look at everything equally by the commodity, and try to streamline the most efficient and economically highest quality product.”

Speaking on the current climate surrounding labor, DuPuis said, “It’s important to double-down on social responsibility programs. Making sure that we not only offer above-average paying wages but also maintain retention within the workforce.”

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Jeff Huckaby receiving Grower of the Year Award.

Regarding the efficiency of organic production, Smith noted that, “We’ve seen within organic production and the efficiency of resources required for berries, at least, not being as efficient. Organic strawberries for instance, use more water and generate less revenue per man hour.” Smith also said, “We are starting to see the premium consumers are willing to spend on organics slightly diminish.”

In addition, a sold-out OGS trade show floor featured close to 70 exhibitors, including soil amendment, ag tech, food safety, packaging and equipment manufacturers.

Attendees were provided the opportunity to connect with organic field production staff, supply chain managers, pest management advisors and food-safety experts.

Finally, OGS honored longtime organic grower Jeff Huckaby, president and CEO of Grimmway Farms, as the recipient of the fifth annual Grower of the Year Award. The Grower of the Year Award was presented to Huckaby based on his ongoing commitment and dedication to excellence in organic production, organic industry leadership and innovation.

Upon receiving the award, Huckaby stated, ”I’m thankful and find it pretty interesting to receive this award for getting up and doing something everyday because you love it.”

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