Why Support Transitional
Despite the fact that the organic sector of the food industry has been growing much faster than any other food sector at a rate of 10 - 15% since the early 1990's, organic farms still represent a small fraction of food production in North America and around the world. For many farmers, battling to make a living in a world of "cheap food policies", the switch from practices they know and understand to the complex system of organic management is intimidating, to say the least. And the fact is that most farmers will experience a reduction in crop yield when they make the switch, especially during the first tough years of rebuilding the soil fertility without depending on artificial fertilisers.
A decade ago when organic farms were not as common, it was easier to find markets for crops from farms in transition. Now that production of certified organic crops has increased around the world, the market tends to be closed to product from farms in transition. However, unless a farmer is able to make a living during that transition period, we can't really expect them to make the switch to organic management practices. And where the market will accept transitional crops, the price will be lower than organic and may even be lower than conventional.
Another factor which influences the viability of a farm in transition is the fact that many of the so-called commodity crops have extensive marketing infrastructures. All the farmer has to worry about, when they participate in such a marketing board or system, is to produce the crop (which is no small feat itself!). Many of these marketing systems, such as the Canadian Wheat Board, have been around for almost a century and therefore have highly developed markets and the ability to set prices. Despite the gains of the organic industry, it is still a fledgling part of the food system and therefore does not have such highly developed marketing support systems.
Farmers in transition suddenly must not only assume full responsibility for soil fertility, biodiversity and pest and predator balance in the fields, they also have to become sales reps and research specialists to find markets for their crops. Many consumers do not understand that farms in transition are required to adhere to all organic management practices - there is no slow weaning off chemicals; it is all or nothing.
If you share the dream of seeing organic management become the common practice in the production of our food, please support farmers in transition - they will never get to organics if we don't help them get there.