The number of acres becoming certified organic in North Dakota is rising.
Organic farmers say there are many reasons, some relate to health, but others are financial.
Lowell Kaul owns Organic Kaul Farms in Harvey. He’s begun growing a grain variety called ‘Emmer.”
“It’s an ancient grain," Kaul said. "It goes way back.”
Kaul said he began growing it because his grandfather and great-grandfather planted it.
“My great-grandfather bartered for a quarter-section of land," Kaul said. "If he raised 1000 bushels of this here grain, he got the land. They’re the only ones that had the seed.”
Kaul says Emmer is used in cattle feed, and also to make flatbreads. He called it is a good addition to his farm, where he grows a variety of organic crops.
“When I went from the conventional grains – the wheat of today – to Emmer, I increased my yield by at least 20 percent," Kaul said.
Wayne Mittleider farms near Tappan. He’s been a certified organic farmer since the early 1980s. He, too, grows a variety of organic crops.
Mittleider said he got into organic for two reasons.
“Number one, we kinda grew up that way," Mittleider said. "The other thing is we were concerned about health issues, with possible spray contaminations and things like that. Where we live, it’s quite sandy, and water tables are real high.”
Mittleider said by avoiding some of the chemical inputs, he’s been able to see higher prices for his commodities.
The growing consumer demand for organics has also affected the processing business as well.
Stone Mill, in Richardton, ND, processes organic crops, as well as some of the healthier row crops, like garbanzo beans.
Mill co-owner Daneen Dressler said the demand for organics has grown substantially.
“It's a domestic market that has really built on itself in the last ten years," Dressler said. So much so, in fact, that Stone Mill is undergoing a major expansion.
“We’re tripling the facility at this very moment," Dressler said.
Farmers who want to be certified organic have some hoops to jump through. Christina Dockter is the vice-president for operations for International Certification Services, an organic certifier.
Dockter said there are a number of steps for a farmer to receive certification. The main step?
“Basically, it’s the 36 months free of any prohibited substances, "Dockter said. "Also qualified seed, qualified seed for livestock.”
Dockter said she’s seen a growth in the number of certified organic growers in North Dakota.
“Consumer demand is helping," Dockter said. "Also, when commodity prices are down, we see people out there looking for additional places to add market value.”