Corvallis, Ore., and Santa Cruz, Calif.
Members of California Certified Organic Farmers and Oregon Tilth are expected to ratify a planned merger of the two organizations in October.
—Members of California Certified Organic Farmers
and Oregon Tilth
are expected to ratify the merger of both operations in October, adopting the new name CCOF Tilth. The groups, two of the nation’s best-known supporters of organic growing, announced in May their intention to merge and streamline operations.
Members will be allowed to use either of the old names or opt to stamp the new moniker on their products and promotional materials. Both founded in the 1970s, CCOF and Oregon Tilth have collaborated for decades. In the 1980s they formed the Western Alliance of Certifying Organizations to ensure integrity and consistency in organic certification, and in the ’90s the nonprofits helped to form the Organic Materials Review Institute
(OMRI), which determines suitability of input products (e.g., fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides) in organic production and processing.
Despite their state-centric names, the organizations have international influence. CCOF currently certifies 2,321 organic producers in 34 states and three foreign countries, including 182 winegrape growers and 70 wine producers.
Oregon Tilth certifies more than 1,400 operations in 46 states and six countries. The organic sector continues to grow, the organizations state, with sales increasing annually by as much as 20%, representing a $31 billion segment of the agricultural industry.
Oregon Tilth currently works with about 30 winegrower members, according to program director Connie Karr, who adds, “We’d like to see that grow.” She acknowledged that consumers are confused between “organically grown grapes” and “organic wines.”
Oregon Tilth was among the first international certifiers approved for direct export to EU member states, starting July 1, 2012. Recognition as an Approved Third-Country Certifier allows direct market access to any of the 27 EU member states, bypassing the mandatory and arduous import authorization process.
Karr told Wines & Vines
that after a year in planning, the merger is progressing smoothly, with few objections “but lots of questions” from members of both organizations. She commented that the Oregon-based operation has so many out-of-state members because of its stellar reputation. “We’re very well known, with a high reputation for integrity. Farmers want to be associated with that,” she said.
Organizers hosted a webinar
July 20 to address questions and issues regarding the merger.
Not the only fish on the block
The future CCOF Tilth is perhaps the most far-flung third-party U.S. organic certifier. Sustainability, still a slippery concept for many, is supported by other organizations and certified by some, including Salmon Safe
and Fish Friendly Farming
. Organic certification is a different animal than sustainability—a minimum three-year process for vineyards—and some businesses subscribe to multiple organizations.
The wine industry has been notably proactive in promoting sustainable practices, starting with the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing
, “California’s first third-party-certified sustainable winegrowing program,” promoting practices that enhance biodiversity, soil and water health, community and employee well-being. Currently, 52 vineyards and 13 wineries are certified by Lodi Rules. Its region-wide standards are endorsed by Protected Harvest
, a nonprofit organization of scientists, academics and environmentalists that certifies farmers’ use of stringent environmental growing standards. To be certified, growers must pass an independent audit of viticultural practices.
More recently, the Central Coast Vineyard Team developed SIP (Sustainability in Practice
), which has to date certified 142 vineyards. To achieve certification, growers must farm in a way that protects both natural and human resources, adhering to strict standards, and audited by an independent third-party inspector.
In 2003, the Wine Institute
and the California Association of Winegrape Growers
formed the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance
(CSWA) “to promote the benefits of sustainable winegrowing practices, enlist industry commitment and assist in implementation of the Sustainable Winegrowing Program.”
Not a certification plan, the CSWA's Sustainable Winegrowing Program “gives growers and vintners educational tools to increase adoption of sustainable practices and to measure and demonstrate ongoing improvement….Participants self-assess their vineyards and wineries and voluntarily contribute data to measure adoption of sustainable practices.” As of October 2010, more than 1,680 wineries and vineyards were participating in the Sustainable Winegrowing Program.
In 2010, CSWA added a third-party certification option, Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing, to verify a winery or vineyards continuous improvement in the adoption of sustainable winegrowing practices. As of August 2012, a total of 34 organizations, including 42 winery facilities and 162 vineyards (11.9% of 535,000 total Statewide acres) have been CCSW-Certified.