Butternut Squash with Palo Alto Organics Stickers

We are excited to debut our brand-new organic line — Palo Alto Organics — featuring hard squash. Getting first-time certified to the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) was no easy task, and it is the result of our partnership with family growers in Mexico who made it all possible on the production side. Below we share some key insights into growing, handling, and marketing organic crops. Interested in our organic hard squash program? Contact us today at sales@thesykesco.com.

Why Organic?

Most importantly, we have opted for organic because reducing inputs and environmental impact are more imperative than ever. Conforming to organic standards is one way to make strides in this direction. We see engagement in the organic sector as a way to embrace environmentally responsible practices, invest in the future of our company, and align with market demands. Going green and making a profit do not need to be mutually exclusive 🙂

The produce industry is presented with a unique opportunity to contribute to the booming organic food movement. U.S. organic food sales were worth over $45 billion in 2017 according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA), with fresh fruits and vegetables — the largest organic food category — accounting for approximately 33% of these sales.

The organic food sector’s growth has provided market incentives for industry players across the globe who have built organic expertise within their businesses. New technologies assist organic growers in realizing profitability and tracking environmental and operational benefits. Warehouses and transportation companies have retooled their warehouse management systems and physical assets to meet specific USDA organic handling requirements.

Like any sector that expands rapidly, growth of organics is slowing as it matures: customer demand has steadied, supply is reliable, distribution channels are present, and competition is mostly oriented around price and other brand-building strategies. Nonetheless, the OTA expects organics to continue to surpass the growth rate of the broader food market for years to come.

What is required of organic production systems?

To take a step back, let’s start with the definition. Organic is a labeling term for crops that have been produced and handled using USDA-approved methods. According to the USDA, organic agriculture uses practices that “foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”

When growers decide to invest in organic production, they are taking a risk. The learning curve is steep. Yields can be lower, and certain plants take longer to mature, at least initially. Farming operations cannot use most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, increasing risk associated with certain pests and disease pressures. The land used must be free of prohibited substances for at least 36 months before the crops can be marketed as organic. Plus, there’s a lot of paperwork that is required for the annual inspections. (This all highlights the need for healthy price premiums in the marketplace that help growers weather the transition.)

But with risk, comes opportunity. Our grower-partners in Mexico have found ways to reduce reliance on their traditional inputs. In order to boost soil health, they apply specific cocktails of microorganisms and use biologically based soil amendments. They manage pest and diseases through sound plant nutrition, good sanitation practices, hand-weeding, and the use of natural pesticides.

Experience across multiple seasons will translate to an institutional knowledge that we can apply to other areas of our business. Established, well-functioning organic farming systems are known to produce high yields and lower operating costs. Plus, they offer climatic resilience — increasingly important in the face of climate change.

What’s next?

We are just at the beginning stages of learning how to grow and ship organic produce. Agriculture itself is inherently risky and farms remain vulnerable to many factors, including extreme weather, fluctuating input costs, and ever-shifting consumer trends, to name a few. We believe in continued innovation in order to remain relevant and resilient, and investment in organics is part of our long-term plan.

Contact us at sales@thesykesco.com to find out more.