BAR O works to keep organic agriculture healthy in Nevada
July 3, 2017
Two years after the Nevada Department of Agriculture (NDA) decided to close its organic certification program, an organization created to fill the gap is growing.
Basin and Range Organics (BAR O) was created on July 9, 2015, with the goal of providing a Nevada-based organic certification hub for producers of organic produce, animal products and companies that make such things as beverages from organic products.
"We're crossing a hump this year," Rob Holley, of Holley Family Farms in Dayton and a BAR O board of director, said of the growth of the organization.
Holley, whose farm first received organic certification in 2011, served on the NDA organic certification advisory board and helped guide the transition to BAR O.
"The nice thing is we picked up some clients in adjoining states," he said. "We can do things we couldn't do with the state."
That includes certifying sites out of the state and adding organic certification for livestock to its services.
BAR O is the only organization based in Nevada that provides organic certification but it is not the only organization that does inspections in the state. Many organic farms and ranches have relied on out-of-state inspectors for years and continue to do so. However, besides the basic fees, the producers must also pay mileage and travel expenses for the inspectors to do their inspections. The closer the inspector's home base, the less expense for the farmer and rancher.
Ben Rush is BAR O's program director. He came on board right after BAR O was formed and, until recently, was the only paid staff member.
The process of organic certification, as required by the USDA, is a long process that can take a year, or at least an agriculture production cycle, he explained. It begins with a review of an application, detailed onsite inspections, and a follow-up review.
"My hand is in each of these (stages in the process)," said Rush who is a USDA certified inspector. "I'm staying very busy."
When the need arises, BAR O contracts with inspectors from other states.
There are three main divisions of organic certification, each with its own requirements: crops, livestock and handling processing.
The latter category consists of companies that use organic products to make other products such as organic coffee roasting, teas, candy and beverages like kombucha. In addition to certification of the ingredients used, their process requires its own certification to label their products "certified organic."
In the two years since it began, BAR O has seen a steady increase in new clients. The organization currently has 33 organic certified entities and is actively working to certify about 10 others.
Picking up new clients can be challenging.
"It's a challenge working in an area that's geologically isolated — it's the whole Great Basin — and trying to come up with new clients. That's where the challenge comes in, extending beyond the state, and to have enough clients to keep going," Holley said.
Rush said the organization is increasing its efforts to get the word out.
"One of the things we're trying to focus on is more of an established PR presence," Rush said. That includes advertising and tuning up the website.
He said he depends heavily on the work of the board of directors and other volunteers for many of the tasks normally accomplished by paid staff.
Holley is proud of what BAR O members have accomplished and the future of organics.
"This is a good organization," Holley said. "We're run by people dedicated to promoting the organics industry not just organic products in general."