There’s no question that consumers are spending more money on organic products than ever before, with an average 9.5% increase per household between 2017 and 2018. And, as the demand grows, the industry struggles to keep up. Less than 1% of U.S. farmland is organic. Why?

One, it’s expensive. Organic farming requires different equipment and more labor for lower yields (no pesticides means more workers pulling weeds).

Two, the road to the organic certification is long and complicated. The USDA mandates a three-year waiting period – land must be free of all substances prohibited by the USDA organic certification standards for 36 consecutive months prior to certification. This leaves farmers to shoulder the burden of this transition without seeing the benefit of the organic markets premium prices for several years.

Enter transitional crops.

A “transitional” crop is one that is grown on land in the process of converting from conventional to organic and that otherwise cannot be sold as USDA certified organic.  Instead, these crops allow farmers to sell their products as “certified transitional” at a higher price than non-organic crops, while encouraging more farmers throughout the industry to make the switch to organic production.

And to support this movement while focusing on consumer awareness, Accredited Organic Certifying Agencies (ACAs) are working to develop criteria to certify producers and businesses to a consistent transitional standard. For example, Quality Assurance International (QAI), the international organic certification company authorized by the USDA to certify organic operations, created the “Certified Transitional” label to increase consumer awareness and market transitional goods.

Transitional products will continue rise in popularity as consumers and farmers become increasingly informed of their benefits and the applicable certification criteria. This will likely lead to a consumer demand for further transparency in the labeling process and the necessity of clear guidance for farmers. As demonstrated by other labeling trends (e.g., natural, whole grain), this developing market will be a ground rife with opportunities for legal battles (e.g., misleading labeling suits, etc.).

For more information on transitional crops and certification standards, please contact Sarah Firnschild at (313) 223-3025, sfirnschild@dickinsonwright.com or any member of Dickinson Wright’s Food & Agribusiness team.