Grain farmers in the United States have a new incentive to transition from conventional to organic practices, and Bell & Evans is banking on many making the change as it invests $500 million in US organic-certified grains as the guaranteed market.
Along with significant growth in organic chicken product sales, the premium poultry producer has seen increased demand for US-grown organic-certified corn and soybeans used in its chicken feed. In taking steps to assure steady supply, the Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania-headquartered company recently finalized a long-term sourcing deal with Cargill to exclusively secure its organic grain and increase domestic organic grain supply. Under terms of the agreement, Cargill will incentivize American farmers to transition acreage from conventional to organic management through subsidized organic crop consulting services provided by organic pioneer Rodale Institute.
The Bell & Evans Organic Grain Initiative aims to transition 50,000 acres of US corn and soybeans to certified organic production over the next five years. Rodale Institute brings more than seven decades of scientific organic agriculture research to the partnership, offering added value and security to farmers that participate.
Farmers with organic interest will benefit by the initiative because it eliminates their most vocalized organic-transition hurdles: knowing where to start, finding education and resources for successful organic land management, and a guaranteed market after the three-year transition period. Contracted growers will receive customized support to aid them through the transition including on-farm consultation, organic system planning, certification assistance, weed management guidance, crop rotation planning, record keeping guidance and inspection preparation. Cargill will offer market access for transition crops, and farmers are guaranteed a dedicated market for their certified organic grains through Bell & Evans.
“We want to establish trust, transparency and loyalty with our grain farmers for the success and longevity of the program,” said Bell & Evans Executive Vice President Margo Sechler. “The farmer wins from this partnership, as do Bell & Evans, Cargill, Rodale Institute and all Bell & Evans customers who pay a premium for our organic chicken and can trust they are getting true organic product.”
Only one percent of total US acreage is certified organic today, yet the organic food market is a growing $50 billion industry. National organic food sales rose 4.6% in 2019 according to the Organic Trade Association. In 2020, Bell & Evans experienced 25% growth in organic chicken sales and projects growth of 27% in 2021 and 17-20% each year after that, through 2024.
Last year Bell & Evans raised more than 63 million chickens at its partner broiler farms. That number will increase by more than 50% in 2022 with completion of its new organic harvesting facility this year. Fully 100% of Bell & Evans chicks begin on organic-certified feed at its Organic Chicken Hatchery. Nearly 50% of those chickens continue to be raised organic on organic-certified feed on the farms.
Bell & Evans has been committed to sourcing 100% US organic grains for organic chicken feed since inception of its organic program in 2009. The company is one of the largest US organic grain buyers and cites control, traceability, and authenticity of the USDA organic-certified label as reasons for its commitment to domestic grain.
Bell & Evans is a fifth generation family-owned company that has been in business for over 125 years. Offering an extensive range of frozen, chilled and fresh pack SKUs to retail and foodservice sectors, it is regarded as an industry leader in new product development within the value-added poultry manufacturing sector.