This year marks the significant milestone of 35 Years of certifying organic production for BioGro, New Zealand’s largest certifier. It’s also a milestone for organics.
David Woods was part of BioGro’s inception. He says there were three main organic groups in New Zealand in the early 80s: the Soil and Health Association of New Zealand led by Chris May, the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association led by John Pearce, and the Doubleday Research Association of New Zealand which David was leading. The three associations agreed that an umbrella organisation would improve communication and efficacy, and they would all benefit, so in 1983 they set up the NZ Biological Producers and Consumers Council (NZBPCC).
“The main need was for a set of measures to ensure ‘organic’ food was produced to consistent and rigorous standards under a memorable logo,” said David. “With assistance from Bob Crowder of the Biological Husbandry Unit (BHU) at Lincoln University, who also represented IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements), the BioGro standard was set up.”
“We adopted the IFOAM basic standards, and the standards of the Soil Association of Great Britain,” says Chris May. In 1983 we held a promotional conference in Auckland attended by over 300 people, including Duncan MacIntyre, Minister for Agriculture, and our patron, Sir Dove-Myer Robinson. These were heady days for organics in New Zealand and great fun.”
The organic movement quickly gained traction as the damage wrought by conventional agricultural and horticultural practices became more and more evident.
Windsong Orchard in Renwick, run by Bob and Jenny Crum, became certified organic in 1986. ” We had a new baby when starting our first kiwifruit crop and a contractor came in to put on the required spray,” Jenny recalls. As we watched the cloud drift over the house, that was it. We’d never do it again. Certifying with BioGro was a no-brainer. It was early days for organics and we wanted to show authenticity and credibility, but let’s not now go the way of the US with industrial production units that stretch the definition of organic too far”.
In 1989 Millton Wines became BioGro Licensee number 99. James Millton said their desire to become certified confirmed their commitment to the land, their customers, and fellow workers. It turned out to be the best business plan a small family producer could engage in, and still is.
“Certified organics makes use of common sense,” he says. “In the end you can’t stop that which feeds the hearts and minds of everyday people.”
Ten years later in 1999, Jared White joined BioGro and today is a senior auditor and audit manager, based in Nelson. He’s audited BioGro clients throughout New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, and with fellow senior auditor, Joy McLeod, also provides audit services for Fairtrade Australia New Zealand.
Over the years Jared has seen significant changes in perception, even in the primary sector amongst the very large players such as the Fonterras and Zespris. “Organics has gone from being seen as on the fringe, to now being taken seriously. We’ve seen a big increase in support to organic sectors including labs offering organic profiles for producers.”
BioGro regularly hosts international inspectors who assess BioGro under the regulations of the USDA, Canada, Japan, and the EU, and it also works closely with the Ministry for Primary Industries for access to USA, EU, and Taiwan markets. BioGro certifies horticultural and agricultural products, food manufacturers and processors, and health and body-care products.
Dr Michelle Glogau joined BioGro in 2004 and was CEO from 2006-2014. “It was a turbulent time for BioGro and our licensees,” she said, “with dramatically stepped-up international regulatory programmes and the global financial crisis.”
The outbreak of the kiwifruit vine disease, PSA (20% of then licensees were kiwifruit growers) and constant competition were challenges BioGro was obliged to confront. Successes included achieving accreditations and partnerships enabling licensee access to all regulated overseas markets; introduction of a domestic programme for producers supplying the New Zealand market only; Natural and Organic health and body-care certification (NATRUE); accreditations to certify Pacific growers; and the development of an on-line portal providing transparency and process efficiencies for customers, consumers and staff.
“BioGro was always more than just a certifier,” says Dr Glogau, “having a clear sense of its organic philosophical roots and values. We passionately promoted organics to consumers and potential producers and supported the development of the organic market in NZ.”
In 2016 the NZBPCC deregistered as an incorporated society and transferred ownership of BioGro NZ Ltd to the Soil & Health Association (publishers of Organic NZ).
Donald Nordeng has been CEO of BioGro since January 2015. Constantly developing the company’s services and technological capacity he was pleased to have recently conducted a Blockchain QR code test. If it is adopted it will allow users to scan product labels in-store and verify digital organic certificates before purchasing. It will be the first such system for organics in New Zealand. A new stand-alone programme is also now available for New Zealand companies wanting to make non-GMO claim on their non-organic product labelling; this has already been available for for BioGro organic licensees.
Mr Nordeng says that without a strong well-resourced company dedicated to organics and to their licensees, BioGro wouldn’t have been able to manage the digital transformation from paper applications in 2014 to the completely digital certification programme they have today. “We have over 200 licensees who have been with us for more than 15 years,” he says.” This is our biggest asset, along with our dedicated staff.”
1983 – NZ Biological Producers & Consumers Council (NZBPCC) founded
1984 – First BioGro (NZBPCC) standards developed
1995 – BioGro New Zealand Ltd established
2000-01 – ISO accreditations gained, enabling NZ organic producers to access international markets
2005 – BioGro New Zealand Ltd takes over certification from BioGro Society (NZBPCC)
2005 – BioGro Domestic programme developed
2008 – Number of licensees reaches 500
2012 – NATRUE (natural & organic cosmetics certification) accreditation achieved
2014 – Fair Trade Australia New Zealand Audit services contract
2016 – NZBPCC deregisters, transferring ownership of BioGro NZ Ltd to the Soil & Health Association
2018 – New Zealand’s largest certifier of over 750 producers, farmers, and manufacturers across New Zealand and the Pacific
Contact BioGro on (04) 801-9741, or www.biogro.co.nz
Copyright Theresa Sjoquist 2018
First published in Organic NZ – November/December 2018 Vol.77 No.6