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South Korea looks at Hill County organics


Havre Daily News/Floyd Brandt

Hill County organic rancher Jody Manuel, left, and translator Isidor Yu, right, listen to International Organic Inspectors Association Director Margaret Scoles talk during a tour of Manuel's organic farm and ranch operation by members of South Korean agricultural agencies.

The South Korean government sent six organic agricultural officials to Montana this week to look at U.S. organic crops, livestock and related processing regulations, with the final leg of the tour being on a ranch just south of Havre.

"Bottom line - how does the U.S. ensure that Korean consumers can trust that organic products are really organic?" International Organic Inspectors Association Executive Director Margaret Scoles said was what the officials were looking at. "It is more about how we implement the national organic program."

Scoles labeled the trip as "bridge-building," not ruling out it could affect future food policies between the two countries and possibly benefit Montana ag producers. The two governments have had an equivalency agreement since July 2014 that allows certified organic processed products to be exported and imported both ways, Scoles said.

One of the visitors, Seong Dong Kim, speaking through a translator told Scoles they'd like to implement a complete food conversion in South Korea.

"Their goal in their country is all organic," Scoles said. "That is pretty major, and they realize that may not be possible, but they're working toward that goal."

The trip started with a visit to the offices of the Montana Department of Agriculture in Helena, included stopping by a certified organic retail store, also in Helena, a processing facility in Fort Benton and tours of two Hill County organic ag facilities - the Crabtrees' and Manuels'.

In the process of developing relationships with the certified operations, Scoles said the South Korean visitors also listened to problems created by government policies.

"For example, the processor explained how he exported cleaned, bagged and labeled organic wheat to Korea in the past. But the Korean government's interpretation of the new equivalency agreement means that he now has to have a second, added expense of a separate certification to the Korean government," Scoles said. "The leader of the visitors assured him that he would see what could be done."

Before going to the Manuel ranch Thursday, the visitors toured Doug Crabtree and Anna Jones-Crabtree's farm north of Havre Wednesday, where they looked at organic kamut grain, emmer grain and lentil production.

Jody and Crystal Manuel began hosting the Korean Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs and National Agricultural Products Quality Management Service federal employees Wednesday night at their home, where their daughter, Sarah, a culinary school graduate, prepared a four-course meal for their guests. The meal was extraordinarily delicious, Scoles said.

The visitors were accompanied by Isidor Yu, who translated all conversations between them and the Manuels and Scoles.

The Manuel tour began with a look at their organic pigs. It took some time to find the pigs on the property because of the size of the pasture.

"This is the biggest pig pasture that I've seen," Scoles said. "These pigs are so free-range that we can't find them."

Questions about the pig operation included how water is provided and what the Manuels feed the pigs. They also wanted to know if there were problems with pests and what happens if they get sick.

If a pig gets sick, Crystal Manuel said, it is given antibiotics and taken out of the organic program.

The group trekked the large, hilly swath of cattle land in vehicles and stopped in various pastures.

Havre Daily News/Floyd Brandt

Gi Wha Park, from left, behind Cheol Hui Kim, Isidor Ye, Sueng Dong Kim, Mi Ok Park watch as Crystal Manuel throws out scraps for pigs on the Manuel ranch south of Havre. Representatives of South Korean agricultural agencies toured the Manuel ranch and the organic farm of Doug Crabtree and Anna Jones-Crabtree in Hill County while looking at organic programs in Montana.

The visitors brought up size of ag operations in Montana compared to those in South Korea multiple times. The typical Korean ag producers have about three acres, Yu said. Here, the farms and ranches, are thousandsa of acres - "huge," he said.

The visitors wanted to know if Whole Foods being bought by Amazon will affect how the Manuels sell their cattle. They wanted to know how the cattle are castrated, when they are shipped and how. They wanted to know if cow excrement from nonorganic cows would taint the organic status of the pasture.

As the Manuels answered question after question, the visitors took down notes.

Yu said the visitors learned a lot during the weeklong trip. Some things would be hard to apply in Korea, others easier, he said.

They also enjoyed seeing Montana, he added.

"It was great experience for us. We drive long time in huge, huge land, and we have visited Glacier National Park. We looked at the scenery, it was great. The fields were very, very huge compared to Korea farms," Yu said.


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