cows in field

Farmers Helping Farmers - Across the Waters

Tracing organic kelp back to an island farm harvester

Inspector on board combine-like kelp harvester at Johannes’ Island farm.

By Ellen Coleman

Added October 1st, 2010. Most likely, you’re familiar with the benefits of using kelp with your herds and on your organic farm. Farmers and veterinarians have called on the bio-available nutrients in kelp to assist in preventing everything from calf scours to pink eye and hairy heel warts. NODPA newsletter readers have seen references to kelp numerous times in the past.

But where does Certified Organic Kelp come from? The oldest source is the pristine waters of the Breidafjord, a thousand square miles of protected waterway in northwest Iceland. The Breidafjord offers some of the cleanest waters on earth.

Iceland is a small island country located in the North Atlantic between North America and Europe just below the Arctic Circle. Since 870 A.D., Icelanders have worked with and sustainably utilized the resources of the land and the ocean around it. The people are viscerally connected to the natural world around them. In the Breidafjord, local farmers combine their sheep grazing income with the seasonal harvest of kelp. Farmers sign up to rotationally mow their kelp using combine-like mowing machines that leave the plant ready to grow back.

Johannes Geiv Gislason is such an Icelander. His family farm is located on 60 small islands in the fjord. Johannes and his family and friends Egill Teitur Eysteinsson, Alfred Viktor Porolfsson, and Andres Gisli Vigdisarson mow kelp the way dairy farmers mow hay.

Johannes has a diversified operation. Each crop has its season. He and his family raise Icelandic sheep, collect and process Eider down, and harvest kelp each year, rotating the harvest site around the islands that comprise his farm. Like more familiar crops such as alfalfa, mowing is followed by time for regrowth to keep the kelp beds healthy and productive for the long term. During kelp harvest, enough of the plant is left so that it can grow back in time for its next harvest in about four years.

After mowing, the kelp is transferred into nets for immediate transport to the drying facility. The drying facility uses geothermal energy to dry the kelp. This summer, IOIA inspector David Konrad observed Johannes’ harvest as part of an extensive NOP four day inspection. This included a thorough scrutiny of this wilderness preserve to verify that the site meets all organic growing requirements.

Like other organic crops, kelp requires an organic system plan in order to be certified organic. The OSP must document such topics as species to be harvested, re-growth of the biomass, impact on other species, history and mapping of the kelp beds, potential sources of pollution in the area of the site, and how purity of the product will be maintained during transport, processing, storage and packaging.

Johannes Gislason’s diversified operation is sustainable, working with nature to produce high quality products. Johannes’ stewardship extends beyond Iceland to aid farmers all over North America who use Certified Organic seaweed in their feeds and fertilizers.

Ellen Coleman is Vice President of Thorvin,Inc. She first started feeding kelp to animals in 1973 and has been providing geothermal Icelandic kelp since 1983, certified organic since 1999.