John Mesko, executive director at Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES), has a broad background in both conventional and organic farming. He worked in product development, fertilizer sales and biotechnology research early in his career, led the Sustainable Farming Association in Minnesota for several years, and joined MOSES last September. The Spring Valley-based nonprofit works to promote sustainable and organic agriculture, and is best known for playing host to the nation's largest organic farming conference each year in La Crosse, Wis., and for numerous educational programs. Mesko spoke recently in Minneapolis about the demand for organic food and barriers to organic producers, and answered questions in an interview afterward. Here are excerpts:

Q: Are there any specific challenges facing organic farmers from the Trump administration, or from changes in Congress since the election?

A: There's a lot of speculation, but it's a little too early to tell at this point. We would hope that the powers that be would recognize the value of providing a food system that has lots of choices for people, especially when consumers are clearly demonstrating by their purchases what they value. We've seen this tremendous increase in organic consumption.

Q: Why is there a mismatch between high demand for organic foods and the relatively small number of farmers who are supplying that demand?

A: The number of organic farmers is increasing, but there are challenges with achieving significant scale. One drawback is that organic farmers don't yet have easy access to markets the same way that conventional farmers do. A nonorganic farmer doesn't have to do anything other than pick up the phone when he's ready to sell his crop and arrange for a trucker to pick it up and take it to the nearest grain elevator. An organic farmer might have to locate a buyer, and that's not just down the road. He might have to go online and figure out long-haul transportation to get it to point of entry into the market. That might increase costs.

Q: What else is different about the infrastructure for organics?

A: Another thing people don't realize is that it's not just the farm that has to be certified organic. It also means anyone handling the food along the way. If I raise organic hogs, that pig has to be butchered, and the bacon has to be processed and cured and packaged all within a certified organic facility. There are fewer of those facilities. It's not like there are none, but it's just more challenging.

Besides those issues, the biggest problem is that it takes three years for crop farmers to transition from conventional to organic farming. And until they go through that and become certified as organic, producers cannot receive the higher prices for organic grain, meat or milk.

Q: Your organization works with farmers to help them determine whether they want to become organic, and what that transition involves in terms of financial risks and production changes. What feedback are you getting from them?

A: Interest in our mentoring and events and field days and other programs is increasing, particularly from commodity grain producers. We've noticed that when conventional crop prices are high, the interest in converting to organic production tends to drop off a little. Now conventional prices are relatively low, so we're seeing a lot more interest in people wanting to find out what it takes and how can they effectively transition their production practices.

There are a lot of people saying that we're in a longer-term valley in the market right now on the conventional crop prices, so that may be just what is needed to further incentivize farmers to make that conversion to organic.

Q: So do you see a period of rapid growth ahead in terms of the number of organic producers?

A: On the farming side organics are still a very small portion of the acres being farmed. There's going to be growth in organic farming. I don't see it as hitting some kind of plateau. We have unmet demand, and there's going to be people who want to step in and meet that. And organics are definitely on the radar screen of the bigger food companies now. We're not just a niche market. We're the primary market that they want to get into.

Q: In the last few months we've heard news accounts of how organic corn and soybeans imported from Turkey turned out not to be organic, as well as fraudulent organic products from China, and even in this country some questions about a huge organic dairy in Colorado. Do these cases make you fearful that consumers might lose confidence in the organic brand?

A: Wherever there's a regulation, there's somebody trying to get around it. It's not just organic regulations, but it also happens in industrial pollution and all sorts of things. That's why we have an organic standard and need to uphold it and keep it where it is and not lower it.

And we need to work collectively as a community to increase the supply of organics so that shortcuts are not so tempting. Consumers still should be confident that the standard is strong and that our intention is to provide a safe and high quality food supply.