ASaskatchewan-basedorganic farming co-operative is promoting a North American fair trade initiative, saying Canadian farmers often struggle to earn a living wage because of rising production and growing competition.

Jason Freeman, sales and marketing manager for the organic farming co-operative Farmer Direct, is travelling to Wisconsin this week to meet with organic farmers and co-ops. He hopes to develop a strategy to protect domestic organic farmers.

"We are developing standards for domestic fair trade, which essentially means a price for farmers which covers the cost of production, which pays them for their labour and which provides them with profit so they can reinvest back into their home and their community," Freeman said.

Farmer Direct hopes to mirror the success of international fair tradearrangements that ensure developing countries receive a fair price for the goods they sell.

Freeman said he is concerned large stores will buy their produce from China and South America, driving down commodity prices.

"Wal-Mart is getting into organics and they've announced that the organic food is only going to cost 10 per cent more than the conventional food. Well, that's not economically sustainable for the local farmer," he said.

Seeking an advantage

To giveCanadian farmers an edge, Farmer Direct launched an online food tracking system, placing numbered stickers on produce its members grows.

Consumers who visit its website and type in a tracking number will then pull up a photo of the farmer along with the farm's organic certificate and history.

The program is designed to personalize farming and give local farmers anadvantage over larger, multinational companies.

The program rolled out successfully in late 2004, said Rachel Swenson, the co-operative's program manager.

She said consumers who buy organic products are especially keen to know where their food was grown.