We don’t have enough organic farmland. Why not?
Published: January 29, 2019
Category: Organic News, The Organic & Non-GMO Report Newsletter
It’s an interesting statistic—with U.S. organic food sales doubling in the last decade, and organic acreage increasing by 20 percent in seven years, organic farmland accounts for less than one percent of total farmland.
U.S. demand outstrips supply—the country imported over $2 billion in organic food in 2018. One ray of hope in closing the gap is the partnering of farmers with organic brands: Casey Bailey of Montana grows organic wheat and oats for Annie’s pasta and snack brand. General Mills plans to convert a 34,000-acre conventional South Dakota farm to organic to pin down supply.
Costco, with yearly organic sales topping $1.2 billion, is also building relationships with farmers. Produce regions are disappearing due to labor shortages complicated by immigration issues, increasing age of farmers, and land lost to real estate developers. “The biggest thing for growers going from conventional to organic is knowing that they’ll have a place to sell it, and at a fair price,” says Costco’s Heather Shavey.
In addition to increased labor costs and barred use of fertilizers and pesticides, the three-year transition period strains finances. “Certified transitional” initiatives have arisen to provide limited premiums in those beginning years.
Long-time organic farmer Bob Quinn likens organic to playing chess. “With organic, you have to project several moves ahead, because you can’t just nuke something. You have to see problems coming.”
Organic research pioneer Rodale Institute found in long-term trials that after an initial decline, organic yields matched or exceeded conventional yields, and outperformed in drought years. Rodale is expanding test sites to assist farmers in different bioregions.
Quinn is optimistic about organic’s future. “There’s a very high cost of cheap food, and you don’t pay it at the checkout counter,” he said. “Farmers are paying it that are going out of business” as consumer tastes shift.
Source: National Geographic
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