“Though we have seen market success over the last 20 years, the number of new certified operations in the US has remained relatively flat,” Miles told me. “The industry continues to grow, sales are up, but the number of certified operations has not grown.”
A recent Wall Street Journal article pointed out that the Farm Belt is not expanding quickly enough into organics to meet growing consumer demand. Consequently, producers are going abroad for commodities
This leads me to ask, where have all the organic farmers gone?
What are the barriers keeping our farmers from entering and staying in organic production? Unfortunately, much like the demise of the honeybees, the reasons are diverse and complicated.
- The rise of corn and other products grown for Bio-Fuels instead of food has increased the overall price of commodities. Consequently, the price farmers can get for conventional corn is so high that some farmers have opted to convert back to conventional farming.
- The cost and paperwork of becoming certified organic is viewed as cumbersome and onerous. The Certification Cost Share Program designed to help defray the costs of certification was de-funded when the 2008 farm bill was extended. Organic crop and livestock producers in some states had been eligible for reimbursement as high as 75 percent of their certification costs, up to a maximum of $750.
- The increase of a local underground movement is occurring and some farmers are choosing not to become certified. This trend cites a “Beyond Organic” consumer preference where producers and consumers unfortunately emphasize local over organic.
- The average American farmer is now 57 years old. The access to certified organic land for young and beginning farmers remains a significant challenge. Beginning farmers and ranchers need access to credit, technical assistance, business acumen and knowledge on good land stewardship.
Why is it important to be a certified organic farmer?
- Organic protects the health of our topsoil. Topsoil is the upper, outermost layer of soil, usually only the top 2 inches, and it has the highest concentration of organic matter and microorganisms. Without topsoil, little plant life is possible. The United States alone loses almost 3 tons of topsoil per acre per year. This is of great ecological concern as one inch of topsoil can take 500 years to form naturally. With current trends, the world has about 60 years of topsoil left. A nine-year study by USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) researchers at Beltsville, MD, has shown that organic farming can build up organic matter in soil better than conventional, no-till farming can
- Organic farming enhances soil fertility and biodiversity, according to findings from a 21-year field trial initiated by the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) in Switzerland. There are many other studies on organic agriculture related to increased soil fertility.
- Organic production reduces the amount of pesticides, herbicides and toxic chemicals that end up in our environment and water. It’s estimated that 50 million tons of toxins are applied annually to soil and crops in the US. Organic agriculture does not use toxic chemicals and eliminates this enormous health hazard to workers, their families, and their communities.
- The USDA has introduced a ‘Sound and Sensible’ initiative that involves identifying and removing barriers to certification and streamlining the certification process. It focuses its enforcement by working with farmers and processors to correct small issues before they become larger ones. The overall goal of this new initiative is to make organic certification accessible, attainable, and affordable for all operations.
- The future of family farming and ranching in America is at stake as is the viability of our nation’s food supply. We need to produce more organic products here in the US and reduce our dependency on offshore organic products.
USDA certified organic is the gold standard in agricultural and food production. The biggest way we as consumers can help organic farmers enter and stay in organic production is to seek out and purchase only certified organic products bearing the USDA Organic seal. As the market grows, our farmers will receive fair and profitable prices, while at the same time converting more acreage and protecting more soil, water and biodiversity.
The next thing you can do is contact your Congressional Representatives and encourage them to pass a farm bill that restores the Certification Cost Share and other organic priorities. Organic farming is crucial to rural and urban prosperity and must be nurtured and protected.
Make that call and then post below to let me know.
© 2013, Melody Meyer. All rights reserved.