(Beyond pesticides, May 21, 2019) As farmers across the country face extreme stressors and consolidate or retire, organic is going against the grain. Despite the overall decline in the number of US farms, the number of organic farms increased by 27% between 2012 and 2017, according to new data from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.
The value of organic product sales in 2017 was $7.2 billion, and the average value of sales per farm has increased 84% since 2012. Laura Batcha, executive director of the Organic Trade Association, told Bloomberg that young families are among the drivers of the organic market as they seek to avoid chemical, antibiotic and hormone residues on food.
Organic products fetch a higher price than conventional products. Indiana farmer Joe Mills can sell his food-grade organic corn for around $10.50 a bushel, while chemicals sell for around $3.50 a bushel. Mr. Mills notes: “Yes, it is economical, but there is a huge learning curve and a change in mentality. We have relied on commercial fertilizers and pesticides for so long. At the same time, the benefits and affordability of organic foods are critical to the market as consumers think about their purchasing choices. Read Beyond Pesticides Low Food Prices: The Real Story on the Affordability of Organic Food.
Many farmers, faced with five years of low commodity prices and a host of problems, are experiencing unsustainable incomes. Extreme weather and climate change are increasing rapidly – these are devastating threats to underprotected and economically vulnerable farms.
Even before the massive Midwest floods earlier this year, net farm income had fallen nearly 50% since 2013. The Trump administration’s trade tariffs have exacerbated the problem; the trade war with China has been going on for almost ten months and is having a significant impact on producers. In the first quarter of 2019, farm income fell by $11.8 billion. Farm debt has grown rapidly, reaching levels not seen during the 1980s. Soybeans are America’s most valuable agricultural export, and China is the country’s top buyer. China has drastically reduced its purchases of US exports, and as the trade war escalates, there is evidence that it could stop buying agricultural products altogether.
Experts worry about the mental health of farmers and farm workers, who have a statistically higher suicide rate than other professions. The flooding situation is particularly dire, as the Chicago Tribune explains: “Today’s flooding may have stripped the land of many farmers of the soil they need to grow crops, which could take years to return to production. Some farmers have been storing grain for several years in expectation of better prices, but the floods have eroded their land and contaminated the grain. Neither USDA disaster programs nor insurance policies cover stored grain. Crop insurance may cover inputs, such as chemicals and fertilizers, but it will not provide additional income to support households.
As an aging farm population assesses current issues and their return on investment, many are choosing to retire. In contrast, organic producers are generally younger and more likely to be full-time farmers. 17% of organic producers are 34 years old or younger, more than double the number in the same age group for all farms (8%).
In a time of economic and environmental upheaval, organic farming is a viable business alternative that can help repair the planet through carbon sequestration and removal of contamination from water, air and soil. soil associated with the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree wrote for Civil Eats: “…in our new push for climate solutions – from the ambitious Green New Deal to our recommitment to the Paris Agreement – farmers and ranchers must have a place at the table. While food production contributes about a quarter of annual greenhouse gases, “Those who produce our food also have the potential to reverse this statistic,” Rep. Pingree said.
Organic farms will also be more resilient to the threats of climate change: healthy soils and ground cover help prevent nutrient and water loss, making them better prepared to withstand floods and droughts. The Rodale Institute reports that organic plots produce up to 40% higher yields than chemically intensive plots in times of drought because the organic soil system retains more water.
Now, more than ever, it’s essential to invest in America’s organic farms – not only is it a good financial decision, but it could help save the planet. See Beyond Pesticides’ extensive organic resources to learn more.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this article are those of Beyond Pesticides.
Sources: Bloomberg, Chicago Tribune, Reuters, Civil Eats