The organic section at the grocery has been expanding every day. Organic options have been popping up for new products from eggs to soybeans to specialty produce. As a farmer, however, deciding if producing crops organically is a good fit for your business can bring up a lot of questions and concerns. Let’s take a look at what it takes to build an organic farm and what the payoffs can be.
Is Organic Food Really Worth It?
Determining whether organic farming is right for you really depends on the goals for your farm, the resources you have upfront, and the market to which you will be advertising your product. Organic farming requires you to learn new farming methods. An organic farmer has to understand how to manage pests, soil properties, and other essential pieces of growing food without the aid of some of the most popular chemical products on the market. If you’re not looking to delve into a completely new practice, organic farming might not be right for you.
On the other hand, if you are looking for a challenge and want to be a part of a new era of farming, organic farming could be an option worth your time.
Because organic farming requires a different methodology than chemical farming, it will also require a farmer making the switch from other methods to be in the position to make investments into new, often times more expensive, equipment for their farm. Even farmers just starting out will likely find the price tag of starting an organic farm higher than that of a chemical farm. Organic farms also tend to be more expensive in operation costs than chemical farms.
Investing in organic food can be beneficial for your farm if you are marketing your crops to the correct audience. Make sure you are in tune with who is interested in buying your product, and be familiar with whether they are willing to pay a higher price for an organic product to make up for the heightened operational costs. The demand for organic food has been growing over the past decade, and with U.S. organic production unable to keep up with demand, many grocers have had to import organic products from outside of the country.
There is a clear opportunity for farmers to run a successful business touting organic products, and if you are prepared to make the personal investment in learning organic methods, you may find that organic food is well worth it.
Why is Organic Farming Better Than Chemical Farming?
Organic farming gives you a leg up over your chemical farming competitors thanks to the higher market prices organic food pulls per unit compared to chemical farm products. This is especially true if you are operating a hydroponics or aquaponics setup, as people are more likely to pay extra cash for products that come from specialty farms. As was stated earlier, the desire for organic food continues to grow, so taking advantage of this shift in consumer demand makes organic farming a potentially better choice than chemical farming.
Additionally, organic farming is easier on the local environment than traditional farming. With chemical farming, application of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and other treatments will run off into nearby fields and bodies of water, as well as find their way into the air while being sprayed onto crops. These treatments, while being beneficial from the perspective of crop yield, can have extremely adverse effects on the local wildlife and environmental quality. Treatments can also damage soil quality with repeated exposure.
As time passes with continued treatment, some farmers have reported resistance to pesticides and herbicides. Since organic farming avoids the use of these treatments altogether in favor of other methods, farmers who choose organic don’t have to worry about these issues, while still being able to advertise an environmentally friendly operation and enjoy higher crop revenue.
Health Benefits of Organic Farming
Choosing organic farming over chemical farming can tote several health benefits. First, you avoid many of the most potent chemical products used on traditional farming, thanks to federal and state mandates concerning what you are and aren’t able to use on your farm to be considered an organic farmer.
If you are a traditional soil farmer considering organic, you can avoid some of the chemical sprays that linger after harvest which, in addition to making you an eco-friendly farm, also makes your product healthier for the consumer.
Several of the most popular brands of pest control treatments have been linked to serious adverse health effects. The runoff and pesticide drifts that occur during spray season can put harmful compounds into the air and drinking water of neighboring communities. People who draw untreated water up through wells, as is common in the rural households that live near many major farms, are at higher risk of drinking water that comes into contact with the runoff. Organic farmers can use this to their advantage as a major selling point for getting consumers to invest in higher priced organic food.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Organic Food?
|High market rates for products||High startup costs|
|Growing consumer demand||High operational costs|
|Environmental benefits||Requires time and knowledge investment into organic methodology|
|Creates jobs for local labor||Fewer crop varieties|
|Healthier food for the community||Organic farming support is underfunded|
|Be a leader in your farming community||Lower crop yields|
High market rates for products
Organic farms make up for their initial investments and lower yields by being indisputable moneymakers at market. Food produced organically can be marked up several percentage points over traditionally produced foods, which means you can produce less while profiting more.
Growing consumer demand
People want organic foods. It’s been on the rise for years with no signs of slowing down. Farmers looking at organic as an option can be sure that their products will be in demand. Being organic also eliminates the use of genetically modified foods, which can be a major selling point for many of the consumers willing to spend the extra money to buy organic.
Everyone can agree that taking care of our land should be a priority, and organic farming is one way to do that. Eliminating harsh chemicals and all that comes with those treatments leads to healthier soil, cleaner water, and reduces the need for concerns about pesticide or herbicide resistance.
Creates jobs for local labor
Taking chemical treatments out of the mix means that organic farmers have to rely on other methods, particularly with weed control. One of the first lines of defense for an organic farm is manual farm labor. Where a traditional farm would take one farmhand, an organic farm would take five. This creates valuable jobs for people in the local community, making your farm a wonderful economic asset.
Healthier food for the community
Organic food is free from some of the riskier chemicals found in traditionally farmed food, meaning that your food will be providing your customers with crops that are clean, healthy, and delicious.
Be a leader in your farming community
Many farmers are hesitant to make the switch to organic. You can be a pioneer in your community by taking the plunge.
High startup costs
For both established farmers looking to switch and new farmers just starting out, the startup costs for organic farming can be a lot to take on. Between specialized equipment, a larger workforce, and more expensive seeds, a new organic farmer has to be prepared to make an investment and trust that the profits will follow.
High operational costs
The expenses don’t stop after startup. Organic farms need to consistently employ larger workforces to accommodate for the modified farming methods that avoid chemical treatments. Additionally, organic products can’t mix with non-organic products during transport and storage, so many organic farmers find that they are responsible for finding alternative transportation and storage methods for their crops.
Requires time and knowledge investment into organic methodology
Many farmers have currently already been trained in traditional methods and been practicing chemical farming for years. Making the switch can be daunting when confronted with the task of relearning how to farm from scratch. This can be a difficult journey that requires a lot of time, trial and error, and extra research on the part of the farmer.
Fewer crop varieties
Without the use of GMOs, organic farmers have less crop varieties to choose from when deciding which parts of the market they’ll tackle. This does open up the door for product specialization, but some farmers will find that they will not be able to grow the exact same crops they previously grew after switching to organic methods.
Organic farming support is underfunded
Organic farms have yet to be provided with additional government support compared to traditional farms to compensate for problems organic farmers face with higher operational costs. This may change with time, but as of yet, there are no additional subsidies available.
Lower crop yields
Without the aid of popular treatment methods, organic soil farms tend to produce fewer overall crops than their traditional counterparts. This can be an issue during the transitional period for farmers going from chemical farming to organic. During this transition, farmers are using organic methods, but are unable to price their crop as organic until they have been using organic methods for several years. This is to protect the consumer from residual chemicals from past treatments, but can make for a few tough years for a newly-switched organic farmer.
Why Do We Need Organic Farming?
Consumers are making it clear that they want the organic option. People are becoming increasingly concerned with the health and environmental consequences of their foods, and they view organic food as a path to eat in a way that makes them feel good about what they are putting in their bodies. We need organic farming to meet the needs of the current consumer base.
We also have the environmental factor associated with organic food. Organic farming is experimenting with new methods of farming that could lead to a future with a more sustainable food system that supports a healthy planet. We need organic farmers who are willing to break the status quo of chemical farming. Organic farming reduces the amount of chemical damage on and off the farm property and on the environment.
We’ve already seen the sustainability potential with organic aquaponic and hydroponic farms, and now we need more organic soil farmers taking the future of farming into their own hands to create a sustainable future for our planet.