Organic Farming

December 2, 2002

December 2, 2002

There is a growing debate between high yield farming and organic farming. Organic farming which was somewhat of a fad a few years ago is pushing to become mainstream. Sales will hit $11 billion next year. My food wholesalers and their supermarkets are listening to that cash register ring. With USDA's new organic labeling standard, some of the confusion of just what organic means should be cleared up. Farm magazines have alerted farmers to the opportunity to get a wider profit margin in producing organic. Be aware of the cost of organic to the consumercan run 15-50% higher than other food. Many consumers identify organic as better tasting and safer. That's good marketing. However, USDA has been very clear to point out that organic is not any safer or better than other food.

With the organic market growing at more than 20% per year, farmers are rushing to cash in on the growing demand. If too many farmers jump into the business, supply could out strip demand and,the big price margin would evaporate.

High yield farmers (and most farmers are high yield farmers) still look upon the organic business as strange and backward. That's how my great grandfather farmed. Today only about 1 % of our food supply is organically produced. So in spite of the impressive year-to-year percentage growth, it is still "small potatoes." If the whole world population turned to organic food, there wouldn't be enough food. Organic farming yields 20% less food than conventional.

If the choice is between conventional with abundance and organic and starvation, the world will chose conventional with all the new technology. Still there is a place for organic for those who want to pay for it. If enough acres are devoted to organic, the food surplus will diminish and farm prices improve. Until next week, I am John Block -- from Washington.