Who was it? Kermit the frog? Was he the amphibian that said, “It’s not easy being green!”?
Whoever said it, in the world of ag, it is 100% true - It isn’t easy to being green.
Consider what it takes to switch from being a conventional ag operation to being a USDA certified organic operation.
According to the USDA, operators must use:
“Approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.”
Even before that, an operator’s soil must have had no prohibited substances applied to it for a period of three years immediately preceding crop harvest.
Then, to become organically certified you must:
- Develop an organic system plan
- Implement the plan and have it reviewed by a organic certifying agent
- Be inspected
- Have a certifying agent review the inspection report
- Receive a decision from the certifier
I’m tired just reading this list.
Is it worth all this work? How about the cost? Does it make financial sense?
It all depends on how you look at it. Although market growth for organic crops has slowed, according to a survey conducted in 2022 by the Organic Trade Association, the overall organic industry is now $63 billion in consumer sales. $63 big ones. It just might be worth the work.
Here is a percentage breakdown of organic food sales growth, compounded annually:
2019 2020 2021
4.6% 12.8% 1.8%
How about profitability? According to a 2016 USDA Reganold report, put together under actual market conditions, with price premiums, organic agriculture was slightly more profitable than conventional agriculture. This report reflected higher labor costs, lower yields and lower input costs in organic farming practices than conventional farming.
However, does anyone know if the market for organics will continue to grow and will premium prices continue?
With younger consumer interest in a healthy planet and healthy eating; with increasing water, wildlife, climate, grazing and sustainability issues; the crystal ball says the market will continue to grow, along with consumer demand - so demand should grow and prices should stay up.
But back to the “It’s not easy being green!” topic. If you wanted to go organic, or just be a little greener in your operation, is there some place you could turn for reliable help? Yes.
Here are just a few of the many national organizations out there that offer some level of free help. (There are tons of local organizations too.)
OTA – The Organic Trade Association represents over 9,500 organic businesses across 50 of the United States. OTA knows the in’s and out’s of organic.
USDA – The United States Department of Agriculture serves the growing organic sector. Whether already certified organic, considering transitioning all or part of your operation, or working with organic producers, they have resources for you. This website connects you with programs, services, and educational materials that can help.
OMRI - At the Organic Material Review Institute, we follow the science showing that organic farming practices are good for the planet, for people and for the farmer’s bottom line. But you don’t have to be organic to use what OMRI offers. If you are looking for help finding input products (fertilizers, soil amendments, compost, livestock feed stocks, sanitizers) that can be use, without risk of losing USDA organic certification, or if you are simply seeking a cleaner, more environmentally benign product, OMRI has a free easy to use data base on their website to find input products.
In conclusion, there is no disputing it. It is not easy being green. Yet, green is the trend. Is it worth the extra work? Well, it has never been easy making money in ag.
You will have to look in your crystal ball to judge if the market for green products will continue to grow and if green products will continue to command a price premium. If you want to lead or follow the trends. Either way, the above organizations will be able to help you make decisions and make the work of being greener a little easier.
Roger Plant is the marketing manager with the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI). He was born in Denver, Colorado, grew up in Eugene, Oregon, and graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Business Administration. Most of his career has been dedicated to helping conventional and certified organic food manufacturers market their products and services.
For more ag news and opinions, visit Agri-Pulse.com.