Today the odds are stacked against organic farmers.
Fewer and fewer young men and women are choosing to make farming their livelihood. And given today’s challenges, it’s really no surprise that so few are returning to work the land.
In 1945, the average age of the American farmer was 39; today, it’s 55. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the number of farmers under the age of 45 dropped 14 percent between 2002 and 2007.
Many small organic farmers live at or below the poverty line. What drives them is their passion for their work.
In California farmers face increasingly unpredictable weather patterns and drought, pests, and eternally shifting markets. Even with customers paying a premium for locally grown organic produce, most of these farms are barely able to keep going.
According to an article in Salon, the USDA’s 2012 data indicated that intermediate sized farms—defined as those grossing between 0,000 and 50,000 per year—obtain only 10 percent of their income from the farm, and 90 percent from off-farm sources.
Something is wrong with a system in which nine out of 10 farmers must rely on an outside job, or a spouse’s outside job, to pay their basic living expenses—a system that places so little value on something as important as your food!
Organic farmers fight against tremendous adversity. The next time you are hesitant to spend more on organic fruits and vegetables consider the following. Small organic farmers have greater expenses than conventional farmers, as well as minimal economic incentives to assist them.
There are numerous reasons why organic farmers must sometimes charge more for their produce. Consider the following:
1. Fewer chemicals means more labor: Growing food without chemicals requires more labor; for example, hand weeding is time consuming and tedious (although MUCH more beneficial for your health of the health of the planet than spraying Roundup on everything). Smaller farms are less mechanized—besides weeding by hand, they typically hand pick, wash, and sort, versus using machines and conveyer belts.
2. Organic fertilizer: Organic fertilizers such as manure and compost cost more than chemical fertilizers or sewage sludge.
3. Longer maturation time: Crops and livestock take longer to reach maturity when hormones and other growth enhancers aren’t used; animal welfare standards are higher and the animals are given more care and allowed more natural reproductive cycles and lifespans.
4. Losses due to pests and disease: Organic crops are often more susceptible to pests and disease, so a greater proportion of crops are lost, compared to chemically sprayed crops.
5. Fields lie fallow: Cover cropping and crop rotation replenishes the soil but reduces the number of fields available in any one season for growing profitable crops. Up to 25 percent of an organic farm’s land may lie fallow at any one time. Conventional farms typically plant their fields with the most profitable crops year-round, regardless of soil depletion or costs to the environment.
6. Higher product-to-market costs: Local organic farms have higher shipping expenses, due to lower volume and the nature of the produce itself. For example, conventional tomatoes are now bred for durability, as opposed to flavor or nutritional content—to withstand long-distance transport and longer shelf lives. If shipped, tender heirloom tomatoes require great care, which costs a great deal more.
7. Organic certification: The costs of organic certification are substantial. Not only is there an annual fee, but farms sometimes need to hire additional employees to assist in daily record keeping or make modifications to their land and equipment in order to comply with regulations.
8. Transitioning the land: Many farmers have to convert their land to organic production gradually, which can be expensive and reduces their economic potential for several years, while depleted soils undergo repair.
They are also up against the absurdity of farm subsidies. The most heavily subsidized crops are corn, wheat, soybeans, and rice—the foods least likely to keep you healthy. Farm subsidies were initially created to protect staple crops during times of war, reduce crop surpluses, and provide monetary support to farmers when crop prices fell, but today mega-farms receive subsidies whether they need them or not. The top recipients earn over million per year in subsidy payments.
Based on 2008 data from the House Appropriations Committee, organic and local foods received only 5 million in government funds/programs, compared to .5 billion in conventional farm subsidies. According to a report from Louisiana State University AgCenter, “Though certified organic crop producers earn higher revenue, they incur higher production expenses as well. In particular, certified organic producers spend significantly more on labor, insurance, and marketing charges than conventional farmers. The results suggest that the lack of economic incentives can be an important barrier to conversion to organic farming.”
The benefits of organic farming in terms of the environment and human health should certainly not be overlooked. Organic foods are more nutrient-dense. A recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that organic fruits and vegetables deliver 20 to 40 percent more antioxidants than conventional produce. Organic produce is also free of pesticides that it is being discovered have more impact on human health than previously thought.
More than 75 percent of the US population has detectable levels of organophosphate pesticides in their urine, for which diet is one of the most likely routes of exposure. Agricultural chemicals are known to be toxic. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, was recently declared a Class 2 A “probable human carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the research arm of the World Health Organization.
This chemical has been described as possibly “the most important factor in the development of multiple chronic diseases and conditions that have become prevalent in Westernized societies,” by researchers Anthony Samsel (independent researcher) and Stephanie Seneff (Senior Research Scientist in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT).
Glyphosate can stimulate hormone-dependent cancers even at extremely low “environmentally relevant” amounts, and research also suggests that glyphosate may amplify the damaging effects of other environmental toxins, acting in concert to disrupt your body’s natural processes and cause a variety of illnesses, including Alzheimer’s disease.
The documentary “The Organic Life” shows what it takes to sustain an organic farm and puts a face to your local farmer. The producers of this film are allowing a full and FREE viewing through 7/17.
View it here: http://www.hulu.com/watch/648245