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Monday, October 10, 2011

Is Organic Produce Actually Cheaper to Grow?

Posted By on Mon, Oct 10, 2011 at 8:57 AM

click to enlarge BRIAN DONALDSON / SHUTTERSTOCK

Yeah, yeah, yeah: Certified organic produce is more expensive than conventional, and the premium prices that organic farmers can charge make their farms more than twice as profitable as conventional farms. But a new study suggests that organic grains, fruits, and vegetables don't have to be so expensive.

The Huffington Post recently reported on the results of the Rodale Institute's 30-year trial comparing side-by-side plots of land producing conventional and organic crops (the full report is here. The institute found that yields were almost equal except in drought years, when organic farms did better. There were a host of other benefits to farming organically: better soil, lower greenhouse gas emissions, lower energy use, more jobs. Advocates of organic farming have trumpeted all these benefits for years, and it's nice to see them proved right again.

But the section of the findings that piqued SFoodie's interest: Economics. While organic farms spend significantly more on labor, they make up for it in lower expenses -- fertilizer and fuel cost big. 


And then there's this nugget:

Organic grain and soybean systems returned higher profits with organic premiums a review of six Midwestern land-grant university studies found. Even without the premiums, half of the organic systems were still more profitable. The other half quickly made up the difference and surpassed the conventional systems when the price premiums were added.
What the study seems to suggest is that, if everyone switched to farming organically and the organic premium disappeared, most farmers would make around the same. It's one thing to exhort liberals to buy organic because it's better for our bodies and the planet, but most farmers -- excuse me, small business owners -- aren't going to be swayed by these emotional/idealistic appeals. Telling them they can make the same amount of money, if not more? Now that's something farmers might listen to.

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Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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Jonathan Kauffman

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