Organic farming isn’t just better for the land and our health. It’s more profitable for farmers too, finds a new study.
Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study found charging premium prices for organic food can help boost farmers’ income.
The Washington State University researchers looked at 44 previous studies conducted on organic agriculture. The studies featured 55 crops grown in 14 countries. “They found that when farmers did not charge a premium for organic food, it was significantly less profitable than conventional agriculture,” reports the Washington Post. “But when they did charge a premium, organic agriculture was 22 to 35 percent more profitable.”
The researchers say their interest was piqued after seeing a study that positioned organic agriculture as less productive than conventional, with lower crop yields.
“We knew going into this that organic agriculture is less productive in terms of crop yields than conventional agriculture,” researcher David Crowder told the Post. “But when [research partner John Reganold] and I really started doing this, we said, ‘Yields are really just one component of financial sustainability.'”
Even with that in mind, the researchers say they were a bit stunned by the profitability of organic agriculture. “In order to match conventional profits, organic farmers would need to charge premiums of 5 to 7 percent,” reports the Post. “But in their study, Crowder and Reganold found that organic farmers were charging much more, a 29 to 32 percent premium, boosting profitability.”
These larger profits are incentives for more conventional farmers to make the switch to organic, the researchers say, which is of course better for the land and human health. It’s especially noteworthy because transitioning to organic is expensive and time consuming, but the profitability is a strong incentive for farmers.
According to the Post, currently “only about one percent of global agricultural land is dedicated to organic crops.” And the researchers note the premiums are far more than what the farmers need to break even on the transition away from conventional agriculture—they’re enough to make big differences in farmers' lives.
“While our study shows that organic is more financially competitive, organic is not the only system in the world that’s sustainable,” Crowder says. “Overall I think we would say that we would just like to see agriculture move in the direction of increased sustainability.”
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