The demand for organic food in the U.S. is exceeding the number of organic farms, due in large part to the cost of certification for individual farmers, according to new research. Corporate businesses and nonprofits are scrambling for a way to lessen the burden of certification, thereby increasing the number of organic farms in the nation.
General Mills is one such company, which, in partnering with Organic Valley in June, agreed to pay higher than market value for organic milk in order to fund farmers transitioning to organic. This initiative is expected to help 20 farms add 3,000 acres of pastures for organic milk production.
“What we can do by partnering with Organic Valley is making sure the economic engine is there to pull the train,” said John Foraker, the president of General Mills-owned Annie’s.
Aside from individual corporations funding organic farms, associations have begun developing "certified transitional" labels, such as the one proposed to the USDA mid-May by the Organic Trade Association or the one developed jointly by QAI and Kashi. These certifications would help farmers increase their prices during the second and third year of organic certification, to better cover the costs of organic conversion.
Farmers in conversion must cultivate using organic practices for three years before being certified organic. Farmers often operate at a loss during this period, when the prices they can charge for their products do not match the costs of production.
“Your farm is your financial life, and when you decide you’re going to change the way you’re doing your business, you’re kind of putting it at risk,” Californian farmer Marc Garibaldi told the Guardian. “The grocery stores don’t give a crap whether you’re in the transition to being organic. All they care about is are you certified or not.”
While the organic market continues to grow in the U.S., valued at $43.3 billion last year and up 11 percent from the year before according to the Organic Trade Association’s 2016 Organic Industry Survey, the USDA estimates that only about one percent of American cropland is certified organic.
Organic farm image via Shutterstock