I am looking for resources on the economics of organic production and
the price of organic foods:
*costs of organic crop production (enterprise budgets)
*market prices for farm crops (what can farmers expect to receive)
*retail cost comparisons between organic and conventional foods (what
can consumers expect to pay)
November 17, 1997
USDA Neglects Organic Farming Research
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) devotes less than
one-tenth of one percent of its research budget to organic
farming systems, according to a recent report by the Organic
Farming Research Foundation (OFRF). The study, "Searching for
the 'O-Word,'" found only 34 research projects that
specifically studied organic farming, out of 30,000 projects
in USDA's Current Research Information System database.
"Organic farming can contribute to the nation's food
security, environmental and economic goals, but this
potential is not being recognized," said Mark Lipson, author
of the study and a working organic vegetable grower. "USDA
has been unwilling or unable to pursue the type of research
and development that could increase the efficiency and wider
adoption of organic methods."
"Organic growers have had to rely on their own trial and
error, with little or no support from public research
institutions," according to Lipson. "These farmers
successfully produce every crop with competitive yields, yet
there are many specific problems that growers face which
require research conducted in an organic setting. We know
organic farming works; with research support it can work even
better." According to the study, USDA spending on research
devoted to organics amounts to no more than US$1.5 million
annually, out of a total budget of US$1.8 billion for
agricultural research and education."
Katherine DiMatteo, Executive Director of the Organic Trade
Association, pointed out that the lack of research support
stands in stark contrast to the economic growth of the
organic industry. "Organic foods are a US$3.5 billion
marketplace in this country alone, with an annual growth rate
of 20% over the last seven years," said DiMatteo. "It is very
disappointing that there is so little research and
development for organic production."
Over a period of two years, OFRF analyzed USDA's research
database to determine the "organic content" of the federal
agricultural research portfolio. While a handful of organic
research projects were identified, they are "few and far
between," according to Lipson. He stated that "there are some
token projects, but there is no deliberate commitment to
pursue organic farming as a strategic research objective."
The failure to invest in organic research is due in part,
Lipson believes, to long-standing ideological hostility
towards organics within USDA and university research
institutions. To break the taboo against the "O-word," the
study recommends that USDA make a formal policy statement
acknowledging the value of organic farming research.
The study further recommends incorporating organic farming
information into all of USDA's research and education
programs. "Organic farming research should not be isolated in
an obscure office or hidden within a single program," says
OFRF's Executive Director Bob Scowcroft. "Organic farming is
a legitimate focus for every research, education and
marketing division within USDA.
OFRF says it carried out the study because it had repeatedly
identified the lack of formal research and education as a
significant barrier to farmers who wanted to start growing
organically. Scowcroft stated, "It's time the progressive
interests in agriculture join with environmental and consumer
activists to demand that USDA take organic research
seriously. American farmers need research on alternative
systems, and the American people want this to be a higher
priority for the expenditure of their tax dollars."
According to Lipson, the USDA needs no new authority from
Congress to pursue organic farming research. He stated that
"the USDA can direct more resources to studying organic
farming right now, under many different programs." The Senate
Agriculture Committee recently acknowledged this in its
report accompanying its markup of SB 1150, which would renew
funding authority for USDA's research and education programs.
For a copy of the report, "Searching for the 'O-Word,'"
contact OFRF; a US$15 donation is requested.
Sources: Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) Press
Release, October 14, 1997; Searching for the "O-Word," 1997.
Contact: OFRF, P.O. Box 440, Santa Cruz, CA 95061; phone
(408) 426-6606; fax (408) 426-6670; email email@example.com.
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