Organic Agriculture Improves Local Economies

Organic Agriculture Improves Local Economies

Organic food production is the highest growing food industry sector in the United States. Double digits increase in organic food sales every year has been witnessed in the sector surpassing the growth rate for the overall food market. It’s estimated that organic food sales in 2015 jumped by 11 percent to almost $40 billion, far outstripping the 3 percent growth rate for the overall food market. Foods produced organically fetch higher prices than conventionally produced foods. This has seen an increased interest in organic food production coupled with increased demand of organic food products. More farmers are transitioning to organic production, more organic businesses are sprouting. A key question in this transition would be; what does all this interest in organic and organic activity mean for local economies?

According to a white Paper that summarizes and discusses three research papers that investigate organic agriculture hotspots in the U.S. and systematically assesses the impact of organic agriculture on local economies titled U.S. Organic Hotspots and their Benefit to Local Economies, it’s been shown that median households income experience an increase by an average of $2,000 in locations defined as organic hotspots. The white paper has been prepared by the Organic Trade Association (OTA). Organic hotspots consist of counties having highest levels of organic agricultural production (farms and businesses) and have neighboring counties that follow the same organic production.

The directory of the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) was used to identify the home county of all certified organic operators. Organic hotspots households also have been seen to witness an average of 1.3% poverty reduction levels. The research has associated economic well-being to organic agriculture. It outlines that organic food production with other agri-business process in the organic chain have the ability to create real and long-term economic opportunities. OTA is a membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products. Its mission is to promote and protect organic with a unifying voice that serves and engages its diverse members from farm to marketplace. The members of OTA include growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers’ associations, distributors, importers, exporters, consultants, retailers and others. It’s the leading voice for the organic trade across 50 states in the United States and represents over 8,500 organic businesses.

This paper shows the highlights associated with organic agriculture and demonstrates, yet again, that organic agriculture can and must feed the world. Five types of organic hotspots have been identified. These are crop-based organic production hotspots, livestock-based organic production hotspots, organic production hotspots (crops and livestock), organic handler hotspots and all organic operations hotspots.

Dr. Jaenicke states that this research systematically investigated the economic impacts of organic agriculture and the study findings demonstrate that organic food production promotes the economic health of local economies. The increased global interest and focus on organic agriculture can be leveraged into effective policy for economic development.

The research identified 225 counties across the United States as organic hotspots and then studied the impacts of these organic hotspots on two key county-level economic indicators: the county poverty rate and median household income. It was found out that organic agricultural processes had a greater beneficial economic effect than those associated with the general agriculture production that are seen to be chemically-intensive, conventional agriculture, and even more of a positive impact than some major anti-poverty programs at the county level.

The report illustrates organic hotspots as diverse and encompasses various kinds of organic agricultural activity and associated businesses that includes crop production, livestock production, and organic processors. The organic hotspots were found all over the US but specific examples identified in the report include Monterey County in California, Huron County in Michigan, Clayton County in Iowa, and Carroll County in Maryland.

Factors that enable the creation of organic hotspots are identified in the report. The repost also does a comparison of the effect of organic agricultural hotspots against those of general agriculture (combined organic and conventional agriculture).

The report link economic health at the county level is to organic agriculture. The White Paper findings clearly and specifically state that counties within organic hotspots have lower poverty rates and higher median annual household incomes, Outreach and knowledge transfer are critical in creating organic hotspots and that organic agriculture can be used as an economic development tool.

The study results indicate that a county’s poverty rate decrease by 1.3% and the median household income increases $2,094 when the county is part of an organic hotspot. This would be the first indication to link local economic health (at the county level) to organic agriculture. These economic benefits are felt across all the organic businesses in organic hotspots. To rule out general agriculture effects on this input, isolation was done. Isolating the economic impact of a county being part of a general agricultural hotspot, the study found out that county’s poverty rate drops by only 0.17% and the median household income increased by only $75 when the county is in a general agricultural hotspot. Further the study points that county-level unemployment rate of members in an organic hotspot of any type lowered the unemployment rate by 0.22%.

Membership in an organic production hotspot reduced unemployment rate by 0.84 % while membership in a general agricultural hotspot had an unemployment rate increase by 0.06%. In addition county-level per capita income increased by $899 in counties belonging to any organic hotspot. Belonging to an organic production hotspot resulted in an increase in per capita income by $37. Belonging to general agricultural hotspot resulted in a decreased per capita income of $1,076. Organic hotspots were not necessarily found in regions with increased agricultural activities. This shows that there are other factors other than growing conditions or other farming related factors which are vital in organic hotspots formation. Some of these factors include;

i. Increased outreach services lead to organic hotspot formation ii. Government-sponsored organic certifiers are associated with organic hotspots iii. Farm income, land values, population density and others

With the study findings that organic hotspots lead to decreased county’s poverty rate and leads to a rise in median household income, policy makers at across the divide i.e local, state and national levels now have a proven economic reason for promoting organic agriculture. In the United States, the USDA has an incentive based approach geared towards encouraging the development of organic.

Increased funding for existing programs, development of new programs, and organic emphasis within programs can expand the economic opportunities of organic. The report outlines five key policy proposals:

• Promotion of organic agriculture • Focus on rural development, shift to organic, capital systems and barriers to investment • Expansion of outreach services and facilitation of networks • Targeting of specific regions • Broadening coalitions

Diverse studies have shown that organic food is suitable for human health and environmental friendly as well as lead to development of the economy. One study earlier on this year published by researchers at Washington State University did show that organic agriculture is needed to a sustainable food system. Nutritional benefits through nutritional profiling of foods have shown that organic foods have a better nutritional profile. A study published in February found that organic dairy and meat were higher in essential nutrients. In the same breadth, a related study did show that cows grazed naturally do produce better quality milk that contained higher levels of beneficial fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamins than those that are grazed conventional. Further, the University of California in a ten-year study did a comparison of organically grown tomatoes with those grown chemically and the results indicate that organically grown tomatoes have almost double the quantity of disease-fighting antioxidants called flavonoids than their counterparts. Organically grown foods in general have been shown to include higher amounts of the health-promoting polyphenols and antioxidants. This is supported by a review of around 97 publications . This is in addition to the benefit of non-exposure of consumers to pesticides residue.

Small – scale holders are seen to be the driving force towards a shift to organics. These farmers focus on fostering biodiversity, limiting external inputs such as fertilizers, improving soil health, sequestering carbon, and making use of integrated holistic approaches to manage pests, weeds, and disease. This study together with other studies proves that organic agriculture is a viable option for both farmers and consumers while at the same time providing significant health and environmental effects over conventional industrial agriculture.


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