In attending any expo, tradeshow, meeting, or forum, it is easy to go through multiple sessions and maybe find nuggets of interest. However, when attending ExpoEast this year in Baltimore, Maryland my interest was piqued when I learned that Laura Batcha the CEO and Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association (OTA), Bob Quin Organic Farmer Quinn Farm and Ranch, the Founder of Kamut International and co-author of Grain by Grain, Jeff Moyer Chief Executive Officer at the Rodale Institute, and Thomas Cierpka the Deputy Director of IFOAM Organics International were going to be on stage together talking about the relevance and scalability of organics. Looking around the room, it was full of industry leaders, researchers, scientists, brands, buyers, consumers, and ExpoEast exhibitors.
In this two-part series, we will focus on the questions and answers from the panelists. The title of the session was The Future of Organic: Relevance and Scalability. In part one, the panel will discuss how we can make farming an occupation and the willingness and need of the industry to keep farmers farming.
What can be done to make farming an occupation of choice for the next generation?
The main buyers of organic food and products are 18-34-year-old consumers in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. Overall the next generation has grown up differently with cell phones, and they exchange information in a different way very rapidly. This is true for farmers as well. Looking at the production side of organic, the older generation can handle the perceived risk, and the next generation is interested in organic because they do not want to buy into the conventional model that had been established.
Farming is a capital intensive operation that is challenging for young people to come into agriculture. For example, the average surgeon comes out of college owing around $500,000 with a starting salary averaging $260,000. While in Iowa state, the number of young farmers starting will owe $2.5 million to get started with an estimated income of around $60,000. Would a parent encourage their child to step into that situation? Creating onramps for producers by working with the banking, insurance, and subsidizing organizations. Working with larger purchasers of grain with long term contracts to take to lending agencies will help. Borrowing money to put seed in the ground as a young person is challenging. The banker is going to ask where is the market and do you have a contract. The bank makes money, the farmer maybe. A purchasing strategy on how to minimize risk for growers on the front line with contracts and by changing policy.
How can we keep more people farming and help others transition to organic? Do we incentivize them to make the change?
We can’t fall into the trap of industrialization of organic. It would benefit everyone if we focus on nutrition and quality. To reconnect food and health as something people can justify what they are paying for. For example, saving money at the doctor’s office. The primary research should be on nutrition even more than organic, so the food we grow is more nutritious. Plant breeding and the variety is something, but it will play into the same number spiral as the current model.
What is the willingness to support change by farmers, traders, and businesses around the world?
To make farming an occupation of choice, the person needs to make a living from what they are doing. If there is no chance of surviving financially from what they are doing, they have no choice. An example of a success story is out of India. When the first organic state in India became organic, the farmers expressed to the government that they couldn’t make a living from what they were doing. The system was corrupt. When a new government was elected, everyone was excited, and the government installed an institution that is responsible for marketing the organic foodstuffs. Now they are looking to have alliances with organic institutions as part of BioFach in India. There will be an alliance of buyers and associations to pay respect for what they are doing, and all of their crops will be taken to international markets. Now is the time to motivate the next generation to let them know it is possible and that they can make a living from what they are doing as farmers. To be able to provide good food.
With the example of what happened in India, a similar story came out of the Philippines. They are gradually increasing the percentage of organic food being grown, and the government buys it and provides it into schools. Municipalities are converting to organic production with a local benefit of an economic return; it is better for the environment and people outside of the supply chain. It seems slower to happen in bigger economies.
Is the food chain being replaced by the word food system where there is no longer interest in interdependence?
This will take a federal policy change. Right now, state levels can get around the systems approach. California is working with growers to increase acres. Pennsylvania is doing interesting things. This work might be more successful to advocate at the state level.
Stay tuned for the release of part two and the conclusion of this blog, The Future of Organic Relevance and Scalability. In the next blog, Jeff Moyer will provide information about what is happening in his home state of Pennsylvania in reference to a state farm bill and the moderator and panel will dive into the correlation between soil and human health along with Bob Quinn talking about it being in our best interest to focus on organic production, solving disease and increasing nutrition.
To help create and support change in the Ag industry, YieldOrganic through its product lines the Ag Marketplace and Ag Connections we are facilitating the connection between organic farmers, brands and buyers to remove the barrier of growing, marketing and selling Non-GMO, organic and regenerative crops.