Thursday, May 1, 2008

"conventional" farming gets pricey-

You remember, of course, a few posts ago when I referenced this NYT article on "Sticker Shock in the Organic Aisles." 

Plenty of folks are getting worried that organic products will "price themselves out" of the market; since they're always a bit more, and people are cutting everything they can in their budgets these days.

One of my responses was that, in time, "organic" could prove to have a competitive advantage over "conventional" - fewer inputs from oil, etc.

Well, here we are.  Conventional hog farms are looking at shutting down, either entirely, or partly.

"My wife said, 'We're either going to sell the pigs or sell the farm, and we're not going to sell the farm,' " he said.

His farm once raised 50,000 hogs a year and employed a dozen people."

The article states that at the moment, due to increased cost of feed and fuel, mainstream hog farmers in Minnesota are losing $40-50 - per pig.

The problems of conventional ag are not going to get better.  It's always been fossil fuel intensive.  That's only going to get worse.  A major component of the system, fertilizer, has been skyrocketing in price, and actually getting short- around the world, including the USA.

"  'If you want 10,000 tons, they’ll sell you 5,000 today, maybe 3,000,' said W. Scott Tinsman Jr., a fertilizer dealer in Davenport, Iowa. "

This is not good news for "commercial organic" farms; that that have to purchase certified organic feed for their dairy cows, etc.  It's great news for small organic farmers, who use on-farm inputs, green manure, animal manure, and plain labor- instead of fossil fuels.

My question is- can organic farmers- and organic consumers get used to going into the store and finding - "Hormel" pork chops at $3.20/lb; and "local, certified organic" chops at- $2.90.

Now there, is sticker shock.  It was always part of the point to organic- in the long run (and here we are!) it's more efficient- with less reliance on fossil fuels, and benefitting from the various aspects of small and local husbandry.

Both organic producers, and organic consumers, though are used to "elite" pricing.  They take pride in it, in fact.  "I get the highest prices, because my food is worth more" - and "I pay the most for  my food because I care more..."  A lot of the time, organic producers have gotten into the habit of setting their prices by looking at conventional stuff- and just bumping that up a certain percentage.  Gotta quit doing that!

Time to start working on moving up to the next level.  Shift gears, and take over the arguments always made by the massive inputs conventional ag guys.

"Organic Is Cheaper- Because We're More Fuel Efficient!"

"We Buy Organic- Cheaper, Healthier, Smarter!"

The transition, though- will be tricky.  There's a chance for "organic" to shoot itself in the foot, by trying to hold onto the elite marketing direction.  Let's face it- after fighting to be recognized as better, healthier- elite- it's going to be hard to revert to being plain farmers, for many of us.

We have lots of friends in the organic game- which we don't play, for many reasons.  The food we do sell, we label "NOT Organic- Better".  We ask for organic prices- or better- and have had no problem with acceptance.  Because our customers know us.



A cheerful, thirty year, on farm, success story.  No starving children!  No extinct species!  Hopeful stuff!

So stay tuned.  :-)


Anna Marie said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who realizes that organic agriculture is more efficient, money and land-wise.

I remember writing a paper a year ago on organic vs. conventional agriculture; studies have found that organic has greater yields as well as earning greater prices, while costing far less for the farmer to grow (due to not having to buy fertilizers, pesticides and being able to save their seeds). This translates into more security for the farmer.

I also know that small, local family farms are the best way to go. I just wonder how long it will take the rest of the nation to realize this?

Andrew said...

My guess is that there will be a split in the organic producers. A portion will cling to the elite organic image and price. Others will do as you suggest and lower their prices to what people can afford. These will probably be the smaller local farms that deal more directly with consumers. Not 'Big' organic.

etbnc said...

Yup, yup, yup. Along those lines, I like this farmer's explanation of his farming practices: Maple Spring Gardens, About Organic.

Caroline said...

It's about damn time the REAL cost of factory-style agriculture started showing up in the grocery stores! Yes, my husband and I pay more for our organic, and more importantly, locally grown and raised produce and meats. But when you factor in the ag subsidies, the cost of oil, the carbon footprint, all that ... we're paying far less for the local stuff than we SHOULD be paying for the ConAgra nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, time for someone to check in on how Joel Salatin's farming model is working with the price of fuel up.

Kerry said...

Greenpa! I just discovered your blog and I am in some kind of heaven reading it! :-) You're going to be a daily stop from now on. I'm hoping Papa Pan will come read too, but he's not into blogs the same way I am. I think the difference between us is that I am one of those annoying extreme optimists and I can easily read doom and gloom predictions and see my need for action, to STEP UP in it, not catastrophe.
I gotta run, there's a stable holding a load of horse shit for me :-)

Kerry said...

Oh,l and I live in a town that is HELPING make organic locally sourced foods a viable reality for people - first our public school lunches are made with organic local meats, and 2nd, the town isn't imposing big fees on the local farmer's market or insisting that people pay to be certified to participate. It means we really can all afford to eat organic and local. Its wonderful really.

Anonymous said...

As fuel prices skyrocket locally grown may be our only source. Areas with local small farm will be lucky to have them. Hard times are coming. Good luck to you all!

Anonymous said...

Greenpa, baby, I didn't look in here for a while because you were giving me disaster fatigue, and I think you had it too. All the little contretemps with the solar panels, hell, high water and the thievery, and so on, those pesky little incursions of dastardly reality that impose themselves upon the small farmer all of the time, and that lead to only the extremely insane and addicted persons deciding to continue efforts upon the plane that separates the quick from the dead, yes, I too have been there, done that, and yet, can't make myself stop.
So tell me, the phrase, "Not organic --better" needs a bit of exegesis and I mean all of the details. I know you very much value your privacy, I do too, so feel free to skip over any details that might compromise that privacy, but PLEASE, as a service to those of us who are very far away from other persons like yourself, give us some thoughts about the not quite organic idea. I really need to get some input about that. I will go read the Maple Spring Gardens thingie now, maybe an inspiration or two there. Thank you and good luck with the tick eradication. Have you considered guinea hens? They love eating ticks. They make a good stew also. The hens, not the ticks.

Anonymous said...

I've always thought with the rising cost of fuel that organics would eventually become cheaper then regular alternatives.

Greenpa said...

Mud Mama- welcome! :-)

RC- I had wondered where you went! Yeah, it was looking a bit depressing there. You realize, I was holding back, of course. :-)

As it turns out, your exegesis is deeply tied up with my planned next post- should be up today.

kai said...

I've been reading some Wendell Berry essays from "The Gift of Good Land". Very interesting reading, in light of our current energy/food/soil issues. Sad, too - many of the points he brings up are still applicable, and nothing has really changed in the 30 or so years since they were written. I had my doubts about reading something "so old" but it turns out that so many of the same issues are still there (only bigger). Berry doesn't talk about organic per se, but does rail against giant agribusiness, the use of pesticides & fertilizer, and our giant ongoing soil erosion problem - all solved by small-scale subsistence-type farming. He makes a good argument for the all natural small family farm.

In response to the hog farmers in MN - I wonder how their current issues tie in with the surplus of pork in Canada. I've heard that the Canadian gov't is paying their hog farmers to kill their pigs by fall because there is too much Canadian pork on the market and prices have plummeted.

Apparantly, a lot of that pork is headed across the southern border into the U.S.

Valerie Roberson said...

Excellent post!! My hubby and I are looking to homestead, and for city-dwellers, this kind of info is really invaluable. Thanks!!

Anonymous said...

Everyone with a superior attitude about "organics" needs to read this refutation and really contemplate why they are farming organically:

I am an organic gardener, and I work at a local organic farm. But I am under no illusions that the food is "better."

Most organics claims sound rather like religion.

I have no hope that organics can feed the world: BUT, if population controls were put into place AND millions of Americans would suddenly be willing to do the labor that we long-time farmers have done, then I would gladly eat my words.

Until then, I garden organically because it is about as close to independent as I'll ever become.

Mike in Maine