Is Organic Produce Actually Cheaper to Grow?

Categories: Talking Points
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Yeah, yeah, yeah: Certified organic produce is more expensive than conventional, and the premium prices that organic farmers can charge make their farms more than twice as profitable as conventional farms. But a new study suggests that organic grains, fruits, and vegetables don't have to be so expensive.

The Huffington Post recently reported on the results of the Rodale Institute's 30-year trial comparing side-by-side plots of land producing conventional and organic crops (the full report is here. The institute found that yields were almost equal except in drought years, when organic farms did better. There were a host of other benefits to farming organically: better soil, lower greenhouse gas emissions, lower energy use, more jobs. Advocates of organic farming have trumpeted all these benefits for years, and it's nice to see them proved right again.

But the section of the findings that piqued SFoodie's interest: Economics. While organic farms spend significantly more on labor, they make up for it in lower expenses -- fertilizer and fuel cost big. 

And then there's this nugget:
Organic grain and soybean systems returned higher profits with organic premiums a review of six Midwestern land-grant university studies found. Even without the premiums, half of the organic systems were still more profitable. The other half quickly made up the difference and surpassed the conventional systems when the price premiums were added.
What the study seems to suggest is that, if everyone switched to farming organically and the organic premium disappeared, most farmers would make around the same. It's one thing to exhort liberals to buy organic because it's better for our bodies and the planet, but most farmers -- excuse me, small business owners -- aren't going to be swayed by these emotional/idealistic appeals. Telling them they can make the same amount of money, if not more? Now that's something farmers might listen to.

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Rodale's description of itself is revealing: "Rodale Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to pioneering organic farming through research and outreach."

In other words, it has already reached its conclusion "going organic is the healthiest option for people and the planet."

Steve Savage
Steve Savage

Jonathan,The Rodale study was with row crops like corn and soybeans and has no bearing at all on fruits and vegetables. It is also hardly what one could consider an unbiased study.  Trust me, the Organic produce will continue to be much more expensive

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