As policy would have it, our nation’s farmbelt keeps ramping up corn production to feed our automobiles, while our organic meat producers are left scrambling for a source of organic soybeans by importing them from China. Organic soybean imports more than doubled last year, with import growth coming from China, India, Canada, and Argentina.
Suppliers of organic milk, poultry, and other meats are concerned because the growth rate of farmers who are adding organic row crop acres is falling behind growing demand by the consumer. Organic fruit and vegetable production here in the U.S., which is nothing to boast about when you look at the graph which follows, is growing more quickly than the organic row crops.
While organic food sales in the U.S. grew 35 percent in five years, production lags.
Let’s blame the hassle factor. Let’s blame the economics.
Farmers choose pesticides and GM seeds over organic because it takes three years to become certified organic, there is a paperwork burden, and there are greater risks. Potential income during the two required transition years is sacrificed. In recent years, the economics just does not entice the farmer to grow organic row crops instead of conventional, as inputs and labor for organic costs more while yields are lower. In addition, crop insurance has favored the conventional grower. Last month, however, the USDA announced that it will make crop insurance more available and friendly to organic producers in 2014.
The next graph shows the rapid adoption rate of GM soybeans by farmers in the U.S. since 1996. (GM does not qualify as organic.)
And then there is the consumer to worry about. Does the consumer trust imported organic soybeans from China as the missing link to his or her organic food product? There is a moral conflict between eating organic meat or stir fry only made possible by importing soy or corn from China, presenting the consumer with a dilemma.
Unless, perhaps, ignorance is bliss.