So you wanna do what’s right for your own and the planet’s health, but the higher cost of organically farmed produce has you hesitating? Last week we discussed how location affects the price of organic produce. This week, let’s consider the production costs that affect the price and why, despite the price, it is actually a better value.
You’d think that farming organically would actually be more cost effective, what without the price of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. But let’s take a closer look.
I stepped into the fermenting room of Napa Valley, CA’s Joseph Phelps winery and my eyes teared with fermented joy. Vintners call the portion of wine lost to evaporation through wood barrels during the fermenting process the “angel’s share.” Organic produce, grown without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, loses a portion of crops to birds, insects and other hungry hopefuls. In fact, my Grampy, who owns 130 acres of farmland, always says about his apples, “if the bugs like it, then I know it’s good.”
Organic produce crops yield 10-20% less than conventionally grown crops due to the “angel’s share” factor as well as differing goals in crop production. Organic growers tend to select seeds based on nutrition and flavor rather than agrochemical’s focus on quantity and quickness. Yield decreases according to these factors while production costs increase when organic farmers companion plant rather than fertilize, stake fences rather than spray, and harvest by hand rather than automate.
Manual labor adds cost and so does the organic certification process itself. As of October 2009, Oregon became the 16th state with national accreditation to certify farms as organic. Oregon’s Department of Agriculture is charging about $75 an hour to audit books and look over fields to assure certain pesticides and fertilizers have not been used for the mandated three years.
Because of the focus on quality (nutrition, flavor and freshness) instead of quantity (speed, transportability and profit) one pound of organically grown kale is actually more food than its conventional counterpart. So in the end, I always consider really how much more food I am getting when paying a few extra dimes for the organic certification.
Next week we’ll look at other factors that bear on the price of organics—and other things you can do to help bring prices down.
Read Part 2: Organic Produce–Price vs. Value: Production Cost