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Nathanael Johnson's recent interview with veteran organic farmer Tom Willey made about a dozen great points and raised about a dozen vexing issues. I'd like to look at just one of them.

In the interview, Willey is outlines two problems with one solution. One of those problems is going to get more difficult for organic producers over time.

Willey says:

[On the value of farmer's labor] Because we think that growing other people’s food is as important as, you know, being people’s pastor or doctor or lawyer, and those professions are certainly well compensated. So why have farmers always had to take it in the shorts economically? And grow food for so many people and work so many hours and so hard for so little remuneration?

I don’t have his permission to say who he is, but there’s a very successful and highly revered organic farmer on the East Coast, and two years ago he had a horrible bout with cancer and he didn’t have the money for health insurance. I mean that is just unconscionable. And he is feeding many people some of the best organic products that we know of. It’s just not right.

[On tracking costs] We don’t do that to that anal of a level in our farm, but we do it. We do it particularly with labor, because on a farm like ours it’s insanely labor intensive. I’m telling you the truth here: When I sell you a dollar’s worth of produce, 70 cents of that goes to labor compensation. We’ve had a wave of wage increases here in the Valley over the past year, because the scarcity of labor has become extreme with the border shut down for so many years. The border used to be a semi-permeable membrane, they’d open the valve a little bit close the valve a little bit, but since everyone has gone apoplectic about immigration, the border is basically shut down. So little by little the labor pool is eroding here.

[On working with immigrant workers]
Well we do, we do, and a lot of our employees appreciate the fact that they have year-round work and other benefits. But when that wage started going up, our employees came to us and said, “Hey we need to have a chat here.” So we had a big meeting out in the front yard of the farm and we discussed it. They said, the disparity is just getting too great and you have to do something, or some of us are going to start melting away. So we instantly raised the wage a dollar. And with that, some of our crops became money losers, so we actually had to lose some of our diversity.

[On the need for serious attention to bookkeeping and marketing]
There’s a saying that farmers are always price takers, not price makers. You have to become a farmer who is a price maker. You have to distinguish your product from the masses in the market.

We really need to be growing the highest quality, most nutrient-dense produce. Unfortunately we don’t have the tools to assess that cheaply on a daily basis. If you can do that, you are a price maker.

If you are just selling into an amorphous market, under someone else’s label, you are a price taker. But if you are selling locally, you can really identify your customers. We established our name and our label and found a few thousand people who would support it. You just carve out your constituency, figure out how to produce what they need, and get them to understand that they need to pay you fairly for it.

The first problem is the historical weakness that farmers have suffered from in the market's price mechanism. For specialty growers (produce), this stems from the fact that they are selling a perishable good and they feel the clock ticking much more keenly than the buyer on the other end of the transaction. This is compounded by the tendency of agricultural markets towards gluts. Everyone's asparagus crop hits the market at the same time, and they all need to sell in the same window of time.

That problem affects all specialty growers, not just organic growers and the problem of gluts is an even bigger problem for commodity crop growers which is the reason why we have had various price stabilization policies in place since the Great Depression. The second problem Willey talks about is the fact that cultivating, processing and transporting organic produce on a small scale is incredibly labor intensive. This is where small organic producers run into a parallel version of Baumol's cost disease.

The New Yorker's James Suroweiki explains the disease:

When Mozart composed his String Quintet in G Minor (K. 516), in 1787, you needed five people to perform it—two violinists, two violists, and a cellist. Today, you still need five people, and, unless they play really fast, they take about as long to perform it as musicians did two centuries ago. So much for progress.

An economist would say that the productivity of classical musicians has not improved over time, and in this regard the musicians aren’t alone. In a number of industries, workers produce about as much per hour as they did a decade or two ago. The average college professor can’t grade papers or give lectures any faster today than he did in the early nineties. It takes a waiter just as long to serve a meal, and a car-repair guy just as long to fix a radiator hose.

The rest of the American economy functions differently. In most businesses, workers are continually getting more productive and can produce a lot more per hour than they could ten or twenty years ago. In 1979, workers at G.M. needed forty-one hours to assemble a car. Today, they need just twenty-four.

. . . Generally, productivity growth is a boon, but it creates problems for non-productive enterprises like classical music, education, and car repair: to keep luring talent, they have to increase wages, or else people eventually migrate to businesses that pay better. Instead of becoming nurses or mechanics, they become telecom engineers or machinists. That’s why teachers are getting paid a lot more than they were twenty years ago. (The average salary for an associate college professor has risen almost seventy per cent since the early eighties, and that’s if you adjust for inflation.) To pay those wages, schools and hospitals have to raise prices. The result is that in industries where productivity is flat costs and prices keep going up. Economists call this phenomenon “Baumol’s cost disease,” after William Baumol, the N.Y.U. economist who first made the diagnosis, using the Mozart analogy, in the sixties.

The problem for farmers is that they are competing with more productive industries for workers, but that they the goods they are selling compete directly with substitutes from more productive competitors.

Even the most vocal supporters have found organic [pdf]  to require 35% more labor. On top of that, organic yields are consistently lower which is another way of saying that land costs per unit are higher. Because of the way that organic standards in the US are structured, the productivity gaps in labor and yield will almost certainly continue to widen over time. This means organic farmers will be competing with products that are increasingly cheaper in relative terms over time. Compound this with the structural problems that make all farmers price takers and you are facing a very steep climb. This is too say nothing of the problems with economies of scale that small farmers are saddled with.

From the start, Willey's solution to these problems has been marketing. For farmers who choose organic certification, there are currently only two paths to profitability. You can either sell your soul and go big; selling tomatoes for sauce and canned tomatoes, salad greens for supermarket clamshells; or you can go niche, reaching high end restaurants, farmers markets and use the CSA model. This doesn't bode well for those of us who'd like to see more produce grown under organic best practices at scales that can feed more people, more afford-ably, more sustainably. It's not at all clear how marketing can take organic past carving out a niche market to capture the necessary price premium. If that is sufficient for those that want to follow their farming muse and find meaningful, remunerative work as farmers, that's all to the good, but it relegates independent organic produce farms to being significant cultural assets, but insignificant parts of the food system.

 photo SomeOrganicYields_zps3094032b.jpg

Sources:
Sustainable farming needs math as much as mulch, says one veteran
Nathanael Johnson | Thought for Food | Grist | 30 January 2014

What Ails Us
James Surowiecki | The New Yorker | 7 July 2003

Organic and Conventional Farming Systems: Environmental and Economic Issues [pdf]
David Pimentel1, Paul Hepperly, James Hanson, Rita Seidel and David Douds | Bioscience | July 2005

The crop yield gap between organic and conventional
Tomek de Ponti,Bert Rijk,Martin K. van Ittersum | Agricultural Systems | April 2012

Comparing the yields of organic and conventional agriculture
Verena Seufert,Navin Ramankutty    & Jonathan A. Foley | Nature | 09 March 2012

[cross-posted at REALFOOD.ORG]

Originally posted to REALFOOD.ORG on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 03:56 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Taking your 'organic yields' link... (23+ / 0-)

    I quickly hit

    Our results show that organic yields of individual crops are on average 80% of conventional yields, but variation is substantial (standard deviation 21%). In our dataset, the organic yield gap significantly differed between crop groups and regions.
    That's a freaking huge SD, and suggests that a lot of 'organic' farmers are either A) growing the wrong crops, B) growing them in the wrong places, or C) Don't really know what they're doing.

    And that those who A) grow the right crops, B) grow them in the right areas, and C) know what they're doing get yields essentially equal to non-organic farmers.

    •  Also, fewer organic farmers => smaller samples (9+ / 0-)

      which would tend to raise the SD.

      I'd also point out that eating local implies having folks farmer close to you, and that can mean that local organic farmers end up using less productive or suitable land.

      So it's not "apples to apples" here.  Organic farms have goals other than maximizing profit or minimizing costs.  So you shouldn't be surprised that a study that measure economic efficiency -- which is all about maximum profits and minimum costs -- would show organic farming in a bad light.

      Quote of the week: "They call themselves bipartisan because they're able to buy members of both parties," (R. Eskow, Campaign for America's Future.)

      by mbayrob on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 06:03:01 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  No, it's apples to apples. (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        FG, shaharazade, 4Freedom, Wino, MGross

        From the de Ponti paper:

        To test the hypothesis that the organic yield gap increases with the yield level of the conventional system, we analyzed data of five crops, being four crops for which we had most data entries: wheat, corn, barley and potatoes; and the leguminous crop with the highest number of entries: soybean. The number of entries for wheat was sufficiently large for a more detailed analysis, i.e. we analyzed not only all wheat data, but also a subset of wheat data from experimental farms only.

             . . . The meta-analysis resulted in the inclusion of 362 paired sets of organic–conventional yield data in our database.

        Apples to apples. Same sample size.
        •  Marc, this is based on "world" (9+ / 0-)

          farming sites.  I can imagine what that might mean in places like Africa, Asia and South America.  Putting one organic farmer in Namibia up against a corporate grain farm is going to skew results a tad.  

           The truth is, organic farming can and does outperform conventional agriculture, by stacking functions vertically on the landscape, everything from animal grazing to integrated interplanting of fruit bushes and trees, using existing habitat niches, etc. etc.  The "value" of organic farming is caught up in the level of information the producer brings to ecological strategies.  

          And, it all comes back to the soil, and as we know, or should know, the existing chemical-based production system is degrading soil, using huge amounts of petro-chemicals and is simply not sustainable.  In the mean time, the food that comes from these mega-farms is not nutrient dense or even meet acceptable levels of nutrients; not to mention the chemical residues from herbicides and pesticides.

          So, in the end, we can continue down the path of ruining our soil, habitat nd climate to grow food that is making us sick, or we can rebuild and re-gear our agriculture so that it produces great results within a sustainable model while protecting our habitat long-term.

          As Willey points out, however, the hard part is that to achieve these levels of yield, there is a much larger labor component.  That will always be true.  You can't send out the 60 foot combine and mow down the rows of onions or carrots.  We will need to put many more people on the land in rural areas to achieve this.  Happily, living simply in a beautiful spot and working hard within a community to produce from the earth has always been a decent way to spend time on the planet.

          Industrial food production in America ruins our health, our environment and consumes more fossil fuel than any segment of our economy.

          by Mi Corazon on Sun Feb 02, 2014 at 07:37:34 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Again (4+ / 0-)

            the yields were in PAIRED sets. It's not academics that are comparing small organic vegetable farmers to large conventional staple crop farmers, it's ideologues who are making scrambled arguments to support a view of agriculture is more about aesthetics and knee jerk anti-corporate thinking that erroneously compare the two.

            I'm all for best practices organic farming, as I said in my piece, but I'm for best practices farming across the board. It's the 'hybrid' style that the Seufert meta-analysis points to that hold the most promise.

            See here and here.

            As Willey also points out the inability of organic farmers to do no-till cultivation is huge problem for the relative sustainability of organic. As is the yield gap since that means more land under cultivation for the same amount of food. There is no bigger environmental impact that a farmer makes than to put land into cultivation.

          •  I appreciate your point (6+ / 0-)

            that you articulate well.  Comparisons using strictly economic logic always come out in favor of cost, yield, and profit, inputs and outcomes. But that entails completely ignoring ecologic logic.

            Such arguments are short-sighted in terms of unsustainable/sustainable.

            "Woe to those who make unjust laws,
    to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights
    and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, 
making widows their prey
    and robbing the fatherless."

            by Snarky McAngus on Sun Feb 02, 2014 at 09:14:32 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Well, I focused on the economic logic (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              PeterHug

              because I was writing about the economic aspect. I was responding to the points that Willey raised about the economic challenges organic farmers face.

              If they can't surmount the economic challenges, then they can't be a part of the environmental solution. Which is a point Willey and Johnson made as well. Part of being sustainable is being economically sustainable.

              I would like to see best practice organic succeed. It can't succeed without a clear diagnosis of the challenges it faces.

            •  Yield is directly relevant to ecology (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              marc brazeau

              Which was mentioned above: if yield is x% lower for an organic crop, in order to supply an equal quality of food you need (1/x%) more land. If the organic crop yield is 80% of the conventional crop yield, you need 1.25 times the land area under cultivation for the same amount of food.

              This is clearly ecologically relevant.

              It's also important if getting a higher yield out of organic methods requires more specialized or specific conditions to reach that yield, because this will restrict the number of locations that would be appropriate.

              •  Yield increases over time using organic methods (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                RiveroftheWest

                while needing continuous overfertilization using industrial chemical methods.  The latter contributes to groundwater pollution and "blue baby" births and an increasing "dead zone' in the gulf, not to mention health costs due to ingestion of pesticides over time.

                These are part of the hidden costs, as well as military operations to keep the oil flowing, that keeps industrial food cheap and high yielding per acre.  But it's apples to oranges.

                "Woe to those who make unjust laws,
    to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights
    and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, 
making widows their prey
    and robbing the fatherless."

                by Snarky McAngus on Tue Feb 04, 2014 at 07:44:02 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

    •  I think that's quite a stretch... (3+ / 0-)

      to just assume that most organic farms - people who that's their job - simply "don't know what they're doing". And why wouldn't this apply to conventional farmers, either? And your supporting evidence for your second paragraph is?

      It's not exactly hard to understand that labor would be higher and yields would be lower for organic farmers. Most of the stuff that they reject was created to make lives easier for them and improve their yields, not to make better, healthier products for consumers. You want an apple that's not been sprayed in organophosphate neurotoxins, you pay more for it - what's hard to believe about that?

      Anyway, I'm not sure I agree with the diarist's premise. Because it seems that the next wave of tech advances designed to help first-world farmers compete with the third world will be in automation (new types of mechanical fruit harvesters and the like are already hitting the market, even some prototypes for robotic pest and weed control underway), and that helps organic farmers just as much as non-organic. Not to mention that the last wave of big chemical advances - your "roundup-readys" and the like - are now on the tail end of that development cycle (they're introducing new ones but older ones are becoming less effective with time). And it's also wrong to assume that there are no tech advances specifically applicable to organic farming.

      In fact, if we picture the very-long-term future, I have trouble picturing it being anything but all-organic. When you picture computer-controlled cultivation in hermetically-sealed stacked greenhouses or whatnot... what's the point of  herbicides? What's the point of pesticides? There are already companies today doing this sort of stuff, BTW - for example, I know the founder of Famgro Farms in California, which does this sort of cultivation.

      Já þýðir já. Nei þýðir nei. Hvað er svona erfitt við það?

      by Rei on Mon Feb 03, 2014 at 01:58:51 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Where did anyone say that most organic farmers (0+ / 0-)

        "don't know what they are doing"?

        I'm not clear which paragraph you are asking for evidence to support.

        I agree that I could have written a much longer piece disentangling where organic can expect to make productivity gains and where they can't. The simple answer is that all productivity gains that are available to organic farmers are available to non-organic certified farmers, but the reverse is not true.

        And I agree that if we move the towards a longer horizon, the future will look very different and we can't accurately predict what it will look like, but I was writing about the problems that the current crop of farmers face for the foreseeable future. If I had been writing about what things will look like in 30 years, I would have written about what things will look like in 30 years.

        Forgive my testiness. It seems that people weren't interested in what I chose to write about, but were happy to use it as a way of discussing the things that they wanted to talk about.

        You're comments about the next two waves of innovation are some of the most thoughtful in this thread. Thank you for your insights.

        •  Before you rage next time... (0+ / 0-)

          ... make sure that the person you're criticizing is actually responding to you.
          The person I was responding to did say that most organic farmers don't know what they're doing. He was criticizing you, and I was in turn criticizing him. Aka, supporting you.

          I later did offer some very mild criticism of your diary, but you know what, given how you responded here, I don't even want to respond to that any more.

          Já þýðir já. Nei þýðir nei. Hvað er svona erfitt við það?

          by Rei on Mon Feb 03, 2014 at 10:11:41 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  And, btw, the chart you display (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fladem, flowerfarmer, 4Freedom

    doesn't seem to agree with that meta-analysis link, unless virtually every organic farmer out there is growing apples, or yields on organics have improved by roughly 20% since 2008.

    •  That chart (7+ / 0-)

      was sourced from USDA data and came from this post.

      It's a subject where it's hard to get clean data, that's why I linked to two separate meta-analyses.

      •  I'm always kid of dubious about meta-analyses (10+ / 0-)

        because 'clean data' or as I'd say 'apples to apples' data is hard to get.  So many times you wind up with so many different sorts of studies lumped together that you do wind up with things like the 21% SD, which is largely meaningless, other than to tell you you're trying to lump together things that are wildly different.

        I think the overarching lesson I would pull away is that a farmer has to be much more knowledgeable about his crops and the environment when he has less control over it.  Non-organic methods are simply a way to take variables out of the farming equation, and reduce every crop to as close to exactly the same environment as possible as every other crop.  People who really understand their field (hah) will be able to deal far more easily with the natural variability that's more prevalent in organic farming, but people with limited knowledge will always do better when variability is reduced by more tightly controlling the external environment.

        •  There are so many variables out there, not just (11+ / 0-)

          In term of "crop yields" per acre, but in terms of having the whole infra structure that is needed.

          I remember someone over at DU discussing how a relative of theirs decided to grow organic sunflowers one year. But the silo they thought they could use so the sunflowers seeds could be stored and then transported was bought by some big concern, and converted to grain, and then there was NO silo for organic sunflowers.

          So that was the first and only year they did that.

          Much the same thing goes on in terms of dairy farmers too. Certain bits and pieces of infra structure are needed, and if X amount of small dairy farmers exist in an area, then those small family farms can remain up and running. But if some ratio of small farmers sell out, like to vineyards (as is happening in my county) then pretty soon, every one else has to give it up as well.

          •  The system is set up for the big concerns (7+ / 0-)

            Farmers used to have cooperatives to fill their needs. My dad belonged to one for feed for this stock.

            Organic farmers have survived under a corporate agribusiness structure and have often prospered. One of the fastest rising costs for them is the testing for GMO contamination that customers, particularly overseas, increasingly are demanding.

            We have it within our power to make the world over again ~ Thomas Paine

            by occupystephanie on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 09:48:42 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  There are still some (5+ / 0-)

              organic cooperatives around. I buy my dairy products from a national cooperative called Organic Valley. There is also a organic meat co-op that sells freaking expensive meat. We don't eat much meat but I when we do I go for organic. Local organic meat that sold in a co-op grocery store I go to occasionally had local organic chickens for 34.00$. Too expensive. I do every month buy an organic chicken from large farms in CA or WA neighboring states one states for about 3.50$ a pound.

              As for produce I buy local organic especially apples. Any imports like bananas or coffee I buy Fair Trade. I also have been buying organic produce  seasonally as organic Kale and Chard and greens are cheaper then tomatoes shipped from Mexico.

              I'm lucky as I live in a region with a lot of organic growers. We also have a local chain of grocery stores here that buys from organic growers.  One of the problems is that the chain of stores which is expanding outgrows the small farmers capacity to produce enough to supply them. Seems part of the problem is size and distribution. I often see small delivery vans at the back of our local New Seasons. Boutique farms that supply local organics from cheese to kale.    

        •  The question is the trend line (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          4Freedom

          and the weight of the evidence.

          Rather than getting into picking apart this study or that study, for comparing best practice organic to worst practices conventional or what have you I chose two meta-analyses that are consistent with the weight of the evidence. The question of organic yields was not the main subject of this post, so I felt that was adequate sourcing to make my point.

        •  Sigh. All farmers need to know what they (5+ / 0-)

          Are doing!  Good diary. Hard to make money farming, whether organic or not.  My husband makes less than minimum wage, though he pays his workers $2 over minimum wage, which is already higher in Oregon.

          I agree about branding and marketing. Selling directly to schools and colleges has helped him and the students.  Some students ask their parents for his fruit.  

          •  Has anyone been able to account (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RiveroftheWest, marc brazeau

            for the amount of imported organic products? Much of the organic grass fed beef is from Australia and South America.

            Its like anything else, once the big boys get into it and exploit the loophole, the average joe gets the short end of the stick.

            I have been involved in organic farmers for over 15 years and have yet to find a single Democrat. Really a strange world where right wingers are providing the products for the liberals. I know there are some liberal organic farmers but none around me.

            Many have quit in the last few years because of the huge increase in crop prices where a good profit could be made without the added expense of a large labor bill.

            Then the drought for the last 3 years in the southern plains has reduced the number even more.

            I really really wish there were some good Democratic organic farmers in my area because I am getting sick of the extreme right wingers making money off a good cause.

            It should be people that care and are liberal that should share the profits. Its basically all right wing all the way through to the retail seller.

  •  Any article (9+ / 0-)

    that discusses cost disease gets a thumbs up from me.  The theory of cost disease predicts over time Education and Health Care will consume larger portions of the economy since they are likely to see lower productivity growth then other parts of the economy.

    The organic farmers have to segment the market to overcome their higher production costs - but as you suggest that means they will be nothing but a niche producer - particularly if cheap labor becomes increasingly difficult to get.

    Frankly they need a new business model.

    •  Not a new business model, but richer customers (11+ / 0-)

      Market segmentation is just an application of the old ideas of consumer surplus and "price discrimination":  if you could negotiate with every buyer and effectively auction off every bit of your stock to the people who valued it the very most, you'd make far more money than you could in a competitive market, where the price tends to cost of the last unit you produce (i.e., "marginal cost").  Can't blame anyone for trying to do that; farmers have tended to deal with highly competitive markets, and it's been a curse to farmers as long as farmers have sold their goods in markets.

      The real problem is that for many services, the level people pay has a lot to do with what the average wage is.  A hair cut is a lot  more expensive in New York than it is in Bangladesh or Gambia.  So is teaching 30 students to read.  Because these are services you need people to do, and the substitute for paying somebody else to do these things really is to do them yourself.  The "value" of these services effectively is the labor needed to do them.

      So if you want better paid farmers, you need better paid workers to buy from them.

      Maldistribution of wealth damages us in very many ways.  This is yet another.  

      Quote of the week: "They call themselves bipartisan because they're able to buy members of both parties," (R. Eskow, Campaign for America's Future.)

      by mbayrob on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 06:28:18 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  There's also the 'externalization' factor (13+ / 0-)

        of conventional agriculture, which has burned the organic matter out of our farmland (releasing massive amounts of formerly sequestered CO2) creating sterile 'soil', erosion, desertification, etc.

        If the destruction of our farmland was factored into the cost, conventional would be more expensive.  If the global warming damage of the CO2 released from that destruction was factored in, conventional would be more expensive.

        Conventional agriculture, after destroying the soil of organic matter and microbial life, requires petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides to get anything to grow.  Those yields come at a price, and that price goes up with the price of oil/gas.  Not to mention that all that petroleum helps add to the global warming problem and massive dead zones of synthetic fertilizer runoff.  That chemical fertilizer also ends up in water aquifers and supplies and is toxic to people and animals.

        Conventional agriculture is so 'efficient' and labor un-intensive because it uses massive monocultures of the same plant, which is antagonistic to nature.  Monocultures tend to promote plaques of pests, which require more toxic pesticides adding to our cancer and pollution problems.  Not to mention that massive monocultures are the opposite of biodiversity, so that's another problem.

        Conventional food is less nutritious.

        Americans have come to expect to pay very little for food, which is sort of obscene.  We could live without our cell phones or whatever else but we can't live without nutritious food.  Americans throw out something like half the food they buy.  Maybe if we had to pay more for actual quality food, maybe we would value it more.

        Anyway, I could go on and on.  Organic farmers are saving the world, and deserve to make a good wage doing things the right way.  I gladly pay more for quality organic/grass fed meat, produce, and dairy.  I know that I am avoiding future medical costs, as well as supporting agriculture which is not spewing cancer causing chemicals and which is actually helping sequester CO2 by building up organic matter in the soil.

        And guess what, I've found that since I started putting out the effort to search out quality, nutrient-dense organic and grass-fed dairy, meat, and produce, while paying a little more for it, I actually use all of it.  It means more to me than some low quality cheap food from the local grocery store so I'm more careful and get more out of it.

        But my basic point was the externality issue.  Conventional industrial factory farming pushes off its health and environmental costs onto society, which makes its food appear "cheap."  Sort of like how fossil fuels appear "cheap" only if you don't factor in all the externalized costs.

        "It was clear that any research would be in the nature of a post mortem." - Rachel Carson

        by todamo13 on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 07:43:51 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Stanford nutrition dept studied conventional (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          MGross

          Vs organic food value, and it was the same. There are other reasons to choose organic foods than nutritional content

          •  Ye olde Stanford garbage study (5+ / 0-)

            They put that one out there just so people will cite it in threads like this and it will ricochet around the internet that there is no difference between Organic and Conventional food.

            Who do you think payed for that study?

            How do you think they measured "nutrition"?

            What controls did they use in their measured product to make sure they were comparing the same class of products, harvested at the same time, prepared in the same way?

            Believe what you want, but, do not allow corporate Ag producers to plant their values in your mind.

            Industrial food production in America ruins our health, our environment and consumes more fossil fuel than any segment of our economy.

            by Mi Corazon on Sun Feb 02, 2014 at 07:45:13 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  Another Factor (3+ / 0-)
          Organic farmers are saving the world, and deserve to make a good wage doing things the right way.  I gladly pay more for quality organic/grass fed meat, produce, and dairy.  I know that I am avoiding [reducing] future medical costs, as well as supporting agriculture which is not spewing cancer causing chemicals and which is actually helping sequester CO2 by building up organic matter in the soil.
          If and when future medical costs for those eating strictly conventionally grown meats, grains and produce vs. those eating organic are factored into a lifelong paradigm, then the costs of organic farming will be seen in a new light, and demand could increase.

          You meet them halfway with love, peace, and persuasion ~ And expect them to rise for the occasion...

          by paz3 on Sun Feb 02, 2014 at 01:16:55 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  In a purely competitive market (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        marc brazeau, RiveroftheWest

        suppliers are price takers. If everyone maid 5 bucks more an hour you would still have the same problem.  

        As long as conventional is a substitute for organic, organic will be a niche market until it can get close in costs.

    •  Frankly, we all need a new logic (4+ / 0-)

      because their industrial logic doesn't include the hidden costs of the industrial food chain which keeps those prices "cheap."

      Health Care and Military are just two of these hidden costs that allow industrial food to be significantly cheaper than non-industrial.

      One calorie of sun energy used to produce two calories of food energy; now two calories of petroleum energy produce one calorie of food energy.  How is that more efficient?

      "Woe to those who make unjust laws,
    to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights
    and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, 
making widows their prey
    and robbing the fatherless."

      by Snarky McAngus on Sun Feb 02, 2014 at 09:20:45 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The one flaw (3+ / 0-)

      is that cheap labour will become easier, not harder to get.

      Have you not seen the trend in incomes for the 99%?

      Of course, that is also destroying the customer base for ALL products.

      At some point people will have to stop buying anything that is not absolutely essential so they can afford to eat.

      And so the unravelling continues.

      Until inauguration day The USA is in the greatest danger it has ever experienced.

      by Deep Dark on Sun Feb 02, 2014 at 12:02:35 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Not so with me. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, occupystephanie

      I am a scientist and a lawyer.  I am not an economist.  The potential importance of this diary was lost by the inside baseball title.  

      I clicked on it anyway because I am very interested in organic.  The article was further undermined by the data presented.  It just doesn't jibe with what I see.  Organic apples are vastly less available than conventional.  And way more expensive.  Of course, this is just anecdotal.  What strikes me the most is that this diary seems to ignore the externalities of conventional agriculture that are frequently, including here, ignored.  No measure is taken of the benefits to long-term ecosystem health.  No study of less than a decade can.  

      If we do not maintain Justice, Justice will not maintain us. -Sir Francis Bacon.

      by Res Ipsa Loquitor on Sun Feb 02, 2014 at 08:38:41 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm not sure how (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        o76

        your observation that "Organic apples are vastly less available than conventional.  And way more expensive." doesn't jibe with the observations show by the cited studies that were cited that organic is less productive in terms of labor and land use. What you are observing seems to reflect that in terms of availability and price.

        As for the statement that I 'ignored' the externalities of conventional agriculture, I would say that they just weren't the focus of this particular piece. Tom Willey outlined some of the hurdles that are particular to organic farmers. I thought it would be interesting to look at them through the lens of economics. It was not my intention to write a dissertation on everything wrong with agriculture.

        As for the externalities of conventional agriculture being ignored, I don't know where you've been for the last eight years, but in 2006 this guy Michael Pollan published a book called the Omnivore's Dilemma and the externalities of conventional agriculture is the only thing about agriculture almost anybody has been talking about since then.

        Judging from the response to this diary it's apparently a major transgression to stop talking about that even for five minutes.

  •  I've been sitting here a bit more thinking labor (7+ / 0-)

    costs, and wondering how much is actually a political issue.  Compared to many (most?) other countries out there, I'm given to understand that US food is actually 'cheap', probably because we subsidize in a variety of ways, including energy costs.  

    But cheap food means farmers can't really get paid a lot for what they produce - and is our problem really the amount produced?  I had thought the fact that we still had so many people going hungry was largely a matter of distribution, rather than production.  Once you've filled local demand, farmers are going to have to compete with far cheaper production costs if they want to move their produce on foreign markets.  And as you note, when everybody's crops come in at the same time, there's a glut on the market.

    •  "a matter of distribution rather than production" (5+ / 0-)

      Yep.  What you can pay for food depends on what your income is.  If most people are low income -- and increasingly, most Americans are relatively low income -- then cheap food is all you can afford.

      People talk about the US being rich.  Countries aren't rich, really.  People are rich, people are poor, people are in-between.

      The US is a country where a very few people are rich, a lot of people are poor, and the people in between have been getting more and more like their poor countryfolk as time goes on.

      Quote of the week: "They call themselves bipartisan because they're able to buy members of both parties," (R. Eskow, Campaign for America's Future.)

      by mbayrob on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 07:20:28 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  fallacy (10+ / 0-)

      When I was younger and had much less disposable income, i ate very well.  I bought rice, beans, whole grains, fresh vegetables. Most of it was organic. I ground whole grains to make bread.  I made soy milk and kept the okara as a base for vegetable patties.  Any parts of the vegetables that were not eaten were saved to make broth.  I went out to my balcony in the middle of the city to get the fresh herbs and spices I grew.  Even though I was paying a premium, I ate well on very little money.  My breakfast oatmeal with honey cost me almost nothing.  

      Of course now being busy with much more money I just buy all the food ready made.  Like so many people, I pay for processing of the food and eat food stuff instead of eating real food.  I no longer pay the farmer to grow the food, but rather a corporation to make into what is no longer real food.  And the farmer gets shafted, because the corporate profits require them to shaft the farmer.

      We make way too much food.  We make so much food that we have to find ways to get people to eat more of it.  We take perfectly good and healthy corn, process it down to a syrup, and then use it to sweeten junk food.  We take perfectly good grains, grind it and remove all the good stuff, then fry it, flavor it, and sell it to kids so they can grow fat and get diabetes and have to buy prescription medication to live past 40.

      We take highly nutritional potatoes, remove all the nutrition, fry the simple carbohydrates in oil, then serve it as food.  A 20 cent potato now costs a dollar.  We are willing to pay a huge markup for something that is of no nutritional value.

      The fact is that just like most everything else, we value a cheap product over a good product.  We will pay $4 for a bag of chips, but ignore the banana on the counter. I am not accusing, I am as guilty of this as anyone else.  But the problem is we create a demand for the foodstuff industry to waste out food, and for it to affordable to waste our food it must be cheap.

      •  I have sold in farmers markets (6+ / 0-)

        in coastal New Hampshire and south of Boston.
        Even here in the foothills of the White Mtns of NH, which is very rural, farmers are getting a high/fair price for their goods.

        Yesterday, in Tamworth, one farmer had lamb roasts for 50-70 bucks and they wouldn't be in his freezer unless he actually sold at that price.

        Garlic was selling at 10 bucks a pound.

        The organic movement and peoples willingness to reconnect with their local farmers has made it possible for many small farmers to stay afloat.

        However, the availability of less money from the federal gov to states has resulted in a huge increase in property taxes, even for farmers whose land is in conservation or special categories for farmland.

        These are the times when it is most important to support your local orchards, farmers and dairy  - when we are gone, everyone will be at the mercy of BigAG.

        'How like fish we are: ready, nay, eager, to seize upon whatever new thing.......And how we rue our haste, finding the gilded morsel to contain a hook". ALDO LEOPOLD - A Sand County Almanac

        by flowerfarmer on Sun Feb 02, 2014 at 05:36:55 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yeah, i've found farmers markets (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RiveroftheWest

          to be a bit of a ripoff actually. Being in Brooklyn I have tons of options for great produce from Co-Ops and CSAs, often from the same farmers asking 25% more at the market than through those channels.

          If you aren't outraged, you are an idiot

          by indefinitelee on Sun Feb 02, 2014 at 09:33:05 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  It's a sorry thing when a farmer getting (5+ / 0-)

            a fair price for food that farmer grows is seen as a "ripoff".

            The quantity buys a CSA or coop can offer are savings of scale, and that savings goes back to the farmer who doesn't have to travel to or set up to do the farmer's market.

            Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations. ~ George Orwell

            by 4Freedom on Sun Feb 02, 2014 at 10:01:33 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Running a family farm, every person/worker counts. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            marc brazeau, o76

            The person manning the farmers' market booth isn't there to water the crops or care for the animals. It costs both money and time to pick, pack, transport and display the products; to set up/take down the booth, to handle the recordkeeping needed for the market sales.

            It costs more to sell at the farmers' market than to handle all your sales from the farmsite and deliver on your own schedule -- that's why prices are higher.

      •  That last sentence is such an important point. (4+ / 0-)

        And something we really, really need to address, because it's part of the whole morally grim economic reductionism at work: Cheapen Everything.  It's the opposite of increasing value; it's a morality of entropy, really.  And I see no useful morality of entropy for living things.

        If only "value-added" really meant that.

        It's time to start letting sleeping dinosaurs lie, lest we join them in extinction by our consumption of them.

        by Leftcandid on Sun Feb 02, 2014 at 07:51:21 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Well said, lowt -- thank you. n/t (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        occupystephanie
  •  For real life data, consult (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mi Corazon, 4Freedom, EricS

    Economic Research Service -- ERS-- for a number of studies on organic and conventional farming. They issue tons of publications, available on the website, useful to farmers and others.

  •  Healthcare, benefits, and subsidies (20+ / 0-)

    What's happening to organic farmers here isn't really different from what's happened with thousands or even millions of very small businesses across the country.  For the last 40 years, the rich have been relentlessly bleeding the lower classes, especially in areas like education (less money for public colleges and training, greater levels of education debt), health care, and retirement security.  Every kind of work where there's no advantage to scale -- farmers, teachers, barbers and beauticians, you name it -- people lead economic lives that are more and more precarious over time.  Organic farmers are just another example of it.

    I'm not convinced, though, that Baumol's ideas are the best description of the problem here.  Because the problem is less about increased productivity than how that productivity is distributed.  If people employed in manufacturing actually got the fruits of their labors, then people would be able to pay more for food, more for education, and more for Mozart.  But they don't see the fruits of their labor.  The people who manage them get somewhat more of the benefit than regular works.  But the people who simply supply the capital have gotten all of this money.  And they don't need that much more educational services, hair cuts, or public art.  Nor, given their general attitudes, culture or ethics, do those people particular care about the vast majority of Americans.

    This is yet another symptom of the greater disease: maldistribution of income reduces opportunity not only directly (the workers), but indirectly, by impoverishing the customers of musicians, of teachers, and of organic farmers.

    Quote of the week: "They call themselves bipartisan because they're able to buy members of both parties," (R. Eskow, Campaign for America's Future.)

    by mbayrob on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 06:15:45 PM PST

    •  Thanks for writing that comment better than I (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mbayrob

      could.

    •  You are describing what any specialty crop farmer (0+ / 0-)

      faces. I was describing the productivity gap between farmers who choose organic certification and those who don't. The  gap is even larger between organic specialty farmers and commodity crop conventional farmers.

      In as much as the products of small organic specialty crop  farmers face competition from cheap substitutes in the market, then I think that Baumol's cost disease is one of the hurdles they face.

      If incomes for the bottom 40% population were to rise (and it should) the productivity gap would still make life harder for organic farmers.

      •  Income effects and substitution effects (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        wu ming, Deep Dark

        If organic crops are a "superior good" (i.e., if you had the money, you'd buy 'em instead), then the better your customers' income, the better your organic crops will do.

        I don't claim that there can't be an effect of differences in labor productivity between firms or industries.  in theory, if the productivity of labor were higher, you'd think that people working in those firms would get higher wages.

        But we don't live in a theoretical world.  I don't believe for a minute that the way benefits of productivity get divvied up in companies has all that much to do with marginal productivity.  On the other hand, it has a lot to do with the law, custom, and how good the owners are at keeping unions out.  And it seems to me, in the world we actually live in, the effect Baumol was talking about will be limited.

        Microeconomic theory looks at workers as so many interexchangeable parts.  It can be useful to think this way to get an idea of what forces are at work.  But the map is not the territory.  Yogi Berra was right about theory and practice.

        Quote of the week: "They call themselves bipartisan because they're able to buy members of both parties," (R. Eskow, Campaign for America's Future.)

        by mbayrob on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 09:41:02 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I don't disagree (0+ / 0-)

          that a more equitable income distribution driven by higher wages in the bottom 2 or 3 quintiles would help organic farmers, I'm just saying that marketing will still be their primary tool for achieving the price premium that they need to charge because of the productivity gap.

          The doubling program for SNAP benefits for fresh produce will be a boon to small organic specialty crop farmers. But the cost disease problem will still be a hurdle.

    •  I have long wondered (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, melo

      what happens when the rich have all the money and the rest have no income to tax.

      They are utterly dependent on the goods and services produced for profit of all the businesses that pay their customers the money that they need to service their debts and buy their luxuries.

      The tourism business is on its way to collapse as fewer people have money to spend on travel. The airlines need those people to keep flying. The municipalities need those planes to pay for their airports.

      All of those businesses are built on debt that is becoming unpayable, endangering the banks who use the government to milk the public of what remains of the money to keep the economy running, and so it goes.

      When an economy is 70% dependent for its survival on MASS consumption and you keep shrinking the mass that can afford to consume, you MUST reach the tipping point.

      The only real question of the day is how close are we to that.

      The only certainty is that we WILL find out because we cannot stop the process now.

      Until inauguration day The USA is in the greatest danger it has ever experienced.

      by Deep Dark on Sun Feb 02, 2014 at 12:15:50 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Advantage of Capital over Labor (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, occupystephanie

         Capital gets the lions share of benefits from its investment. Work gets very little. As long as we continue to rely on work for our tax income base this will continue. If capital (or any transactions with capital) were taxed and distributed equally as health care, education and a guaranteed minimum income for all, then people would be able to make choices about buying organic or doing work they want to do.

  •  There are many structural disadvantages... (6+ / 0-)

    facing the organic farmer which lie beyond the fact that they are organic. This study of available research finding that yields are lower does not take these into account so their results cannot be considered definitive.

    Agricultural subsidies are structured to favor large chemical-intensive industrial agriculture which places small-scale organic producers at an economic disadvantage. It is not an even playing field at all.

    Additionally research at US land-grant institutions has focused on conventional chemically-intensive agriculture.  We have fallen behind Europe in leading-edge research in organic agriculture. One of the criticisms leveled at our land grant universities has been the lack of investment in truly sustainable agriculture while they pander for corporate grants as USDA funds dry up.

    This metastudy that found organic yields to be lower was essentially an apple and oranges comparison because it did not distinguish between industrial and small-scale organics. The industrial model of scale, efficiency, and mechanization is outdated in the coming difficulties caused by climate change.

    If mankind is to continue to live off the fertile soil of the Earth as they have for millennia, we need to pay attention to that soil. Rather than drenching it in chemicals which increase its need for water and more chemicals, we need to nurture the soil with sustainable organic methods.

    We have it within our power to make the world over again ~ Thomas Paine

    by occupystephanie on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 08:45:49 PM PST

    •  The first meta-analyses was apples to apples. (0+ / 0-)

      From the de Ponti paper

      To test the hypothesis that the organic yield gap increases with the yield level of the conventional system, we analyzed data of five crops, being four crops for which we had most data entries: wheat, corn, barley and potatoes; and the leguminous crop with the highest number of entries: soybean. The number of entries for wheat was sufficiently large for a more detailed analysis, i.e. we analyzed not only all wheat data, but also a subset of wheat data from experimental farms only.

       . . . The meta-analysis resulted in the inclusion of 362 paired sets of organic–conventional yield data in our database.

      The second took the differences of context into consideration:
      Here we use a comprehensive meta-analysis to examine the relative yield performance of organic and conventional farming systems globally. Our analysis of available data shows that, overall, organic yields are typically lower than conventional yields. But these yield differences are highly contextual, depending on system and site characteristics, and range from 5% lower organic yields (rain-fed legumes and perennials on weak-acidic to weak-alkaline soils), 13% lower yields (when best organic practices are used), to 34% lower yields (when the conventional and organic systems are most comparable). Under certain conditions—that is, with good management practices, particular crop types and growing conditions—organic systems can thus nearly match conventional yields, whereas under others it at present cannot.
      The evidence that organic methods are better for the environment than best practices conventional is thin at best and false if you really look at the weight of the evidence, but that's a debate for another diary.
      •  Execellent discussions of the Seufert paper (0+ / 0-)

        can be found here and here.

        •  There's a lot of science out there supporting GMOs (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RiveroftheWest

          mostly industry funded. USDA funds have been strangled so researchers are left with industry to finance their research. Researchers whose work is not flattering to the industry even find their papers retracted after having gone through the considerable hurdles of publication.

          I liked the comment by the authors of the Committee on Publication Ethics in response to your diary on the retraction of the Serilini paper which was critical of GMOs.

          ...Mr. Brazeau argues that the conflicts of interests of those in the orchestrated letters to the editor are beside the point because their criticisms are valid. He seems to view conflicts of interest as only a petty annoyance, or as a red herring. In fact, industry-paid researchers will always have more resources and incentives to drown out the voices of non-industry-paid researchers, and that fact interferes with the self-correcting nature of science.

          Mr. Brazeau’s claim is a classic "the ends justify the means" argument that is only attractive to those who concur with the result. A strong, well-subscribed publication standard, such as that of the Committee on Publication Ethics, provides justification not only for actions that some approve of, but for what is right and just. Ethical standards provide the bulwark that helps protect science from fraud, error, and commercial interests. In this case, the editors’ actions violated the international standard for the peer review and publication process.

          Thomas G. Sherman, PhD
           Adriane Fugh-Berman, MD

          We have it within our power to make the world over again ~ Thomas Paine

          by occupystephanie on Sun Feb 02, 2014 at 09:43:08 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Also commodity crop subisidies are (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      FG

      equally available to organic producers of barley, corn, grain sorghum, oats, canola, crambe, flax, mustard, rapeseed, saffl ower, sesame and sunflower, including oil and non-oil varieties, peanuts.

      Specialty crop organic producers are eligible for the same blockgrant programs, farmers market support, farm to school programs, etc as conventional specialty crop producers.

      My analysis regarding Baumol's and organic producers is largely addressed to the productivity gap between organic specialty crop producers and conventional, not between small organic produce growers and large conventional commodity crop producers.

      I'm saying something very specific. A boiler plate indictment of industrial agriculture doesn't address what I've written.

  •  Thanks for the explanation of "Baumol's disease", (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marc brazeau, Leftcandid

    and the clip from Suroweiki.

    I've been aware of the issue for many years (I was a teacher in a prior career), but I'd never seen such a clear explanation.

  •  It is small wonder that... (8+ / 0-)

    small scale organic farmers may not measure up judged by industrial agriculture standards when the system is set up expressly for agribusiness.

    In the face of climate change, the conventional chemical-intensive agribusiness needs be abandoned for a more sustainable model if we are to feed the world.

    According to the 2013 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTD) Wake Up Before Its Too Late prepared by 50 international experts this transition is vital.

    Given the right conditions and targeted support, small farmers can unleash a new and sustainable agricultural revolution, the United Nations environment agency a partner agricultural development organization reported today on the eve of World Environment Day.

    According to the report, Smallholders, Food Security and the Environment, an estimated 2.5 billion people who manage 500 million smallholder farm households provide over 80 per cent of the food consumed in much of the developing world, particularly Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

    The report, commissioned by the UN Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), also shows that most of the 1.4 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day live in rural areas and depend largely on agriculture for their livelihoods.

    Two decades of underinvestment in agriculture, growing competition for land and water, rising fuel and fertilizer prices, and climate change have left smallholders less able to escape poverty,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director.

    “Smallholder farmers can continue to be marginalized or be recognized as catalysts for a transformation of the way the world manages the supply of food and the environmental services that underpin agriculture in the first place,” Mr. Steiner added in a joint news release by UNEP and IFAD.

    The currently favored model of agribusiness is unsustainable because it is heavily dependent on fossil fuels and chemicals. Particularly as we enter the very real consequences of climate change, we need to think of the future not short term profits.

    We have it within our power to make the world over again ~ Thomas Paine

    by occupystephanie on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 09:36:45 PM PST

  •  Economy of scale needs a good ass kicking. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest

    And the only way I can see to really, fundamentally do that is via restructured subsidies.

    The current corn subsidy needs to go.  So do any subsidies for equipment developed to meet the ag needs that subsidy created.  An organics subsidy of some kind is required, as will subsidizing greenhouses on a larger scale--what's called vertical farming, in which weather & pest factors are (largely) eliminated by tech-environmental controls.  Chemical fertilizers & pest/weed control must be disincentivized; human labor-intensive farming must be reintroduced, displacing massive machines in outdoor farming.  That will relocalize the whole endeavor, as locals will use their own pay to buy the food they produced, which should disincentivize long distance crop transport.

    This is all very general, but it sketches a model that sustains in both ecololgical and economic terms.  And it will have to be a slow rolling implementation that will require people to remain on the same page for at least a generation, so...  we'd better get on that same, anti-corporatist, pro-sustainability-for-all page right the eff now.

    It's time to start letting sleeping dinosaurs lie, lest we join them in extinction by our consumption of them.

    by Leftcandid on Sun Feb 02, 2014 at 08:03:32 AM PST

  •  Sorry, but (0+ / 0-)

    what the heck does productivity have to do with wages?

    Generally, productivity growth is a boon, but it creates problems for non-productive enterprises like classical music, education, and car repair: to keep luring talent, they have to increase wages, or else people eventually migrate to businesses that pay better.
    Increased productivity hasn't resulted in increased wages for workers in like 30+ years, so why would those jobs pay better than those that don't increase productivity?

    If you aren't outraged, you are an idiot

    by indefinitelee on Sun Feb 02, 2014 at 09:26:54 AM PST

  •  Well..... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, occupystephanie

    Any differences in yield are a result of chemical farming's use of herbicides and pesticides to control weeds and pests. Also, so-called "conventional" farming (there's nothing conventional about it) relies on mechanization of huge swaths of ag land (economies of scale). Relying on petroleum based chemicals and industrial mechanization for our food system is not sustainable. As petroleum continues to rise in price, so do chemical inputs. So I don't see a widening gap over time between the two farming methods. In fact, chemical farming's externalization of costs has just about run its course (there's only so much ag land so efficiencies of scale have all but been realized, and the days of cheap oil are long gone). With rising costs of oil chemical farmers have and will raise prices. Factor in rising transportation costs and you can see how our food system is experiencing price increases. Expect more of that.

    Organic produce is the fastest growing sector in the food industry. Watch as General Mills touts "GMO FREE!" Cheerios. Even the big dogs can see the writing on the wall. Organic farming is growing and will continue to do so. This is a good thing. Yes human labor has costs. But so does persistent chemical inputs (why don't we factor in those costs when comparing efficiencies?).

  •  Windmills (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marc brazeau, RiveroftheWest

     you can't put windmills in cities but farms are great places for them. Also electric tractors, trucks to haul produce charged by wind would cut a Farmer's costs, with wind you can power and heat year round green houses.

  •  Late to weigh in... (3+ / 0-)

    FWIW, I'm mostly knee-jerk reacting to the "organic yields are consistently lower than conventional" line. I do have a couple of friends who started their own CSA farm --they had to get loan funding through the Farm Bureau to get going, and at one point they calculated out the startup costs of a new farm (small vegetables, say 40 acres) to be equivalent to medical school loans ($250,000, if I recall correctly). It's a tough business to break into if you don't have land.

    I have a few issues with this diary, but that's mostly because I'm on the environmental/agricultural science side, not the policy or advocacy side. I'll probably put together a diary in response, from the ag research side -- there are other more important aspects of organic ag than hand waving over stats with huge standard errors.

    Here is a more updated (and lay-person friendly) digest of the Rodale Systems Trial to replace the Cornell ecommons document you cite: pdf

    I'd also like to emphasize the following from the Foley abstract.

    Our analysis of available data shows that, overall, organic yields are typically lower than conventional yields. But these yield differences are highly contextual, depending on system and site characteristics, and range from 5% lower organic yields (rain-fed legumes and perennials on weak-acidic to weak-alkaline soils), 13% lower yields (when best organic practices are used), to 34% lower yields (when the conventional and organic systems are most comparable). Under certain conditions—that is, with good management practices, particular crop types and growing conditions—organic systems can thus nearly match conventional yields, whereas under others it at present cannot.
    The journal Agricultural Systems has a really low impact factor, and though I run more in land use change circles, I do know most of the main ag journals. I haven't heard of this one. It's hard to put it on the same level as Foley's Nature paper.

    But, if you go look at the figures in that paper, none of those trends are strong. An R2 (r-squared) value on a trend can be treated a little like a proportion. It describes the proportion of variation that the trend-line accounts for in the data. In biomedical/biochemistry lab fields, they wouldn't even think of presenting a trend with and R2 less than 0.90. In ecology and environmental sciences, we're more forgiving because environmental variation mucks things up, but the only statistically significant trends are  a) with R2= 0.12 and f) R2 = 0.30, especially with such low sample sizes. It isn't a result to give a lot of weight to.

  •  As someone just starting an organic farm, (4+ / 0-)

    a couple of things come to mind. My farm is less a farm, more a large garden. It's purpose is to take land inherited from my parents and put it to productive use. This land has never been subject to chemical sprays or fertilizers, so it is suitable for food production using organic methods.

    My family's goal is to take this good land and raise healthful food for ourselves. Fruit, vegetables, poultry, a few larger animals. Eventually some hydroponics/ aquaponics for clean healthful fish -- no heavy metals. Solar panels to supply the relatively small amounts of electricity we'll need, and a water catchment/storage system.

    We have enough land to provide the family with better food at lower cost than we can buy. Thousands like us are doing the same thing, as more people realize what a difference good healthful food makes in one's life. And as we grow, there'll be enough of that good food to sell at the local Farmers' Markets or to local restaurants. Good local organic food will never entirely take the place of commercially produced products, but it will give more people the option of food that is fresher, more flavorful and produced by people they know.

    We're not planning to get rich. We're planning to raise good food sustainably.

    •  Your comment perfectly describes... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest

      what a local food system is.

      I have 400 sq feet of good food-growing raised beds for my family and chickens on my urban plot, I sell eggs to my neighbors and am part of the local food system.

      Three local organic farmers went to court over two years and recently won the right to place a local Food Systems ordinance on the ballot. Part of the Community Rights Movement, these local efforts joined together can overcome corporate agriculture hegemony nationally.

      Check out the ordinance here.

      We the people of Benton County have the right to a local food system and seed heritage that does not harm the right of natural communities to exist, persist, and flourish; adapts to local growing conditions; promotes biodiversity, resilience, and productivity; and provides for the social, equitable, nutritional, economic, and cultural enhancement of the quality of life for all residents of Benton County
      .

      It is important to note that this initiative was not challenged on the basis of the natural rights of citizens to self-governance. We just haven't claimed those rights in a very long time.

      We have it within our power to make the world over again ~ Thomas Paine

      by occupystephanie on Mon Feb 03, 2014 at 10:55:14 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I tend to pay higher dollars for organic food, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest

    and I'm glad to do it. Unfortunately not everyone can do as I do, so we need to push higher wages so everyone can be able to do so. It's just better for everyone in the end.

    It is every person's obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what they takes out of it. - Albert Einstein (edited for modern times to include everyone by me!)

    by LeftieIndie on Mon Feb 03, 2014 at 05:52:22 AM PST

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