Organic Ag wakes up and smells the coffee — and the apples, berries and wheat | KEYE Austin - Green Right Now Austin News, Weather, Traffic KEYE-TV Austin - HOME
Jul 232009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

I always wonder when grocery shopping, where is all this organic food coming from? The stores are trumpeting the number of organic produce items they offer. Consumers are demanding more organic options. Yet the whole industrial-ag system has been oriented to conventional, chemical farming for decades. How can farmers keep up? It takes three years to convert land to certified organic production — and there are uncertainties in the market.

Today’s report Organic Agriculture Expands to Meet Growing Demand from the WorldWatch Institute suggests that farmers are trying and fewer are sitting on the fence.

The global analysis found that the amount of land devoted to organic agriculture more than doubled between 2000 and 2007, which saw 32.3 million hectares in production worldwide (a 118 percent increase). However, that’s still less than 1 percent of agricultural land being actively farmed.

Among the findings:

  • Consumers spent $46 billion on organic food and drinks in 2007, with the US and European Union accounting for most of this consumption (of course).
  • Asia’s organic food markets grew significantly in both China and India, where concerns about food safety contribute to this development.
  • Large companies are buying up organic labels, leading to a trend in processed organic foods and global sourcing and international trading. This has consequences as large companies trade internationally and use global sources to meet consumer demands. (In other words, the carbon footprints can rise, and organic products can undergo processing that may not be a healthy development.)
  • The growth of organic farming worldwide can have a positive effect on climate change by reducing greenhouse gases associated with conventional farming and its chemical “inputs” that require more energy and degrade the soil
  • Organic farming can better sequester carbon in soil — and thereby do a better job to mitigate climate change — because it enriches the quality of the land with natural composting and pesticide-free maintenance.

The  takeaway for consumers is not simple. Be glad that farmers are going organic. Look for them at your farmer’s market and wherever you shop. Buy locally grown produce locally. Ask where stuff has come from and get it in season. All that…

But also understand that farming is region-specific. Coffee and cocoa, for instance, must be shipped from tropical producer-nations to consumer regions (you guessed it, Europe and the US). In Mexico, the report points out, many small farmers depend on these industrialized markets. So look for organically grown or shade-grown coffee, but don’t expect it to come from Ohio.

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