Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Problem with Organic Food

Beyond meeting certain aesthetic desires, however, the case for local and organic agriculture breaks down. In a recent New York Times op-ed, chef and small-farm advocate Dan Barber noted that a four-acre farm in the United States nets, on average, $1,400 per acre, while a 1,364-acre farm nets $39 an acre. This is supposed to demonstrate that small farms are significantly more productive than large farms; in fact, it does nothing of the sort. What Barber’s statistic shows is that the crops being grown on very small farms are different from the crops being grown on large farms, and that the sorts of crops that make financial sense to grow on small, labor-intensive plots are expensive to cultivate and therefore expensive to buy. No matter what breed of corn you cultivate, there is no meaningful market demographic that will allow you to net $1,400 an acre for it.

Maximum input for minimal income.


missred said...

my grocers offer organic and "regular" foods. i don't notice the difference visually and fortunately they keep the prices the within reason. i wash all fresh produce anyway so ...
besides, there is nothing like a few pesticides to keep the immune system working hard, hence i ward off sickness easier than most. ;)

Anonymous said...

Kae. I was looking at an organic produce wholesale business for sale last year, and 90% of its produce was imported in bulk, unlabelled, from at least a dozen different countries.

I asked the question 'how do you know that this produce is produced organically as per Australia's requirements' 'We don't' was the answer.

The overseas produce arrived in bulk and was packaged by these Australians who had the word 'organic' all over the labels they produced.

This produce can be seen in all sorts of shops in my region. Pharmacies, health shops, fruit markets etc. And it's all one big fraud.


kae said...

Hi Mehaul
I'll bet the product sourced overseas is much cheaper than what they can buy same for in Australia. Add the premium because it's "organic", bonanza!
So, someone's ripping someone else off... what a surprise!

Boy on a bike said...

My local supermarket put in a big organic section last year. They've now taken most of it out - no one was buying it.

It might sell well in some exclusive, chardonnay swilling suburbs, but outside of those, it is buggered (and I live 5 minutes from Balmain by the way, on the wrong side of the "organic" boundary obviously).

Boy on a bike said...

Which farmer would you rather be?

Farmer A does back breaking manual labour on a four acre plot, and earns 4 x $1400 per year =$5,600.

Farmer B does less manual work, relying on tractors and other mechanical aids to farm a 1364 acre plot, earning 1364 x $39 per year = $53,196.

Apparently greenies don't make good accountants either.

RebeccaH said...

Our supermarkets in the US all have "organic" sections for those people willing to spend more. I've yet to detect the difference in the produce. I suppose it's the difference between someone who squats in a field picking bugs off by hand and someone spraying acres in a plane with a bug killer (which hasn't killed me yet, even after all these decades).

Anonymous said...

Rebecca. It's a similar story with eggs from battery hens and those from free range hens.

The eggs are very similar in most ways. One is just expected to pay more for the free range eggs as a way of 'showing how you feel' to those managing battery hen operations.

It will never achieve much other than make those purchasing free range eggs feel a bit better about themselves.