While the need for organic food is growing fast, organic food sales still account for a relatively small share of the total U.S. food market. Since 2000, organic food sales have exhibited a yearly double-digit growth, providing opportunities for U.S. organic farmers to enter high-value markets in the United States and other countries.
According to an annual survey of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Colorado’s organic agricultural industry has more than doubled in sales in the past three years. In an email to The Denver Post, Tom Lipetzky, the director of marketing programs and strategic initiatives at the Colorado Department of Agriculture, said that today’s consumers are more and more engaged in their food purchases. Not only do they want to know where their food is coming from, but they also want to know how it was produced. (RELATED: read more about clean, organic foods at Ingredients.news.)
Organic farmland in Colorado covers more than 155,000 acres, with another 70,000 acres dedicated to organic pasture- and rangeland. While the transition to organic farming methods can be expensive, time-consuming, and almost always comes with a high amount of crop loss, this isn’t stopping many farmers from making the switch.
In 1907, the Hungenberg family started a farm on 7 acres, which has now grown to 4,000 acres. With the growing organic food trend, co-owner Jordan Hungenberg said they didn't want to be left behind, so they decided to make the switch slowly. Last year they dedicated about 62 acres of their farmland to growing carrots using organic farming methods.
While they lost more than half of their crop during their first year and had to hire more people, Hungenberg noted that all in all it was a success. They even made a little money out of the harvest, and are now planning to triple their planting of organic carrots for next season.
With the growing population of health-conscious people in mind, many farmers across Colorado see the potential long-term benefits they will get from making the switch. Becca Jablonski, an assistant professor and food systems extension economist at Colorado State University, said that farmers who sell their USDA “certified organic” produce to major supermarkets are on the right track to ensure financial success. Today’s consumers are more and more drawn to foods which bear the certified organic sticker to protect their families from the harmful effects of GMOs and pesticides. (RELATED: Stay informed about the damaging effects of pesticides at Pesticides.news.)
Tim Ferrell, owner of Berry Patch Farms in Brighton, added that he has seen the positive effect the USDA “certified organic” sticker has on food sales. While also drawn to the premium sales prices of organic food, using organic farming methods has brought him peace of mind.
“We just do not feel comfortable using fertilizers that would infiltrate the water table,” he said.
Though many farmers complain about the higher cost, research into organic farming methods that reduce the cost and crop loss are booming. According to Kaylee Armstrong of Abundant Life Organic Farms in Hotchkiss, non-chemical products that can be used are becoming more and more available. She even said that they increased the prices of their organic foods to match those of conventional growers. However, this is not a benefit all organic farmers are experiencing just yet. Therefore, special programs exist to help farmers with the costs involved in transitioning to certified organic farming methods.
Colorado’s dry climate seems to be the perfect fit to grow organic crops. There is one thing in the organic evolution, however, that troubles Kaylee Armstrong: the introduction of large food corporations to the market.
“We don’t want to see them lobbying the government to make regulations lower,” she said, which could result in a lower quality of organic food. “We’ve already seen it in the egg industry,” she said.