Though consumers have been purchasing organic products by the bucket load, and the industry is expected to grow like wildfire into 2020, only 1 percent of all farmland currently used in America is used to grow organic food.
Americans have already spent $43 billion on organic food products in 2016, but we may not be able to keep up with the demand if things don’t change.
Here’s why America doesn’t have enough organic farmland even though the demand for pesticide-free food is at an all-time high: It’s a three-step juggle for organic farmers to try to grow food in the industrial agricultural food model.
Would-be organic farmers first have to deal with the high costs of becoming certified to grow organic food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a very stringent process in order for farmers to be able to stamp their food with the USDA Organic label and, even then, consumers can’t always be assured of 100 percent organic food. Generally speaking, food grown with this label must be hormone- and pesticide-free.
Just under a decade ago, it only cost farmers around $200 to become certified-organic. It now costs almost a $1,000, a 500 percent increase, along with an avalanche of paperwork that farmers must complete.
Many organic farmers also found out through applying for this label that there are glaring loopholes meant for Big Agribusiness.
For example, chickens are required to be fed antibiotic- and pesticide-free food to be certified USDA organic, but the agency has no requirements for how those chickens are otherwise raised. If they spend their lives in a small cage, barely able to move, standing in their own feces — as happens at many factory farms — the USDA will still grant those farmers its organic certification.
The next issue small, organic farmers have to face is the disappearance of arable organic land. Intensive plowing and mono-cropping, along with the wide-scale use of pesticides and herbicides to grow genetically modified food, has led to nutrient-depleted soil that will hardly grow a thing. Soil degradation, alone, has caused a 30 percent decrease in farm efficiency in recent years.
Corporate agricultural practices have also contaminated our waterways and killed off beneficial bees and butterflies, as well as other pollinators that aid an organic farmer in pollinating their crops.
Finally, land grabs by big food companies, which once fought GMO labeling so that they could continue selling us food laced with pesticides and herbicides, have made affordable, fertile soil for the small organic farmer hard to come by. CNBC correspondent, Constance Gustke, wrote,
[I]ndividual investors, for the most part, have stayed away from the big agricultural bets being placed on global food demand increasing over time, driving up land prices even further. Institutions, like the mega pension fund TIAA-CREF, the super-wealthy investor set and overseas agricultural giants are still snapping up land this year, and potentially scouting what will seem like bargains years from now as farm real estate values have started to decline.
General Mills, which once contributed millions to the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, an organization known for illegally swaying voters in numerous state ballot initiatives to determine GMO labeling, is doubling down on organic-suitable land. They plan to more than double their acreage to 250,000 by 2019.