Iowa farmer: ‘I think there’s a need’ for more organic operations

Published: Sep. 26, 2022 at 11:04 PM CDT
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BRIGHTON, Iowa (KCRG) - The demand for organic produce is outpacing what farmers can grow.

According to the USDA, the number of conventional farms newly transitioning to organic production dropped by about 70% from 2008 to 2019. Organic comprises about 6% of overall food sales, but only 1% of the country’s farmland is in organic production.

At the same time, annual sales of organic products have roughly doubled in the past decade and now top $63 billion, according to the Organic Trade Association. Sales are projected to climb up to 5.5% this year.

Kim Andersen, who owns a farm near Brighton, is one of the Iowa farmers who does grow organic.

“I’ve had cancer twice. And I feel like that, you know, I needed to eliminate a lot of chemicals. And the number one thing that has chemicals is food,” said Andersen.

Her reasons aren’t just personal, though.

“As soon as a few grocery stores found out that I was growing organic blueberries, they were knocking down my door. They would buy everything fresh or frozen that I would bring to them,” she added.

“Most farmers like to do an enterprise budget and figure out what’s going to be the potential income and expense. And when I did that—my husband’s a numbers person....he said it was a no-brainer,” said Andersen. “I mean, the potential is great. I mean, we’ve contracted our beans this year for $38 a bushel. It’s pretty good price. And that’s more than if they were conventional beans.”

Drew Erickson manages the Rodale Institute’s Midwest Organic Center near Marion. He also has seen an increase in demand for organics during his time in the industry.

He said of the Rodale Institute, “I think that’s why we’re here in Iowa, is that demand.”

He speculates one barrier that keeps farmers from going organic is the process.

“There’s some cost issues involved in getting certified organic,” said Erickson. “It’s a lot of my time to be certified organic as far as the paperwork involved.”

Anderson, who’s a teacher, said she doesn’t find research and paperwork to be a challenge. She thinks the barriers have to do with the difference in the actual farming.

“Weeds, this. You know, hard work. They want to do everything mechanically. And some things you can do mechanically with weed control, but maybe more time researching and figuring it out since they’ve been using chemicals for a long time,” said Andersen.

For Andersen, despite challenges, organic was the choice that made sense.

“What kind of legacy are we going to leave? So, I feel like that is what we’re working on right now,” said Andersen.