Strong Demand for Organics– Major Food Brands Helping to Underwrite the Switch from Conventional Production

Stephanie Strom reported on the front page of the business section in today’s New York Times that, “The last time Wendell Naraghi tried to make money from organic nuts, in the 1980s, he failed miserably.

“‘Basically, we stopped because no one paid me,’ said Mr. Naraghi, whose father started the family’s large nut orchards here in the Central Valley in the 1940s. ‘There just was no market premium for organic.’

“Today, the problem is turned upside down: Companies can’t get enough organic ingredients to satisfy consumer desire for organic and nongenetically modified foods. The demand for those crops outstrips the supply, leaving farmers like Mr. Naraghi racing to convert their land to organic production, an arduous and expensive process.”

Ms. Strom explained that, “The clamor for organic crops is so intense that major food brands, like General Mills, Kellogg and Ardent Mills, are helping to underwrite the switch. General Mills, for instance, recently signed a deal to help convert about 3,000 acres to organic production of alfalfa and other animal feeds. Ardent offers farmers a premium for crops grown on land while a farm transitions to organic.”

Today’s article pointed out that, “The amount of farmland devoted to organic food is tiny. In the most recent government tally, in 2011, organic farmland, including that used for grazing, was less than 1 percent of crop land in the United States.

But the consumer demand is accelerating the conversion process. Sales of organic products grew 11 percent last year to $43.3 billion, or roughly four times the growth in sales of food products over all, according to the Organic Trade Association. Sales would have been even higher had supply, particularly in organic dairy and grains, kept up with demand.”

Ms. Strom noted that, “Ardent’s plan to help farmers, for instance, pays them more for crops grown on land undergoing the three-year transition and helps them choose rotational crops they can sell to supplement their income;” and, “Kashi, the cereal business, has developed a program called Certified Transitional to label products made from ingredients grown on land that is in transition.”

The Times article added that, “[David Denholm, chief executive of Kashi, a unit of the Kellogg Company] said that, given current trends, as much as 20 percent of cropland in America could be organic in the next decade or so, but land suitable for transition is getting harder to come by.”

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