Report outlines economic barriers to transitioning to organic

Update from CCOF Inc.

CCOF recently released a report on economic barriers to organic transition that synthesizes discussions from two focus groups in June 2015. CCOF hosted the focus groups under a contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) through its Sound and Sensible Initiative, an effort to make organic certification accessible, attainable, and affordable.

The focus group participants included non-organic producers, organic producers, representatives from mixed operations that produce both organic and non-organic products, economic development experts, policy experts, and other organic business stakeholders. The focus group discussions had two parts. First, participants identified economic barriers to the transition of existing agricultural land to organic production. Second, participants brainstormed policies, private industry models, and other options to remove barriers to transition. The following presents a summary of the discussions.

 Barriers to transition

Four primary themes emerged from the discussions concerning barriers to transition: 

  1. The three-year organic transition period poses numerous challenges, including need for capital investment, high operating costs, risk management, and regulatory compliance costs at the same time that product is not yet eligible for the organic price premium.
  2. There is inadequate information to sufficiently develop business plans or economic models for transition.
  3. Public investment in organic agriculture research, technical support and education is not sufficient to meet the needs of existing, expanding, and future organic producers.
  4. Access to land and capital are significant challenges for farmers in high-cost regions of the U.S.

Methods to overcome barriers

No single method to remove barriers to transition was the most obvious solution. Instead, participants weighed the costs and benefits of each barrier. From these conversations, five key considerations for removing barriers to transition emerged:

  • Develop solutions for the most challenging barriers—land and labor—in high-cost regions of the United States.
  • Develop public investment in research and tech assistance, and consider public investment in transition programs.
  • Develop accessible sources of organic market information. 
  • Develop transitional tools, such as a certified transitional label or certified transitional program, and continue communication and education about opportunities for organic production.
  • Develop education tools and resources such as finance and technical assistance for new, beginning, and next generation farmers. 

Key focus group takeaways

  • Participants identified a number of interrelated barriers, and did not develop a specific method to overcome these barriers. Nonetheless, the following takeaways from the discussions should help shape future efforts to understand and remove barriers to transition: 
  • Educate policymakers and public officials about the challenges and opportunities of organic transition
  • Identify and gather economic information to inform transitional strategies.
  • Support new, beginning, and next-generation organic farmers with the information and resources they need to survive through the transition period.
  • Work to overcome land access barriers
  • Explore strategies for overcoming labor shortages.

Next steps 

CCOF will incorporate the identified economic barriers, potential solutions, and key takeaways into our ongoing work to support organic transition. For example, CCOF may include a workshop on labor issues and organic transition at the CCOF Annual Conference, scheduled for February 2016 in Sacramento, CA.

Additionally, CCOF will work with OTA’s Transitional Certification Task Force to weigh in on a transitional certification program to support the growth of organic. Read CCOF’s Report on Economic Barriers to Transition.  //

Kelly Damewood is CCOF's Policy Director