Demand for organic foods continues to grow at double-digit rates, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Yet, certified organic production accounts for less than 1 percent of the U.S. market and even less in Indiana. With a grant from the USDA’s North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington scholars James Farmer and Analena Bruce are working to change these statistics and help conventional crop farmers make the shift to certified organic production.
“Farmers with certified organic products report increased profitability, improved soil health, and improved quality of life through enhanced economic stability,” Farmer said. “All of these factors are used to determine sustainability in agriculture, so the more farmers we can move toward organic production, the better we’re promoting sustainability and environmental health.”
The research team, led by Dr. Tamara Benjamin and Michael O’Donnell from Purdue University, will survey and interview Indiana grain farmers–those who use conventional farming methods, those interested in organic methods, and those who are already certified organic–to identify the biggest barriers to becoming certified organic as well as the most helpful resources for farmers looking to move their farms to this type of production. Farmer and Bruce from the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington, and Benjamin, O’Donnell, and Ariana Torres from Purdue are working with a farmer advisory board to guide both the research and outreach components of the project.
“With the help of this grant, we’ll be able to provide education and outreach, construct a farmer-buyer gap analysis, provide resource publications, and learn from a variety of farmers all with the goal of increasing the viability of organic grain production in Indiana,” said Farmer.
When this research is completed in 2020, Farmer and the research team plan for Indiana grain farmers to be more informed about new marketing opportunities and resources for transitioning to organic approaches, and to have built relationships and connections between farmers, grain buyers and certifying agencies.
“I don’t see the demand for and importance of organic farming decreasing,” Farmer explained. “Wider adoption of organic practices and organic certification offers important economic opportunities for farmers and contributes to the long-term sustainability by using practices that increase soil and plant health, and protect waterways. It’s a win for everyone.”