Organic Farming as a Green Jobs Strategy? Demand for Organics to Stimulate 42,000 Jobs

by Cole Mellino

A new report released this week finds that demand for organics may create up to 42,000 jobs by 2015, up from 14,000 today.

That’s only a fraction of the 980,000 farmers in the U.S. But the organization that released the report, the Organic Farming Research Foundation, is calling on Congress to consider the growing economic impact of organic farming as it reconfigures the 2012 farm bill. Due to the rapid growth in consumer demand for organics and the labor-intensity of organic farming, OFRF says that job creation in the sector can more than double the rate of the conventional sector:

As our country has been dramatically affected by the worst economic downturn in 80 years, the organic industry has remained in positive growth territory and has come out of the recession hiring employees, adding farmers, and increasing revenue. The organic industry has grown from $3.6 billion in 1997 to $29 billion in 2010, with an annual growth rate of 19 percent from 1997- 2008. The organic agriculture sector grew by 8 percent in 2010.

The latest data indicate that 96 percent of organic operations nation-wide are planning to maintain or increase employment levels in 2011. Organic farms hired an average of 61 year-round employees compared with 28 year-round employees hired on conventional farms, according to a recent survey of organic and conventional farmers in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi.

In order to stimulate more jobs in organic farming, OFRF is calling on Congress to increase funding or research in the sector, create financial coverage for farms that are contaminated by neighboring genetically modified crops, extend insurance for cover crops, increase pesticide regulation, and enable the military and other government institutions to purchase more organics for food programs.

These policies will not only help expand job creation in the sector, they’ll also support a set of farming practices that is better equipped to handle the environmental stresses of climate change. Another report released this week from the Rodale Institute found that over a 30-year study of corn, soybean crop yields were the exact same under both conventional and organic agriculture.

But when groundwater discharge, crop performance during drought and soil health, the organic crops performed far better. The report also found that between 2008 and 2010, the average net economic return from organic crops were nearly three times that of conventional crops.

Clearly, organic farming should be an important piece of our economic-development strategy. Here are some important facts to consider as lawmakers consider changes to the upcoming farm bill:

  • Organics are better for the economy because the organic industry has continued to grow for the past two decades and grew 8% in 2010, a year in which the overall economy grew less than 2%.
  • Organics are better for soil and water quality because it builds up the soil, retains water, and prevents erosion and runoff. Conventional farming only depletes the soil, wastes water, and leads to massive erosion and runoff.
  • Organics are better for addressing climate change because the practice allows for more carbon sequestration in soils. According to the OFRF report, “world soils, if managed carefully, could capture an estimated 5-15% of global carbon emissions. Furthermore, conventional farming produces 40% more greenhouse gases than organic farming.
  • Organics are necessary for mitigating climate change because the practice is better equipped to handle the extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods, heat waves, and major storms, which will become more and more common in the face of a changing climate.

Despite all these benefits, the era of cheap, abundant fossil fuels have propped up environmentally-disastrous farming practices. Far too few of our public resources have been invested in organic agriculture. As members of Congress consider what policies to promote in the upcoming farm bill, they need to look at the overwhelming evidence in favor of organic agriculture.

— Cole Mellino, Center for American Progress intern

11 Responses to Organic Farming as a Green Jobs Strategy? Demand for Organics to Stimulate 42,000 Jobs

  1. SecularAnimist says:

    The OFRF report, as well as earlier studies by the Rodale Institute, show that organic agriculture can sequester very significant amounts of carbon in soils. Which is one of many great reasons for encouraging the growth of organic agriculture all over the world.

    However, it is important that this should NOT be viewed as a strategy for offsetting ongoing CO2 emissions. We need to end ALL emissions NOW.

    But in addition to that, we also need to draw down the already dangerous anthropogenic excess of CO2. Organic agriculture, in conjunction with massive reforestation, can do that.

  2. Tyro says:

    Are any of those claims even remotely true? What are your sources?

    Among my many problems with organic farming is their dogmatic anti-science stance especially with respect to GMO and new fertilizers. Something is organic if it is “natural” (according to their bizarre set of rules), regardless of how water-intensive, healthful, environmental or costly it might be.

    If a GMO provides better nutrition (as engineered cassava and golden rice does) and can prevent blindness or death then we should be supporting it everywhere yet this can, by definition, never be organic. If a GMO is more drought-resistant (or flood-resistant) then it can literally mean the difference between life and death, yet it can never been “organic”. Is this a bad thing?

    Is anyone prepared to say that there can never be an artificial fertilizer or pesticide that is superior to a “natural” one? (And yes, organic farms do use both fertilizers and pesticides.)

    What if organic farms required more land or water use for an equivalent yield, wouldn’t we re-think our support in a time when food prices are spiking and people are going hungry?

    If we are serious about fixing problems, then our strategy should incorporate the best tools of science and industrial practice. Excluding huge swaths based purely on a quasi-religions notion of “natural” makes no sense. It certainly is not going to help us feed the world or reduce our emissions.

  3. BA says:

    There is a lot of information out there supporting not just organic farming (which can be large scale and corporate), but smaller scale, biologically diverse farms and a move toward perennial crops. This is not a new understanding at all. The knowledge that industrial farming is causing massive top soil loss and is unsustainable goes back to at least the beginning of the twentieth century. The family farm has all but disappeared in the corporate quest for control of every potential profit center in the world and in recent years corporations have embarked on a Faustian attempt to bring nature to heel in service of their bottom line with GM crops. Take a good look at the GM industry and I’ll be surprised if you are not creeped out.

    We need to reverse the flow of people out of rural America and bring back small family farms and the expertise they require. Part of the reason there was not more hunger in America during the Great Depression is because a lot more people farmed.

    For good reading on sustainable agriculture see works by Wendell Barry and Wes Jackson of the Land Institute, and A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil by Sharon Astyk and Aaron Newton—a very good read.

  4. Adrian says:


    with all due respect, and to begin with last things first, let’s leave off semantic arguments about the definition of the word “natural” that don’t address the real question. In addition, calling something “quasi-religious” doesn’t really make a point.

    You do bring up important points about the need for more nutritional foods. However, I suggest that you do more research on just what organic and other forms of sustainable agriculture are and how they achieve their results. I assure you there is plenty of science involved!

    In addition, scientific method requires that we keep questioning scientific and industrial best practices in light of new information. And lately, the new (and not-so-new) information regarding industrial agriculture indicates a need for improvement, because of the negative effects on the environment and human health.

  5. Adrian says:

    OFRF’s effort to secure public funding for organic agriculture couldn’t come at a better time. Of course I’m biased–my community college is creating a sustainable ag program with a view towards helping our students take part in projected employment growth in this sector. We’re starting curriculum meetings next week.

  6. Tyro says:

    Adrian – How else would you describe the rules to qualify for being organic? They have nothing to do with sustainability, water usage, nutrition, health, energy efficiency, taste, industrialization or any of the other factors we might care about. They are entirely based around the idea that natural is good, unnatural is bad. Period.

    Why not focus on the issues I raised rather than my tone. Why should we exclude GMOs? Why should we exclude whole groups of fertilizers based on their origins and not their effects? Why should we exclude pesticides based on their “naturalness” rather than on their effect on human and soil health?

  7. SecularAnimist says:

    Tyro, with all due respect, you appear to know very little about the realities of organic agriculture — which seems to be willful ignorance, given that you assiduously ignored the multiple scientific studies of organic agriculture mentioned in the article — and your comments are little more than a litany of the chemical agriculture corporations’ talking points and silly name-calling (eg. “quasi-religious”).

  8. Tyro says:

    Adrian – to add, when organic methods have been compared to modern farming methods, they have almost always fared worse. This shouldn’t be any surprise. Farmers want to have land that lasts and to produce food people want to eat so they will do the best that they can. If there are techniques available to organic farming which is superior, then modern farmers can do that as well! What makes organic farms distinctive is not that they are using methods proven to be sustainable or productive (because these are not factors in Organic certification), but rather that Organic farms are prevented from using several farming techniques.

    If you learned that a farmer was spraying their crops with copper (which can build up in soils and water) and Rotenone (a pesticide linked to the development of Parkinson’s), would you approve? What if their fertilizer has lead to the hospitalization and death of dozens or hundreds of consumers every year? That’s what’s really happening with Organic farms and would not be acceptable any where else.

  9. SecularAnimist says:

    Tyro wrote: “when organic methods have been compared to modern farming methods, they have almost always fared worse”

    That’s a blatantly false statement. And of course your implicit statement that organic agriculture is not “modern” is silly.

    I note again that you are assiduously ignoring the studies cited in the article, in particular the 30-year-long (and ongoing) Farming Systems Trial conducted by the Rodale Institute, which has compared organic farming side-by-side with conventional farming, and has consistently demonstrated that organic yields match conventional yields; that organic agriculture outperforms conventional agriculture during droughts; that organic farming uses 45 percent less energy and is more efficient; that conventional farming systems produce 40 percent more greenhouse gases; and organic farming is more profitable than conventional farming.

    And that is just one of many studies (including studies by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization) which have found that organic agriculture is at least as productive as conventional, chemical-based agriculture.

    Now, if you would like to challenge the Rodale results with actual data, and citations to actual studies, then by all means do so. But you have not done that yet — all you have offered is unsupported generalities, unsubstantiated claims, name-calling, and silly talk about “quasi-religion”.

  10. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    Good post. Just as transition from Conventional Energy to Renewables is taking place in US and West besides other countries a transition from Farming with Chemicals may give way to organic farming which will open up more green jobs.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore (AP), India

  11. Tyro says:

    You say I’m ignorant of the scientific studies and am parrotting the industry lines and rather than quote a scientific journal, you give only a non-peer reviewed paper published by an organic farming advocacy and PR group? Double standard much?

    As a couple obvious questions with this study: how did they account for the greenhouse gasses, fuel and land-use of the cattle required to produce the manure for fertilizer? If even a significant minority of farms tried to use fertilizer, we would exhaust current supplies and that’s assuming it gets transported at no environmental cost.

    So let’s try to look at some independent studies:

    No evidence organic food is nutritionally superior and ‘Ken Green, professor of environmental management at MBS, who co-wrote the report, said: “You cannot say that all organic food is better for the environment than all food grown conventionally. If you look carefully at the amount of energy required to produce these foods you get a complicated picture. In some cases, the carbon footprint for organics is larger.”‘

    The “Green Revolution” has lead to “at least 317 billion tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere and possibly as much as 590 billion tons.”

    “The unfortunate truth is that until organic farming can rival the production output of conventional farming, its ecological cost due to the need for space is devastating. As bad as any of the pesticides and fertilizers polluting the world’s waterways from conventional agriculture are, it’s a far better ecological situation than destroying those key habitats altogether.”

    To my mind, the clearest, most obvious problem with Organic is their stance on GMOs. This technology can save lives or stop children from going blind from nutritional deficiencies. It can reduce the need for pesticides and can grow in more diverse areas or require less resources, yet despite all of these advantages, all GMOs are prohibited from being Organic. Why? Exactly these quasi-religious reasons I mentioned – Organic farming is based on nature worship and GMOs aren’t natural enough, so they must always be prohibited. There isn’t any process or procedure whereby even a single GMO can ever be certified. It is a blanket ban based on a view that this technology could contaminate the organic purity (and yes, this is their terminology).

    Read the literature. Their ban only applies to GMOs, never to strains produced by mutagenic chemicals or radiation. Apparently random, uncontrolled mutations are A-OK, but controlled, intentional variations are not.