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.

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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.

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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