Organic Produce In High Demand From Colorado Farmers
Growing numbers of Colorado farmers are making the switch from traditional farming methods to organic ones, to accommodate the increasing demand for organic produce in the local market.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) annual Certified Organic Survey, the organic agricultural industry in Colorado has more than doubled in sales since 2012 – from $66.2 million to $155.2 million in 2015. Currently, organic farmland covers more than 155,000 acres across the state, the USDA’s report indicated, up from 2011’s figure of 100,000 acres.
“Consumers are more and more engaged in their food purchases than ever before and are not only wanting to know where their food comes from but also how it was produced,” said Director of Marketing Programs and Strategic Initiatives with the Colorado Department of Agriculture, Tom Lipetzky, in an interview with The Denver Post.
To be certified organic, farmers face a significant expense – and obtaining this certification doesn’t happen overnight. The process takes about three years, and the cost for farmers to transition to organic farming methods that comply with the USDA’s specific requirements can be intimidating. However, new technologies are available to help producers grow and protect their crops in a less expensive, more efficient way than organic farmers could in the past.
“As more and more research is done, we can use products on the plant that aren’t chemical,” Kaylee Armstrong of Abundant Life Organic Farms in Hotchkiss, Colorado, told The Denver Post. “People complain about costs and say organic is so much more expensive. We actually increase our prices to meet with conventional growers.”
The higher sales prices of organic foods is a good incentive for producers looking to make the switch, especially those who sell to larger supermarkets. According to Becca Jablonski, an assistant professor and food systems extension economist at Colorado State University, consumers look for the USDA’s “certified organic” sticker when they are shopping for produce – meaning that sticker “goes a long way to ensuring financial success.”
She added that programs are available to help producers with the expense of transitioning to certified organic farming methods, including an option for crop insurance coverage that more accurately reflects the value of the organic product.
“With the market trends, it’s not going away,” said Jordan Hungenberg, co-owner of Colorado’s Hungenberg farm. The farm recently dedicated 62 of its 4,000 acres to growing carrots using organic methods, and aims to triple this amount by next season to become Colorado’s largest source of organic carrots.
“People buy organic a lot, so we decided we were behind the eight ball and decided to try it,” Hungenberg said. “All in all, it was a success. We made a little bit of money on the deal – not as much as we hoped, but … we were still flush and that was a good thing.”
While it can be challenging for farmers to make the switch and remain profitable, producers in Colorado have an “ideal situation” to start transitioning to more organic methods – a perfect climate for growing organic crops and a rapidly growing demand from the local market.