Tom Wilson manages sales for Alderman Farms Sales Corp., which operates in Boyton Beach, FL. “For eleven years we’ve specialized in organic vine-ripened and grape tomatoes,” he states. “We grow everything outdoors the way Nature intended.”
Challenges and Opposition
Though there are many differences, organic growers face many of the same challenges that vex their conventional counterparts such as water use, labor, regulation, and the costs associated with owning any type of agribusiness.
“Farmers have to make difficult decisions in real time with real consequences,”says Heath and Lejeune’s Weinstein. “The value of agriculture has to be reflected in land use, taxes, immigration, and regulations. On top of that, in the last 30 years, acreage for agriculture has been shrinking, particularly in places like Orange County, CA.”
In the Field
An area where conventional growers have an advantage is pest management. Organic growers have far fewer weapons for fighting viruses, diseases, and pests.
Unfortunately, sometimes this can lead to various worst-case scenarios. “When farmers can’t spray, sometimes they just have to lose the crop,” points out Mario Barone, division manager at Swedesboro, NJ-based Albert’s Organics, Inc.
Growing is also more labor-intensive than many conventional crops. Weeding is done by hand rather than with herbicides, which translates into more workers and hours in an industry with significant labor issues. Although Wilson has a stable workforce, there are still concerns. “Much of our workforce has been with us a long time and they’re aging,” he explains. “It is becoming hard to find replacements. Construction in Florida is rebounding and younger people are getting into higher paying construction jobs.”
Outside the Field
Another challenge is opposition to the category itself. Despite ongoing success and growth, many believe there is no enhanced nutritional value.
Research studies from health organizations and universities have produced mixed results, so there is no definitive answer. Some within the produce industry call the entire category “overrated.”
A distributor and broker in the South-east, who prefers to remain anonymous, commented on the price disparity and perception of better-for-you foods. “The organic designation is not beneficial to the customer,” he asserts. If these products were indeed more beneficial than conventional items, “why then should the affluent have better opportunities for good health?”