If that headline doesn’t get your attention, you’re either independently wealthy or so jaded by modern marketing that you dismiss the very possibility. But if not, read on to learn the details.
You’re not doing anything special between New Year’s Day and Feb. 8 next year, are you?
I was always told that January was the “off-season” for ranchers, feeders and growers, right?
I know — that’s not funny.
But seriously, how would you like to receive a check for $15,000 for several hours’ work this January?
It’s possible if you have a bright idea for expanding your operations, or if you’re already dabbling in organic farming or ranching.
I say “dabbling” consciously, because honestly, other than a handful of trust-fund and dot-com millionaires I’ve met over the years, I can count on one hand the number of folks who have built a thriving business raising either crops or livestock organically.
It’s a tough way to make a living, and most of the smaller farmer-producers are making their money not from farmer’s markets or CSAs, but from running corn mazes and petting zoos and u-pick operations—if they’re fortunate enough to live near an urban area with thousands of affluent patrons enamored of the whole organic concept.
But the data are startling as to the growth of America’s organic appetite. According to the Organic Trade Association (OTA), consumer demand has grown by double-digits every year for nearly two decades, with total sales rising from just over $3 billion annually 20 years ago to more than $40 billion a year, as of 2014.
I grant you that OTA has an ax to grind, and is guilty of combining all organic products — health and beauty products and clothing, for example — with food categories. That said, some 90 percent of total organic sales are, in fact, food products, and even neutral market researchers report that more than 80 percent of consumers now regularly purchase certified organic products.
However, as a current OTA analysis noted,” Production is not keeping up with demand. Supply shortages are one of the greatest challenges facing the [organic] industry today. Organic food sales currently make up 4 percent of total food sales, while acreage devoted to organic agriculture is less than 1 percent of total U.S. cropland.
“There is a huge opportunity for rural communities to fill this demand,” says OTA.
At the core of production
So are there ways to add an organic operation that could complement an existing conventional business? Could you conceive of a project involving crops or livestock, or both, that could be incremental in terms of products, market position and revenue?
If so, then you need to check out The Organic Farming Research Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering and improving organic farming systems in North America. Right now, OFRF is offering grants of up to $15,000 to fund research on organic farming and food systems, with the dissemination of the results to the greater ag and research communities. The program is currently accepting proposals from farmers, ranchers, graduate students, veterans, and even Extension personnel in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Here’s the program description from the grant solicitation:
“One-year grants are available for research projects related to agricultural production and/or a social, economic, or policy-related topic of concern to organic farmers and/or ranchers. The foundation supports research that is relevant to and takes place in certified organic systems.”
Maybe that sounds a bit far afield, but check out a selected list of the priorities the foundation anticipates funding:
- Water management
- Livestock production
- Breeding for organic systems
- Diseases and pasture management
- Creating diverse rotational systems
That’s the core of animal agriculture.
Proposals must involve farmers or ranchers in project design and implementation, and there’s lots more information about disseminating the findings of a funded project and the processes by which proposals are reviewed, but the list above is the heart of what the foundation wants to fund.
I’m not making the case that organic is better in terms of productivity, nor that conventional foods are somehow inferior to organic products. But there are many benefits to providing opportunities for organic farmers and ranchers to expand their operations — farmland preservation, resource conservation and maintenance of agricultural infrastructure, to name just a few.
More important, there is no one better equipped to develop better ways of raising crops and farm animals than the nation’s ranchers, feeders and producers, and it would be great to see dozens of them getting some funding to investigate exactly that challenge.
Proposals are due by Feb. 8, 2016, and OFRF will make funding decisions in March. To apply for this grant, click here.
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator.