Is organic farming risky? The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) will be taking an in-depth look at that question over the next four years.
NCAT, which is headquartered in Butte, Montana, and has six regional offices around the country, recently was awarded a $750,000 USDA Organic Research and Extension Initiative Program grant to explore organic farming’s risk as well as whether the general lack of quality crop insurance acts as a barrier to the expansion of diversified organic systems of food production and markets.
“This is a very exciting opportunity to better understand how and to what extent organic production systems can build more resilient food systems,” said Jeff Schahczenski, NCAT’s agricultural policy and funding research director.
Scahczenski will lead the project with Eric Belasco, an agricultural economist at Montana State University, and NCAT Southwest Regional Director Mike Morris. Morris works out of San Antonio, Texas.
While all farming is risky, there has been a common assumption that those who undertake organic food production are more likely to experience greater risks of crop failure and loss.
The long-term goal of this project is to understand and measure the relative yield and price risk of comparable organic and non-organic production systems.
“I’ve been working on the topic of whole farm revenue crop insurance for diversified agricultural systems for over seven years and have always been struck by the important connection between the increased diversity of cropping and integrated livestock systems and production and market risks,” Schahczenski said. “It seems intuitive that farmers who depend on only one or two crops for their livelihood are more prone to both natural and market sources of risks than those who have greater crop and livestock diversity.
“Organic production systems tend to have greater crop and livestock product diversity and thus ought to be less risky systems of production. However, until fairly recently, our publicly subsidized crop insurance programs have not fully recognized the benefits of diversity inherent in organic production systems. This project gives us the chance to explore these important speculations carefully.”
Kathy Hadley, executive director of NCAT, said she is looking forward to the research and educational opportunities this project will add to NCAT’s prolific work in sustainable agriculture development.
“NCAT has been a national leader and champion of sustainable and organic agriculture for over 30 years,” she said. “Our work with USDA in operating the ATTRA program, a national sustainable agriculture information service, has been outstanding. This new project will ultimately lead to practical and scientifically validated understanding and policy changes that will help agriculture producers build the diversified and resilient agriculture and food systems we so badly need as we face future climate and food security uncertainty.”
Belasco has been active in research related to issues of crop insurance and production and market risks, while Morris has worked on more than 20 projects assisting hundreds of organic and sustainable farmers and ranchers throughout the United States. An extensive project advisory team of individuals representing 12 national and regional sustainable and organic organizations will assist in project development, data collection, and outreach.