My personal jury has long been out with regard to organic food. Not that I have anything against it - but the price. I can't afford to source all my food organically - although I give it a try with The Trad Pad garden, free range eggs, my fair trade coffee, and - most recently - fresh milk. And, though I am vegetarian, I purchase the occasional free range chicken for the family. Who can afford organic food from the supermarket or 'boutique' organic store? Certainly not a low to middling income family with a number of hungry mouths to feed.
Having said that though, one has to take into account our food and how it is distributed. Most consumers would see Coles and Woolworths - our major Australian duopoly - as supermarkets. But in this day and age they should be seen not merely as retailers but as major distributors and key players in the supply chain of our food from farm to family. If this, dear Reader, has not already crossed your mind then you really need to pop over here for the real story.
So when one understand the demands of the modern retailer/distributor and the modern consumer, there is a lot than happens betwen paddock and plate. The key word here is consistency - in quality and supply. But there is another horrible word that comes into things and that's the squeeze - of market dominance of the duopoly over suppliers.
Adventurous souls have developed organic agriculture and Biological Farmers of Australia (BFA) is a major organization in this regard. BFA also has a small producers program under the auspices of the Organic Growers of Australia. Certification is the watchword of both organizations.
The reason for this explanation is that to counter my problem - price - there needs to be consistency in quality and supply backed up by certification - a sort of quality guarantee - to get into the big distribution chains where price will start to become competitive and make a difference to consumer decisions - my decisions. I am already headed that way because sustainable farming of organic food is the only way to go for the health of our land and the health of our selves and our families. As they say, good food is the best medicine and we are what we eat.
The Australian Organic Market Report (AOMR) is now out. A copy of the executive summary can be downloaded via aomr_2008_exec1.pdf. The report was independently researched by the University of New England’s Organic Research Group, and commissioned by BFA. It is based on industry-wide survey data and builds upon research published by the Federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) in 2004. And it is good, good news.
There is an 80%+ growth in organic farm gate sales since 2004. The BFA's members must be doing something right because this growth comes in the midst of the most severe drought since Europeans settled this country in the late 18th century.
Here are some of the reports findings:
- Retail value (incorporating imports and adjusting for exports) was estimated for the first time above $0.5B. Retail value reached $578,000,000 with reports of between 10 and 30%+ growth per annum for some sectors since the last report in 2004. (See the AOMR for specific sector values)
- 2007 farm gate values were estimated to be in excess of $231,000,000 – an 80% increase on the 2004 DAFF research findings.
- With 11,988,044 hectares, Australia accounts for the largest amount of certified organic farmland in the world, the majority of which is used for extensive grazing.
- Major retailers now carry in excess of 500 different organic lines in fresh and grocery categories.
- The number of certified organic operators has increased by an annual 5.2% average net over the last 5 years, during a time of ongoing decrease in overall farmer numbers in Australia.
- In 2007 the total number of certified organic operators was 2750 – made up of farmers, processors and marketers. Almost three quarters of all operators are producers, representing 1.5 - 1.8% of all growers in Australia.
- The average age of an organic producer in Australia is lower than a non-organic producer.
- The organic industry is consolidating and the average size of organic farms has increased, highlighting a trend towards professional farming at a larger scale, and farm area expansion by operators experiencing long-term success in utilising organic systems.
- Horticulture remains a major stay of the industry. Some two thirds of organic farmers make up this sector which represents almost half of the total organic farm gate value in Australia.
- Fresh produce remains the primary ‘point of entry’ for new organic consumers.
- Despite widespread drought, farm gate sales have risen by over 80% as an average across all sectors since last reported in 2004. Grains and broadacre livestock were most impacted by drought, effectively decreasing the reported average for industry overall.
- 40% of consumers now buy organic food at least on occasion.
So the end result of this means that there is increasing consumer demand for organic products, supply issues are being addressed, and there is every likelihood of achieving competitive price mechanisms which will be attractive to consumers. In other words, it looks like more people will find organic produce more accessible and more affordable. This is great news