With recession biting organic sales are down

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Not only are sales down but many farms are going back to “normal” ways of production and abandoning – though for the time being only, many say – the organic production methods.

When money gets tighter people are not interested in the “organic” bit, in the main, but in food, though often still free-range and especially many shoppers want to have LOCAL foods.

Local foods is one thing, as is free-range, but people are not prepared, in these hard times, and they may last longer than the governments are trying to tell us, to pay the premium for the “organic” label and I, personally, am often having a problem with the label. How, for instance, can we really be sure what we are getting under that title, especially when the stuff comes from abroad, such as “organic” French beans from Kenya. Lots of food miles too in that case.

But back to the home front.

It was more or less predictable as organic growers play around with the same margins as do the majority of the makers of “green” products and they then wonder when people, especially when money is a little tight, switch to the non-organic or the non-green products. When harder times hit consumers vote with their feet and this should be a lesson.

Tom Szaky, founder of TerraCycle, has it right when he says that green products should be as cheap as the standard stuff. Only then will people be persuaded, properly, and at all times, to go for the green product. In a way that should be the same with food.

When it comes to food the question too, that I am asking, is to whether term “organic” is not stretched somewhat far too far and the benefits touted are not all as it is claimed. More important, in our time, is that food has low food miles, that it is, ideally grown as local as possible. That cuts out the “organic” beans from Kenya then for starters and it should do so too.

Local grown produce, ideally with little or no artificial fertilizer input and such, even when not “organic” certified must be better and is better than “organic” that has traveled from one end of the country to the other or further even. I do not think that it all has to be “organic”. I have had “organic” vegetables and, I am sorry to say, they tasted no better than the non-organic varieties that were available. The health benefits touted, in my view, I am afraid to say, are something that I find questionable, especially as I have so far to see scientific proof for most of those claims.

Sure, produce grown without artificial fertilizers and without chemical sprays will be healthier in that I do not, actually, ingest such poisons but, and here comes the but, most of our areas, even farming areas, have such an amount of pollution everywhere that one ingests poisons of one sort or the other even from so-called “organic” produce.

This recession come depression has just started and that is the worrying part. Can we as green businesses and growers, and as people, per se, survive what is going to head our way?

In order to weather the storm businesses, especially makers of “green” products must, like TerraCycle, price products in such a way that they are just a little cheaper than the “ordinary” products so that people will go for the green product. For food a similar approach must be found, whether it is vegetable production or meat production.

So far, however, from what I have seen, the great majority of makers or purveyors of green products price themselves out of the market and the price range of the common folks and with a recession come depression those products will also come out of the price range of other folks. The same for “organic” farmers.

While farming has it difficult in Britain recently, especially since Brussels is doing away with the high subsidies that they use to pay, and many farms are closing down for good. But we need farmers. They produce our food.

Farmers do, however, keep harping on that the supermarkets slash what they pay them all the time in order too give cheap food too to the nation. Well, go and cut out the middleman as far as possible and sell direct to the customers. I am sure there is a way of doing that, especially if the farmers pooled together into co-ops and such. Then they can make the profit that the supermarkets make while still giving the consumer food at decent prices.

However, as with green goods that are overpriced organic produce and meat is headed the same way, namely that consumers will vote with their pocketbooks. If producers and sellers want to retain customers and gain new ones then they must be prepared to charge realistic prices and not the sky. This is the same as much as with regards to organic food as as it is with regards to recycled products.

© 2009