Farmers Transitioning to Organic Need People-Centered Support Systems

Farmers looking to transition to organic certification want personalized, high-contact support such as mentorships and one-on-one technical help, according to a joint report released by Oregon Tilth and Oregon State University’s Center for Small Farms & Community Food Systems.

The report, entitled, Breaking New Ground: Farmer Perspectives on Organic Transition, highlights key recommendations for organizations and agencies that can provide support in crop research, infrastructure and market development as well as shaping public policies for transition to organic production:

  • Adopt a values-based approach to appeal to a wider audience of farmers
    Farmers pursuing transition are generally motivated to do so through an alignment of their personal values with benefits they ascribe to organic production.
  • Provide individualized, in-person support
    The top two methods of support desired were mentoring from experienced organic farmers and one-on-one technical assistance.
  • Develop more effective weed (pest) management strategies
    Effective outreach and support on weed and pest management in organic systems should include long-term trials, on-farm demonstrations and help farmers engage in participatory research.
  • Learn more about the relationship between yield and successful transition
    When discussing barriers to organic transition, farmers and agricultural professionals commonly cite concerns involving reduced yield. However, survey respondents consistently ranked this obstacle far below many others.

“One thing the report makes clear is there is plenty of work to do for everyone interested in organic agriculture,” said Garry Stephenson, director of the OSU Center for Small Farms & Community Food Systems. “This includes solving production obstacles through research, developing markets, and local and regional infrastructure, and creating policy that supports farmers and ranchers who choose to transition to organic.”

The report exhibits responses from four categories of farmers, echoing long-standing concerns about costs, recordkeeping, on-farm production challenges, infrastructure and access to profitable markets.

“Recently, we’ve seen a lot of attention on how organic provides farmers economic opportunity,” said Sarah Brown, Oregon Tilth’s education director. “Farm viability is a crucial motivating factor for many transitioning farmers. But our survey demonstrates that farmers are also interested in how organic relates to their values. We need to focus and invest in people-centered support systems.”

The report is based on surveys with over 1,800 farmers who participated in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentives Program Organic Initiative between 2010 and 2015, with a focus on transition. The survey’s response rate was over 34 percent and represents over 600 farmers.

View the report