Richard Ha writes:
Let me tell you why I keep saying that farmers here on the Big Island and in Hawai‘i need to work together and stop fighting with each other. Organic, hydroponic, conventional, big farmers, small farmers: We need to find ways to coexist.
Hardcore folks think coexisting is a loaded term. Some of them say there’s no way we can coexist, because somebody will always win and somebody will lose. But that’s bogus to me.
There is something very different here in Hawai‘i that I think many people don’t really understand. We are not farming on the mainland. We are farming in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, in a humid, sub-tropical climate where there is no winter.
In Minnesota and Iowa and all, winter wipes out the diseases and the insects and gets farmers back to “start-over” condition.
It couldn’t be more different here. We can grow food year-round in Hawai‘i, but our insects and diseases grow year-round, too. We use much more energy than a mainland farmer to produce our crops, because we are always having to fight insects and diseases. This is just reality. We have to rely on different methods here, many of them dependent on energy that only gets more and more expensive, and all of this increases our costs.
So both organic and conventional farmers in Hawai‘i are at a disadvantage. And we need to work together to lower each other’s costs, not fight about methods and labels and all that.
What is our end goal? Growing more food here, right? Not less food. And not discouraging the next generation of farmers from going into the business.
Here’s another reality: It’s often our younger folks that lean toward organics, and they are very dedicated. But because they are young and at the start of their careers, they’re not in a position to pay those increased costs, which are significant.
This article from The Packer, the nation’s primary produce industry newspaper, says just that: That organics are growing in popularity, especially with people with higher educations and incomes. They write that younger people’s preference for organics are also increasing, but that they have budgetary concerns.
…The organic demographic is changing, said Patrick Stewart, operations manager for Earl’s Organic Produce, San Francisco.
“From a trending perspective, wealthy, affluent people have the means to trend toward organic,” he said, but as organic produce becomes more available and more affordable, its popularity is trickling down to base consumers.
The bottom line is that the growth of the organic sector will be largely dependent on narrowing the differences in cost between organic and conventional farming. If we can work together and find ways to make those retail prices closer together, then of course people will choose organic.
But how do we do that?
Large corporations such as Earthbound Organics are about to start, for instance, producing single-serving organic salad kits. It is very unlikely that any organic food producer on the Big Island will be able to compete successfully with a corporation like Earthbound.
Also from the Packer:
…Earthbound, recently acquired for $600 million by Denver-based WhiteWave Foods, plans to move “aggressively” into the organic bowl salad kit and single-serve, ready-to-eat salad kit categories, Yost said at the conference. There is potential as well, leveraging WhiteWave resources, for expansion in juices and healthy snacks.
We farmers have to help each other get all of our costs down. It’s what will keep us in farming. And it will improve the Big Island’s food security (being able to get adequate and sufficient food) and move us further toward our goal of increased food self-sufficiency (growing what we need right here at home).