We all know organic food is more expensive than non-organic "conventional" food - but why? Many people believe the industry is taking advantage of their willingness to pay more for healthier options, but in fact there are many real reasons why organic foods tend to be more costly...
Because organic farms don’t use chemicals, they need to employ more labour
Chemicals and synthetic pesticides came about for a reason - because they do the job quickly and more efficiently. Once a farm commits to producing organic fruit, vegetables, dairy or poultry, they need to tap into more labour-intensive ways to do the same job. Organic farms employ more people and carefully manage their crops or livestock to maintain the same quality produce - hand-weeding, cleaning of crops, water management, natural pest control and constant, close supervision are required.
2. The demand for organic produce overwhelms the supply (currently)
The global demand for organic food has exploded over the past 5 years with consumers becoming ever-more savvy about chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and how harmful they can be to our health and the environment. More of us prefer not to eat or feed non-organic foods to our families, but organic produce is nowhere near as widely available conventional goods - non-organic farms still make up over 95% of global farmland.
Organic food supply has grown tenfold in the last few years with farmers starting to understand that this demand isn’t a passing fade, but a real need. We hope that eventually organic supply will grow to meet the demand and that prices will drop as organic farms scale and become more efficient, but this will take years.
3. Higher cost of organic fertilizers
Simply put, organic fertilizers are far more expensive to buy and transport than their non-organic counterparts.
4. Crop rotation limits land available for farming
Organic farms don’t use chemical weed killers or pesticide and are forced to use natural (and generally less efficient) ways of doing the same job. As such, complex crop rotation techniques are often used by organic farmers to keep the soil healthy, prevent pests and weed growth. Rotating crops forces farmers to diversify their crops, and sometimes use “cover crops” to enrich and protect the soil between harvests, rather than planting fruit, vegetables or grains every time. This reduces the frequency and space in which they can grow profitable crops, decreasing their production.
5. Handling costs of organic produce
Once harvested, organic crops are shipped in small quantities (due to smaller farms and smaller orders) and always need to be separated from non-organic produce to avoid cross contamination, which results in higher transportation costs.
6. Higher wastage
As we know, organic farms don’t use synthetic pesticides or other chemicals to protect their crops from disease or pests. As such, organic food also has a shorter storage and shelflife than conventional produce treated with chemical preservatives. This means that organic farmers tend to lose more of their produce to wastage from spoiled, unsellable goods.
7. Better living conditions for livestock
Organic dairy, poultry, sheep and cattle farmers are required to maintain a much higher standards of living for their animals - from the food they eat to the space where they are kept. These standards for animal welfare are set out by various governing and certification bodies, and while we are much happier knowing our eggs come from happy chickens and our milk is courtesy of comfortable, well-treated cows, this comes at a high cost for the farmers.
8. Organic produce grows more slowly
Because organic farmers don’t use chemicals or hormones during farming, their produce grows slower. For this reason, and the fact organic farms tend to be much smaller than conventional farms, the yield and frequency of harvesting tends to be far less.
Across the world, governments are spend huge amounts on farming subsidies to reduce the costs of food for their people. A very small amount of those subsidies go to organic farms, as the focus is on bringing down the cost of necessities for the general public, and organic foods are still widely seen as a luxury.
As demand for organic foods continues to soar we hold on to the hope that organic food prices will begin to drop in the next few years. Until then, if buying purely organic foods is out of your budget, focus on shopping organic when it comes to the Dirty Dozen, as well as baby food, milk, eggs and poultry. Never heard of the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen? It refers to a list of the non-organic foods with the highest and lowest concentration of chemicals found on them, and can be a great guideline when deciding which items to always buy organic and where to save and buy conventional items instead. Check out our blog on the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen now...