IOWA CITY, Iowa — Premiums and sustainability topped the discussions at the 2019 Iowa Organic Conference.
The conference, held at the University of Iowa, was headlined by Alex Heilman, the director of sales for Mercaris, a data gathering company that provides insights into organic and non-GMO commodity prices. He delved into the state of the organic marketplace during his keynote address, saying that organic farming “is not just a trend — it’s here to stay.”
Heilman said despite weather issues in 2018 and 2019, organic crop production is continuing to grow, and demand is driving supply.
He said livestock feed demand has only seen 1% growth this year — affected by slowing livestock production and dairy markets being “flat or in the tank.”
However, organic crops are still seeing a premium of more than 100% over conventional crops, Heilman said. He showed the premium average for organic corn was $5.75/bushel and soybeans were at a $10.19 premium over conventional contracts.
“This is holding and maintaining,” Heilman said. “It has actually increased a little over the years, but while prices are a little depressed right now, premium structures are maintaining.”
Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig also spoke at the event, discussing his state’s importance in being a part of the organic conversation.
He said Iowa holds a “leadership position” in organic agriculture, being in the top five for total number of organic farms in the country. He said the amount of consumer interest should give Iowa farmers a great opportunity to create markets and expand.
“We are working at the Department of Ag and with many others to try and connect the dots between farm and school,” Naig said. “That’s getting into food service and creates opportunities to drive some demand.”
Naig also reminded those in attendance about the Organic Certification Cost Share Program administered by the Farm Service Agency.
Heilman said getting access to loans for organic farming has been a roadblock for some farmers looking to switch their operation or add more acres. However, he said more banks are starting to look at the contracts of organic and non-GMO crops, to learn more about the possible profits they can bring and to diversify their client base.
“I’m expecting in 2020 or early 2021 to see more of these loans at really favorable rates come through in the marketplace,” Heilman said.
Stratis Giannakouros, director of the University of Iowa’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment, focused on the long-term impacts of organic farming.
“We need you,” he said to farmers. “We need you because we need to figure out how to produce 50% more food by 2050 for billions more people on the planet. To achieve this with current agriculture methods, we would need to add an area the size of the Amazon rain forest and the Congo Basin combined.”
Giannakouros said if climate change is left unchecked, it will play a role in how much food producers can provide. He said recent reports are suggesting yields could drop by as much as 30% in the next 30 years, and noted that fresh water supplies are expected to shrink based on current trends.
While he said it paints a bleak picture and there’s not one solution, farmers and consumers learning more about organic and other sustainable farming practices will help ensure biodiversity and prevent ecological collapse.