The total dollars of sales of organic certified foods have steadily increased over the last decade. The 2014 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic survey report showed that fruits and vegetables remain the top two sectors of organic food sales, together accounting for 40% of dollar sales (USDA, 2015). This growth was a response of the increased demand from consumers and large food retailers pushing sales of certified products (Dimitri and Oberholtzer, 2009). However, USDA organic surveys illustrated that the number of certified farms and farmland have suffered important drawbacks. For example, the number of certified farms decreased by 12% from 14,540 in 2008 to 12,818 in 2015 (USDA-NASS, 2016). The growth in consumer demand and retailer interest suggested that economic opportunities existed for organic farms, yet farmers were either consolidating operations or those certified might have opted out of the certification program. This article aimed to understand why farmers who were USDA-certified organic producers chose to decertify.
Most of the existing organic foods literature focused on investigating what motivated (or not) farmers to certify organic. Access to markets, price premiums, environmental concerns, and philosophical beliefs were the main drivers of organic certification (Burton et al., 1999; Constance and Choi, 2010; Padel, 2001; Torres et al., 2016; Veldstra et al., 2014; Wiegel, 2009; York et al., 2007). Understanding the organic certification drivers has been useful to develop federal- and state-led initiatives to increase organic production. Although studying the drivers of organic certification was crucial to expand the supply of organic foods, understanding why farmers decertified and helping them remain certified could be as impactful to meet the organic goals.
We know little about the drivers of organic decertification. Only a few studies have addressed the motivations of farmers to decertify and most of them focused on farmers from California or Europe. Regulatory, market, and production issues were reported as major drivers of organic decertification among farmers who reverted to conventional practices (Klonsky and Smith, 2002; Läpple, 2010; Sahm et al., 2013; Sierra et al., 2008). Moreover, Sierra et al. (2008) cited personal issues as key constraints to maintaining certification among decertified farmers who kept using organic practices. Family and labor health were the top two personal issues that motivated decertified farmers to remain committed to organic farming. Although California agriculture captures most of the certified organic food production, there are important organic industries in other states that are likely to face different challenges.
It is unclear what production practices farmers adopted after decertification. For instance, farmers may have switched to conventional systems or remained using organic practices without the use of the certified label (Sierra et al., 2008). Whether decertified farmers kept farming organically or not may suggest the existence of different constraints toward organic certification. For instance, decertified farmers who remained farming organically may have felt aligned with the philosophy of organic agriculture but opposed the corporate organic market (Veldstra et al., 2014). It is also possible that farmers selling locally were able to build trust relationships that motivated them to substitute the certification label and helped them overcome certification costs (Torres et al., 2016). Or, it may be that certification cost was higher than the value they generated in the marketplace (Dimitri and Oberholtzer, 2008). Farmers who switched to conventional agriculture may have faced the lack of market access or price premiums and decided to access wholesale markets without the organic label (Sierra et al., 2008).
This study contributed to the literature in two ways. First, we identified the main factors driving organic decertification of fruit and vegetable farmers in the United States using a unique data set of farmers from 16 states that remained certified and those that dropped out of the certification program. Second, this study contributed to the literature by exploring the farming practices adopted by decertified farmers (whether they continued using organic practices or converted to conventional practices) and drew conclusions on their barriers to remain certified. Programs and policies aiming to increase organic certification can use our results to lower decertification rates, which may be as effective as recruiting new farmers to certify. It is also important to understand how to better assist decertified farmers who switch to conventional agriculture and those that remain farming organically.
Blank, S.C. & Thompson, G.D. 2004 Can/should/will a niche become the norm? Organic agriculture’s short past and long future Cont. Econ. Pol. 22 4 483 503
Brown, C. & Miller, S. 2008 The impacts of local markets: A review of research on farmers markets and community supported agriculture (CSA) Amer. J. Agr. Econ. 90 5 1298 1302
Burton, M., Rigby, D. & Young, T. 1999 Analysis of the determinants of adoption of organic horticultural techniques in the UK J. Agr. Econ. 50 1 47 63
Constance, D.H. & Choi, J.Y. 2010 Overcoming the barriers to organic adoption in the United States: A look at pragmatic conventional producers in Texas Sustainability 2 1 163 188
Darnhofer, I., Schneeberger, W. & Freyer, B. 2005 Converting or not converting to organic farming in Austria: Farmer types and their rationale Agr. Human Values 22 1 39 52
Dillman, D.A., Smyth, J.D. & Christian, L.M. 2014 Internet, phone, mail, and mixed-mode surveys: The tailored design method. 3rd ed. Wiley, New York, NY
Dimitri, C. & Greene, C. 2002 Recent growth patterns in the US organic foods market. USDA-ERS Econ. Info. Bul. 55
Dimitri, C. & Oberholtzer, L. 2008 The U.S. organic handling sector: Baseline findings of the nationwide survey of manufacturers, processors, and distributors. USDA-ERS Econ. Info. Bul. 36
Dimitri, C. & Oberholtzer, L. 2009 Marketing US organic foods: Recent trends from farms to consumers. USDA-ERS Econ. Info. Bul. 58
Greene, C.R., Dimitri, C., Lin, B.H., McBride, W.D., Oberholtzer, L. & Smith, T.A. 2009 Emerging issues in the US organic industry. USDA-ERS Econ. Info. Bul. 55
Guptill, A. 2009 Exploring the conventionalization of organic dairy: Trends and counter-trends in upstate New York Agr. Human Values 26 1–2 29 42
Hanson, J., Dismukes, R., Chambers, W., Greene, C. & Kremen, A. 2004 Risk and risk management in organic agriculture: Views of organic farmers Renew. Agr. Food Syst. 19 4 218 227
Holt, G. & Reed, M. 2006 Sociological perspectives of organic agriculture: From pioneer to policy. CAB Intl, Wallingford, UK
Hu, W., Batte, M.T., Woods, T. & Ernst, S. 2012 Consumer preferences for local production and other value-added label claims for a processed food product Eur. Rev. Agr. Econ. 39 3 489 510
Kim, J.O. & Mueller, C.W. 1978 Factor analysis: Statistical methods and practical issues. Sage, Newbury Park, CA
Klonsky, K. & Smith, M.D. 2002 Entry and exit in California’s organic farming sector. In: D.C. Hall and L.J. Moffit (eds.). Economics of pesticides, sustainable food production, and organic food markets. Elsevier Science, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Läpple, D. 2010 Adoption and abandonment of organic farming: An empirical investigation of the Irish drystock sector J. Agr. Econ. 61 3 697 714
Mzoughi, N. 2011 Farmers adoption of integrated crop protection and organic farming: Do moral and social concerns matter? Ecol. Econ. 70 8 1536 1545
Parrott, N., Olesen, J.E. & Høgh-Jensen, H. 2006 Certified and noncertified organic farming in the developing world. In: N. Halberg, H.F. Alroe, M.T. Knudsen, and E.S. Kristensen (eds.). Gobal development of organic agriculture: Challenges and prospects. CABI Publ., Wallingford, UK
Sahm, H., Sanders, J., Nieberg, H., Behrens, G., Kuhnert, H., Strohm, R. & Hamm, U. 2013 Reversion from organic to conventional agriculture: A review Renew. Agr. Food Syst. 28 3 263 275
Sierra, L., Klonsky, K., Strochlic, R., Brodt, S. & Molinar, R. 2008 Factors associated with deregistration among organic farmers in California. California Inst. Rural Studies, Davis, CA
Strochlic, R. & Sierra, L. 2007 Conventional, mixed and deregistered organic farmers: Entry barriers and reasons for exiting organic production in California. California Inst. Rural Studies, Davis, CA
Thilmany, D., Bond, C.A. & Bond, J.K. 2008 Going local: Exploring consumer behavior and motivations for direct food purchases Amer. J. Agr. Econ. 90 5 1303 1309
Torres, A.P., Marshall, M.I., Alexander, C.E. & Delgado, M.S. 2016 Are local market relationships undermining organic fruit and vegetable certification? A bivariate probit analysis Agr. Econ. 48 1 9
USDA 2015 Organic farming: Results from the 2014 organic survey. 25 Jan. 2017. <https://agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Online_Resources/Highlights/Organics/2014_Organic_Survey_Highlights.pdf>.
USDA 2016 Statement from agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack on the organic trade association report [Press release]. 30 Aug. 2017. <https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2016/05/19/statement-agriculture-secretary-tom-vilsack-organic-trade>.
USDA-ERS 2016 Organic prices. 30 Aug. 2017. <https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/DataFiles/Organic_Prices__18001/Vegetables.xls?v=41719>.
USDA-NASS 2016 Certified organic survey (2015 summary). 30 Aug. 2017. <http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/usda/nass/OrganicProduction//2010s/2016/OrganicProduction-09-15-2016.pdf>.
Veldstra, M.D., Alexander, C.E. & Marshall, M.I. 2014 To certify or not to certify? Separating the organic production and certification decisions Food Policy 49 429 436
Walz, E. 2004 Fourth national organic farmers’ survey. Organic Farming Research Foundation. 30 Aug. 2017. <http://ofrf.org/sites/ofrf.org/files/docs/pdf/4thsurvey_results.pdf>.
Ward, R., Hunnicutt, L. & Keith, J. 2004 If you can’t trust the farmer, who can you trust? The effect of certification types on purchases of organic produce Intl. Food Agribus. Mgt. Rev. 7 1 60 77
Whatmore, S. 2016 Farming women: Gender, work and family enterprise. Macmillan, London, UK
Wiegel, W.J. 2009 Adoption of organic farming systems in Missouri. Univ. Missouri, Columbia, M.S. Thesis
Wooldridge, J.M. 2010 Econometric analysis of cross section and panel data. 2nd ed. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA
York, M., Lau, M.H., Hanagriff, R.D. & Constance, D.H. 2007 Identifying barriers to entry into the organic market and possible strategies to increase the likelihood of success for potential organic producers. Final report. Sam Houston State Univ., Huntsville, TX