Why Does Organic Food Cost More?

Why Does Organic Food Cost More?

Why does it cost us more to produce organic vegetables than it costs large factory farms to produce vegetables sold in stores as “conventional” or “commercial”? I believe it is in the economy of scale.

We grow 25 different vegetables on 40 acres. Most commercial farms operate like a factory, growing just one or two types of vegetables. Each occupies 25 or maybe 1000 acres.

Growing many different vegetables increases our biological diversity. This biological diversity deters insects, weeds and disease. (See “Balance of Nature,” “Holes In Our Leaves” and “The Battle of the Beetles” on this web site for more information).

Our main weed killers are a hoe and a person to use it. Simple and effective but somewhat more costly than spraying herbicides.

On a factory farm, the picking crew specializes in one vegetable. They pick only one vegetable all day and often times they pick the same vegetable for many weeks on end. The machine-like pickers become quite efficient at what they do. On our farm the pickers pick many different vegetables everyday. They are not as efficient. One day I observed the workers at a factory farm and timed how long it took them to pick and tie one bunch of parsley. It took about nine seconds. Back on our farm, I timed our pickers at twelve seconds. All those seconds add up – 30 bunches in a box, 50 boxes a day.

We also lose economic efficiency by the size and type of equipment we use. Our fields are smaller, therefore we use smaller tractors and farm implements. It takes us two or times three longer to accomplish the same task as a factory farm. We plant two rows at a time. Large farms plant four, six, sometimes twelve rows at a time. Because, we do not specialize in one or two vegetables, we can not afford the specialized, labor-saving, harvest equipment for each of our 25 vegetables. All of this adds to our costs.

We rely on the fertility of the soil to produce our vegetables instead of chemical fertilizers. To maintain the fertility, we grow green manure crops, such as oat, vetch and bell beans, which we turn back into the soil. This process feeds the microorganism in the soil, which release nutrients to the subsequent vegetable cash crop. (See “The Original World Wide Web” and “green manure” in the Photo Tour on this web site for more information). The green manure crop is not not sold. There are costs in growing the green manure crop and income is lost from not growing a cash-producing crop. Growing green manure crops is well worth the expense; it allows us to produce healthy vegetables which do not need chemical pesticides.

Organic farmers who do not choose to utilize green manure crops in their rotation, use organic fertilizers such as guano, soybean meal, feather meal and chicken manure. These organic fertilizers cost two to ten times more than chemical fertilizers.

Other Thoughts

When you eat chemically produced food, you do not pay all the costs at the checkout stand in the supermarket. Not included are the medical expenses caused by eating nutritionally unbalanced, chemically contaminated food; tax dollars to clean-up the environment from the manufacture and use of chemical poisons; tax dollars for the military to defend this country’s supply of oil which is used in the manufacture of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.


  1. Dan Posney says:

    Thanks! That was very informative. Love it.

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