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2016-05-27

Study finds organic agriculture can boost local economies

Organic Organic market fruits and vegetables (bit.ly/Sal_Falko_1, bit.ly/CCBYNC20)

Organic food and crop production, and the business activities accompanying organic farming, helps lower poverty and increase household incomes in rural America, new research shows. The White Paper was prepared by Penn State Agricultural Economist Dr Edward Jaenicke. The study finds organic hotspots – counties with high levels of organic agricultural activity whose neighboring counties also have high organic activity – increase median household incomes by an average of $2,000 and reduce poverty levels by an average of 1.3 percent. “This research systematically investigates the economic impacts of organic agriculture,” noted Jaenicke. “Its important findings show that organic contributes to the economic health of local economies. The growing market interest in organic agriculture can be leveraged into effective policy for economic development.” The author identified 225 counties in the United States as organic hotspots. They are particularly strong on the West Coast, where in 2013 a single hotspot of contiguous counties stretched from California to Washington. Smaller hotspots also appear in the northern Midwest anchored on Wisconsin, in several parts of New England and the northern Mid-Atlantic states. Dr Jaenicke then looked at how these organic hotspots impact two key county-level economic indicators: the county poverty rate and the median household income. The same beneficial results are not found for general agricultural hotspots. If the economic impact of a county being part of a general agricultural hotspot is isolated, the county’s poverty rate drops by only 0.17 percent and the median household income increased by only $75. “We know that organic agriculture benefits our health and our environment,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association (OTA) that commissioned the study. “This significant research shows organic can also benefit our livelihoods and help secure our financial future.” The study suggests organic agriculture can be used as an economic development tool by policymakers at all levels - local, state and national. In the United States, organic has experienced a boom over the past years. Organic food sales in 2015 jumped by 11 percent to almost $40 billion, exceeding the 3 percent growth rate for the overall food market. (ab)

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