Saturday, February 2, 2013

Will The USDA Help Organic Cotton Farmers Effected By The Drought?

The sweeping, unrelenting drought across US farmlands has also impacted organic cotton growers, but for the first time, farmers are able to get the full cash value back for lost crops. 

The US Agriculture Department, which has long resisted to pay  organic growers more because of the higher value of their crops, received crop insurance payments 40% greater than conventional cotton farmers in 2011. 

While farmers planted 36% more acres of organic cotton that year, the harvest plunged because of scathing drought.  Acreage devoted to this crop in the US is quite limited out of the 16,050 acres planted in 2011, just 6,151 were harvested. Organic growers received higher payments if they bought "multi-peril" crop insurance, which costs 5% more. 

For example, if conventional cotton sold for $.93 per pound, an organic farmer received $1.30 per pound for lost crops. A survey of organic cotton growers shows they received $1.50 per pound for organic upland cotton, and as much as $3 a pound for organic pima cotton, about the same as U.S. organic cotton prices for the past several years. Along with cotton, organic corn soybeans and organic processing tomatoes were eligible for higher prices in 2011.

One of the barriers of farming organic cotton in the US is the increasing difficulty of sourcing organic cotton seed. Genetically modified (GMO) seeds dominate the market, and as major seed companies have acquired smaller ones they discontinue their organic offerings. Organic farmers save seeds from year to year, but much of that stock was lost to the drought. 

"Although it may still be possible to source organic or at least untreated seeds, unfortunately little corporate or federally funded research has been conducted to improve the drought resistance, or other key performance measures, of these seed varieties. That said, it is worth noting that there are a few dedicated researchers, such as Texas A&M's Jane Dever, Ph. D., who continue to make strides in the realm of cotton breeding," says the Organic Trade Association.

Also, some of the programs organic farmers rely on were eliminated or cut as part of the "fiscal cliff" deal. Drought in the Southern Plains continued into 2012, but the toll wasn't as extreme for cotton. Farmers planted organic cotton on 14,481 acres final harvest numbers are not yet available. 

Organic cotton is more often grown in other parts of the world, with over 800,000 acres in 2011. It's growing fastest in India, followed by Syria, China, Turkey, the US, Tanzania, Egypt, Mali, Kyrgyzstan, Peru, Pakistan, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Benin, Paraguay, Israel, Tajikistan, Brazil, Nicaragua, and Senegal. - Sustainable Business 

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