What is in this article?:
• In 2012 North Carolina farmers grew approximately 12,000 acres of organic grain crops with much of that acreage being in a double-crop system.
• It’s a small, niche part of the overall agriculture picture in the state, but it is growing and profitable for most growers.
Money to be made
“I tell growers there is a lot of money to be made in organic wheat but you have to be ready and able to spend time marketing it. In fact, we now have some organic wheat growers who act as brokers for other growers who are not as interested in marketing,” Horton points out.
The growth in demand for organic meat products has paralleled the demand for organic grains. To sell meat as organic products, that animal must be fed organic grain and/or grown on organic pastures.
Though organic meat is significantly more expensive than conventionally produced meat products, the demand continues to grow.
Horton says mainline retailers are now getting into the business of selling organic meat products. Costco for example has a line of organic ground beef products they sell nationwide through their club stores.
In some cases growers can significantly reduce the risk factor for growing organic crops by growing these crops under contract for a specific buyer.
“For example, we have one wheat grower who grows organic wheat specifically for a local brewer. While this has not been commonplace as a way to market organic grain, it seems the growers will have more opportunities to do this in the future’” Horton says.
Molly Hamilton, who works closely with Horton and is an Extension assistant at North Carolina State, says overall marketing organic grain is significantly different than marketing conventional grain crops.
Nearly all organic grains are marketed as either livestock feed or as food for human consumption. Organic grain for human consumption, called food-grade grains, generally earns a higher premium than organic grain for livestock feed.
On the other hand, growing for the livestock feed market lowers the risk of going organic for those who are new to organic farming.
For most North Carolina farmers, the livestock feed market is more easily accessible than the food-grade grain market. However, there are markets in North Carolina for food-grade organic wheat, Hamilton says..
Growing organic grain for the food-grade market requires a lot of attention to detail and experience with organic grain production and marketing. Quality specifications are more stringent than for livestock-feed grain, and markets are usually harder to identify. Often a specific variety is required by a buyer of food-grade grain, she adds.
The bottom line is that North Carolina growers will have many options for organic grain crops in 2013, but they should do plenty of homework before jumping into what appears to be a profitable business move, but may turn out to be something totally different for the ill-prepared.