Pesticide Free Failure – Tough Times for Organic Growers | TheLedger.com

In Florida, Variety of Problems Cause Organic Citrus Costs and Production to Lag Behind Prices

By Kevin Bouffard
THE LEDGER

Published: Monday, October 17, 2011 at 10:43 p.m.

LAKE WALES |

Citrus grower Bruce Nearon had an organic garden before he started selling organic orange juice in 1974.

So it was natural when he purchased the 20-acre Coyote Grove in Lake Wales in 2004 that it would become an organic orange grove, said Nearon, 62, who splits time between the grove and his New Jersey accounting practice.

It lasted just seven years. Nearon regrettably abandoned organic orange growing earlier this year to return to conventional grove practices.

"I could not make this grove produce as much as it should," Nearon said of his decision to abandon organic growing.

"The cost of production (caretaking) is way too high," he added. "Additionally the (farm) price doesn't make up for it."

The reasons Nearon cited in abandoning organic highlight the struggles organic producers nationwide are facing, said Denise Ryan, a director with the Organic Farming Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, Calif.

"We need to build a sales and marketing infrastructure," Ryan said. "We know demand for organic products is growing. We have no infrastructure to meet that demand."

Sales of organic foods grew 7.7 percent to $28.6 billion in 2010 compared to a 1 percent increase in all U.S. food sales, according to the Vermont-based Organic Trade Association. During the last decade, organic food sales grew at a double-digit clip.

Currently just 14,500 family farms produce organic foods ranging from fruits and vegetables to milk and meat, Ryan said. At an annual sales growth of 10 percent, the U.S. will need 42,000 producers by 2015 to keep pace with demand.

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