Strengthening Organic Farming in the Southeast Project: Market Research Summary, February 2019

Dr. Brittney Goodrich, Auburn University

In this objective, we are conducting market research regarding the organic food industry in Alabama. We have decided to focus our research on market for organic fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables to narrow the scope of the surveys, as well as align with the other objectives in the project.  

The goals for this objective is to determine the potential for further development of the organic market for fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables within Alabama. We will accomplish this by surveying producers, consumers and market intermediaries in Alabama to determine constraints producers face in certifying organic, whether those are production, marketing, logistics, financial, or other constraints, and determine the purchasing preferences and demand for organic fruit, nuts, and vegetables in Alabama.  

To date, we have finalized and distributed the producer survey, receiving roughly 35 responses from various industry and cooperative extension email listervs. We also attended the Alabama Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association Conference to promote the survey and dispersed a paper format to producers there. We will promote the producer survey in two more avenues to hopefully elicit a few more responses: the ASAN e-newsletter and an article in the Alabama Farmer’s Cooperative Magazine. We are working on perfecting questions for the consumer and market intermediary surveys. Once finished, the consumer survey will be distributed online to 2,000 consumers in major cities in Alabama via Qualtrics, and the market intermediary surveys will be done over the phone also by Qualtrics.  

We analyzed the producer survey to find some preliminary results. Of the producers we surveyed, very few had certified organic production. Many of them were conventional producers or used organic practices but were not certified organic. Of those growers who used organic practices, whether this was certified or not, most said their organic production levels would remain the same or increase in the next five years. It seems that organic production is increasing in Alabama, although it’s unclear how much of this will be certified organic production. Many of the conventional producers had not considered organic production in their operations, or were still undecided about whether it was right for their operation. Promoting organic certification among conventional producers may be a way to bring additional producers into the market.  

Major barriers to certifying organic among the respondents involved the cost of certification, both the initial and maintenance costs and paperwork involved with the certification and record keeping process. Producers indicated that insect, weed, and disease control were more challenging in organic production than in conventional. Additionally, producers indicated that high costs of labor and organic inputs, and finding consistent buyers and price premiums are all challenges with organic production.  

Some of the constraints that producers noted are likely a result of the certified organic market in Alabama being relatively small and at an early stage of development. We will continue analyzing this data in the coming months, and conduct the other surveys to help create better access to inputs and markets for Alabama’s growing organic industry.