Economics Of Organic Farming

Posted: December 18, 1988

WASHINGTON — Organic farming can yield "real and significant" environmental and health benefits, but the jury is still out on whether it pays farmers to adopt such a strategy, two analysts write.

More research "designed to increase the profitability of alternative agriculture deserves serious consideration," according to Pierre R. Crosson and Janet Ekey Ostrov.

Farmers "receive few of the environmental benefits of alternative agriculture because many of these, such as improved water quality, occur off the farm, or like improved wildlife habitat, cannot be captured in economic terms," they wrote in a newsletter of Resources for the Future, a Washington- based environmental policy research organization.

"Consequently, farmers decide to adopt alternative agriculture or stay with the conventional system by comparing the economics of the two."

Organic farmers, who tend to call themselves "alternative" or "low- input" farmers, use few or no chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

Endorsing the call for more research, two prominent figures in the alternative-farming movement said Crosson and Ostrov were too cautious about the economic benefits to farmers using low-input techniques.

"I have been on too many of these farms not to know that they can be very, very profitable," said Garth Youngbird, director of the Institute for Alternative Agriculture in Beltsville, Md. "Economists haven't really looked at this."

At the Rodale Organization in Emmaus, editor George de Vault gave a simple example: "Instead of broadcasting a herbicide, use it in strips a foot wide down the row." Fertilizer costs are cut by two-thirds if the plant is in rows 36 inches apart. "You still cultivate between the rows," he said.

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AN INTERNATIONAL WINE FORUM WILL BE HELD IN MONTE CARLO FEB. 24 TO 26.

The affair, staged by Loews Hotels and Air France under the auspices of the Principality of Monaco, is expected to bring together vintners from California, Germany, France and Italy. There will be wine tastings, wine seminars and some lavish meals. The tab is approximately $600 per person, double occupancy, which includes deluxe digs at the Loews Monte Carlo overlooking the Mediterranean; breakfast and lunch; a reception; two full days of seminars, discussions and presentations, and a grand-finale ball.

THE LATEST EFFORT AIMED AT REDUCING DIETARY FAT IS PROJECT LEAN.

The nationwide-publicity campaign is sponsored by the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation, a philanthropic organization in Menlo Park, Calif. The publicity blitz will feature national public-service advertisements, a hot line (offering free brochures, counseling and referral services) and information on "practical skills" to moderate fat intake, according to Merrill Rose, a Project LEAN representative. A coalition of 23 private and public health or marketing organizations - including the American Medical Association, the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American Cancer Society - will join the Kaiser Foundation in sponsoring the project.

AMERICANS PAID 2 CENTS A POUND LESS FOR BEEF IN THE PAST MONTH.

The National Cattlemen's Association (NCA) said Wednesday that the price decrease reflected ample supplies and stable wholesale prices. The NCA's latest survey of prices for five cuts of beef in 19 cities showed an average retail price of $2.81 per pound on Dec. 8. That compared with $2.83 on Nov. 10. Averages for the five cuts were: ground beef, $1.39; round steak, $2.52; sirloin steak, $3.35; T-bone steak, $4.96, and chuck roast, $1.84. The highest

average price - $3.70 per pound - was in New York City. Des Moines had the lowest average price - $1.89.

FISH SHELLS MIGHT MAKE LAST NIGHT'S MEATLOAF LAST LONGER AND TASTE BETTER.

An Agriculture Department scientist has said that a substance from the shells of crabs and lobsters, called chitin, inhibits a warmed-over flavor in uncured meat, poultry and fish that is cooked, stored and reheated. John R. Vercellotti, a chemist at the department's Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans, said TV dinners, microwave foods and leftovers are prime candidates for off-tastes. Meats cured with nitrite, such as bacon, ham and lunch meats, don't have such problems, he said. Vercellotti and a fellow chemist, Allen J. St. Angelo, are seeking a patent on additives made from chitin, which he described as "a surplus material from the shellfish industry."

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