Organic Marketing Resources
NCAT Agriculture Specialist
© NCAT 2004
Market resources for organic food and fiber products, including organic prices, sales data, market trends, and other market data, organic trade associations, directories, and other organic marketing publications and resources, with contact information for ordering them.
Table of Contents
- Federal Crop Insurance for Organic Farmers
- Sources of Organic Market Price Information
- Sources of Information on the Organic and Natural Foods Markets
- Finding Buyers
- Internet Trading Sites
- Not Strictly Organic, But Useful
Like their conventional counterparts, many organic growers find marketing to be the hardest part of farming. Some lack the skills and creativity to find profitable outlets; some simply dislike dealing with the public, doing market research, or addressing the other details essential to successful marketing. These organic farmers find that they, too, are "price takers"—just like most conventional farmers. While demand for organic products has greatly increased since the late 1990s, organic production has also increased. It is inevitable that the rapid rise in production will eventually reduce or even eliminate the premium prices that have attracted many new growers to certified organic production.
Actively seeking buyers, evaluating offers, and negotiating the best deals are becoming more and more crucial to the economic survival of organic farmers. If you are interested in adding value by going organic, learn as much as you can about the organic food market in order to make the best production, pricing, and marketing decisions. Reading industry publications can be useful for finding out what's in demand now and what looks promising for the future, what the price ranges are for various products, and so on. This resource list provides some starting points for getting information and for finding buyers at the wholesale and retail levels.
| Federal Crop Insurance for Organic Farmers
For managing production risk, the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) has prepared an excellent overview of Federal Crop Insurance as it pertains to organic farming, which is excerpted below by permission.
Federal Crop Insurance protects a farmer against production or revenue losses when a particular, insured crop does not meet a pre-set production guarantee. Covered losses include adverse weather (frost, heat, drought, and hail), fire, insects and disease, wildlife damage, earthquake or volcanic eruption, and failure of irrigation water supply. Non-covered losses include negligence or wrong-doing, poor management and farming practices, failure or breakdown of irrigation equipment or facilities, and chemical drift.
The USDA-Risk Management Agency (RMA) administers the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC). RMA handles the policy and oversight of the program, but insurance policies are sold and serviced by private insurance companies and their agents. All sales and loss adjustments take place with the private agents. RMA shares the risk with the private companies. Local USDA service offices have lists of insurance agents that individuals can choose to buy crop insurance through. Agents are also listed on the RMA Web site.
The Multi-Peril Crop Insurance Program (MPCI) is now available for organically grown insurable crops. Federal Crop Insurance coverage, and thus insurance premiums, is based on average yield, numbers of acres per crop, and desired percent of reimbursement. To figure the terms under which a particular crop can be covered, two situations can be relevant. In the first, a producer reports production for each unit of production (field/crop) for up to 10 continuous years. An average of the data is the base yield that will be used in figuring insurance coverage. If 10 years of data are not available, a figure based on the historic county average will be used instead. New farmers can claim 100% of the historical yield average; existing farmers can only claim 65% (an incentive for real records to come into the office). Organic farms are not segregated or treated uniquely as far as historic yield averages are concerned. To date, there is no reimbursement premium for organic crop production. Policy payments are based solely on yield reduction, acreage affected, and average conventional commodity price. The USDA/ERS (Economic Research Service) is collecting data on prices for organic crops, but has not collected enough data to have price averages for organic crops. So, for now, organic producers will be compensated for the loss of yield and acreage, but only at average conventional prices.
To write a Written Agreement, a producer must first find a crop insurance agent. That agent will fill out a special form and work with RMA to write the agreement. Crop insurance must be taken out at very specific times each year. Once taken out, the policy is continuous unless canceled by a given year's sales closing date. Closing dates are specific to each area and crop, and should be confirmed with an agent. Not all crops are covered by Federal Crop Insurance. Crops are approved for particular states and counties. If a crop is not approved in your area but is in another, you may write a Written Agreement for that crop. If a crop is not approved for insurance anywhere in the US, the Federal program will not write insurance for it. Crop Insurance Policies for additional crops are continually being developed and must proceed through a pilot process before being fully available to farmers around the country. If a crop passes the pilot phase, it will be available to other producers for coverage under a Written Agreement. To initiate a pilot program on a crop, approval has to be given by the board of the FCIC.
Good news for organic producers is in the form of a pilot program called the Adjusted Gross Revenue Lite Program. In this program, insurance coverage is based on the five-year average farm revenue listed on IRS 1040. [In addition to Pennsylvania, the program is now offered in several counties in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, West Virginia, New York, and Maryland.] This program ought to become available to producers around the US within five years. Using average farm revenue will accommodate organic premiums in insurance coverage and reimbursement. Federal Crop Insurance does not cover GMO contamination. "Any loss of production or value due to contamination of a prohibited substance (intentional or unintentional) or contamination from a genetically modified organism with certified organic, transitional or buffer zone acreage is not insured."
Organic producers need to apply for MPCI using a "Written Agreement," which is a request for exception. These Agreements are traditionally used to cover crops outside of their specific qualified area, but are currently also being written for organic crops. If only general coverage (without a Written Agreement) is taken on an organic crop, the argument will be made that chemical treatment could have been used to solve an insect or disease problem to reduce loss.
The specific wording in RMA materials states that "If a Written Agreement is not requested for organic farming practices, loss adjustment procedures for conventionally grown crops will be applicable. Appraisals for uninsured causes of loss will be applied when conventional farming practices would have prevented damage due to insects, disease, or weeds."
The use of a Written Agreement supersedes the status quo and acknowledges the unique practices involved in organic production.
Individuals should contact area RMA staff to further the conversation about organic farm crop insurance needs and concerns. For more information or to find contact information for your area, go to the RMA Web site or contact:
1400 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20250
Source: Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) Fact Sheet: Introduction to Crop Insurance. [PDF/84K] Available online or contact:
P.O. Box 339
Spring Valley, WI 54767
Sources of Organic Market Price Information
Rodale Publishers' New Farm® Organic Price Index™ (OPX) is a comparison of terminal market prices and other wholesale and selected large-scale retail prices for organic and conventional foods and sustainably raised meats. It is updated on Tuesday of each week and represents prices for products gathered on Monday of the same week from markets on the East and West coasts. This index uses the best data available from the developing wholesale markets for certified organic fresh produce and grains, as well as from the emerging national market for certified organic dairy and self-identified sustainably raised meats. There is also the OPX Plus, which reports (mostly West Coast) prices for many organic produce items that are not part of the regular OPX service, and the Grassroots OPX, which reports prices for many different products from farmers' markets across the country. There is no charge for access to the OPX, which is only available on the Internet.
Limited data on wholesale prices for organic produce are available from USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). Terminal markets in San Francisco and Boston report data for some commodities.
Organic Business News offers current prices for organic crops (fresh fruits, vegetable and herbs, dairy, grains, beans, and oilseeds) on a weekly basis through its Organic Commodity Price Fax Bulletin. Annual subscriptions (50 issues) are $205 by fax, $110 by U.S. mail. Visit the website for information on subscription discouts. Contact:
Growing for Market is a monthly newsletter geared to small-scale market gardeners. It includes information on vegetable, herb, and flower production and marketing, and publishes price data (some organic). It is available for $30/year from:
Sources of Information on the Organic and Natural Foods Markets
While there is still no organic counterpart to the excellent price data available from the USDA for conventional products, the USDA has in recent years become much more active in gathering and disseminating information on organics. USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) has an Organic Issues Center, where basic information on the state of organic agriculture in the U.S., such as data on acreage of various organic crops by state, is available. The Center also publishes reports on organics that detail acreage and crops, and discuss market trends, demand, and price premiums for selected organic commodities. For information on obtaining hard copies of these publications, contact:
USDA Order Desk
5285 Port Royal Road
Springfield, VA 22161
The USDA's Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS) offers Organic Perspectives, a newsletter that contains reports on organics from around the world, as well as items of interest about the U.S. National Organic Program and the domestic organic industry. A list of upcoming conferences, trade shows, and other events is included in every issue. In addition, FAS articles, reports, and presentations on organics are available on the FAS Web site. While this information is naturally of more interest to exporters than to growers marketing in the U.S., there are valuable "nuggets" to be found for everyone. Most of these materials are available only online.
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) works to increase market access and market demand for organics.
OTA is very active in increasing consumer and retailer interest in organics through a wide variety of educational and promotional activities. Their annual All Things Organic™ conference and trade show is a good opportunity to learn about the organics industry and market. The OTA Promotional & Merchandising Materials Catalogue is available free of charge. Contact:
The Agricultural Marketing Resource Center offers links to much useful information on the organic foods industry. There is also some information on specific organic products and commodities, which can be found in the "Commodities and Products" section of the Web site. Organic business planning and management resources are also included.
Organic Consumer Trends 2001, published by the Natural Marketing Institute in cooperation with the Organic Trade Association, presents the results of a research study of the organic market. This study is generated from more than 2,000 consumer households nationwide and is balanced to the U.S. census general population. The study addresses:
- attitudinal and behavioral findings across relevant consumer segments, including new organic users, core users, and non-users
- organic entry points, attraction, conversion, retention, and penetration of consumer segments
- product usage, sources of influence, and brand awareness and loyalty across all retail channels
Each page presents findings via charts, graphs, and tables, accompanied by text explaining organic market trends and identifying future organic opportunities. Cost is $995. Contact:
Natural Foods Merchandiser magazine is an excellent source of information on the natural and organic foods industry. Their annual market overviews, presenting the latest statistics and trends in the organic and natural products industries, are published in June. They also publish an annual directory for the natural foods industry. You can take a look at current and past issues at their Web site, where you will also find other information and news related to the natural products industry. Subscriptions are free to qualified subscribers in the U.S., or $175 for non-qualified and foreign subscribers. Contact:
Natural Foods Merchandiser
New Hope Natural Media
1401 Pearl Street
Boulder, CO 80302
LOHAS Journal is a business-to-business publication that tracks companies that serve "values-based" consumers. LOHAS Journal provides insight, perspective, and analysis for executives and decision-makers at companies producing products and services promoting healthy living and a sustainable economy, including organics. Subscriptions are $12.95 for four issues. Other information on marketing trends, research, and other topics is available online. Contact:
360 Interlocken Blvd, Ste. #350
Broomfield, CO 80021
Organic Production: Opportunity, Requirements, And Pitfalls is a brief overview of issues facing the potential organic farmer.
A Guide to Marketing Organic Produce is a very useful publication that provides some instruction on calculating production costs and using market window analysis in making decisions about planting and marketing.
Hard copies of both of these publications may be requested from Texas Cooperative Extension. Contact:
Texas Cooperative Extension
Room 112, Jack K. Williams Administration Building
College Station, TX 77843-7101
The Alternative Farming Systems Information Center's section on Organic Food Production identifies a number of useful publications and other resources pertaining to organic food production. This site is definitely worth a look to find news, information, and more. It is on the Web or contact:
Alternative Farming Systems Information Center
USDA, ARS, National Agricultural Library
10301 Baltimore Ave., Room 132
Beltsville, MD 20705-2351
Organic-Research.com, an online community for organic farming and food, developed by CABI Publishing, provides impartial information of high quality, recognizing worldwide interest in organic farming and related sustainability issues. The site provides a searchable database of articles, and includes information on topics such as news, research, education, and laws and regulations. Some information on the site is free, but premier content is only available by membership. A 30-day free trial is available. Contact:
The Organic Food and Farming in Canada Web site has a considerable amount of marketing and economic information, much of it applicable to the U.S. market.
The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) sponsors and disseminates results of research related to organic farming practices and works to educate the public and decision-makers about organic farming issues. OFRF makes some great information available on its Web site, including organic farmer surveys and newsletters with information related to marketing organic products. The latest in their series of biennial surveys is Final Results of the 3rd Biennial National Organic Farmers' Survey ($10 for members, $15 for non-members, plus $2.00 s&h). Contact:
Organic Food Markets in Transition examines all aspects of the organic market, from production to processing, distribution, wholesaling, and retailing, and provides an excellent overview of the market. Available for $15 from:
Henry A. Wallace Center for Agricultural and Environmental Policy
9200 Edmonton Road, Suite 117
Greenbelt, MD 20770
Certified Organic Production in the United States: Half a Decade of Growth provides a good overview of the organic market, focusing on production and supply. Available for $60 from:
125 West Seventh Street
Wind Gap, PA 18091
Organic Processing is a new magazine that covers all aspects of certified organic food, fiber, and personal care manufacturing. Free subscriptions are available for qualified users. Contact:
In addition to the publications listed above, there are more periodicals that offer a retail perspective on a wide variety of organic categories.
The Cooperative Grocer is a trade magazine for natural food co-ops. Articles from previous issues are available at their Web site. While focusing on cooperative management issues, there is also very useful information on sales and trends in organic and natural foods and other products. Annual subscriptions (6 issues per year) cost $25.00.
2600 East Franklin Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55406
612-692-8560, ext. 207
Natural Grocery Buyer covers a wide range of organic and natural product information and management tips, as well as industry information and trends, all from the retail buyer's point of view. Some articles are available on the magazine's Web site. Free subscriptions are available to individuals or firms engaged in the retailing, wholesaling, and brokering of natural foods in the United States. All other U.S. subscriptions are $20 per issue.
Natural Grocery Buyer
New Hope Natural Media
1401 Pearl St., Suite 200
Boulder, CO 80302
Training Manual: Tools to Successful Organic Retailing covers trends and USDA guidelines, and addresses consumer questions about organics. $30.00 for members, $50.00 for non-members, plus $4.00 s&h. Available from OTA (see previous listing).
The Organic Alliance is a national non-profit organization that creates marketing, promotional, and educational programs for retailers to increase the organic market share. The Alliance offers merchandising and training materials to help retailers educate their employees and boost organic sales. Contact:
Angela Sterns, Executive Director
400 Selby Avenue, Suite T
St. Paul, MN 55102
The Organic Consumers Association is a public interest organization dedicated to building a healthy, safe, and sustainable system of food production and consumption. The association is a global clearinghouse for information and grassroots technical assistance. Its Web site includes information on a host of organic issues. Your business can also be listed as a source of "pure food." Contact:
| Contract Production
Many organic grains, as well as other organic crops, are commonly produced under contract. Contract production can add value and reduce risk. But an unwary farmer can run into problems with contracting. Some buyers fail to honor contracts, leaving growers stuck with a crop they have to sell at a loss or cannot sell at all. Others accept delivery of the crop, but fail to pay the growers on time or at the agreed-on price. The rapidly growing and changing organic market has resulted in many buyers entering and leaving the business. Buyers who were solid last year may be on the verge of bankruptcy this year. A wise farmer will do some investigating. Industry publications are a good first source of information on buyers. After you have identified potential buyers, talk to other growers who have done business with them. Most reputable buyers can provide grower references. If you're considering contract production, learn how to evaluate contracts and make sure you're legally protected. For more information on evaluating and using contracts to manage risk, visit the National Agricultural Risk Education Library.
State departments of agriculture often offer production and marketing assistance, as well as organic certification services in some states. Newsletters from organic and sustainable farming groups are often a favorite place for buyers to advertise. Also, involvement in these groups can help you assess the local demand for organic and alternative crops, get access to cooperative marketing ventures, and find other ways for smaller farmers to cut marketing costs. Contact information for these groups can be found in the National Organic Directory or in the ATTRA Resource List Sustainable Agriculture Organizations and Publications.
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) offers a range of directories and market research and information materials, including:
- The Organic Pages: North American Resource Directory, published annually, provides listings of growers, wholesalers, brokers, consultants, distributors, and importers/exporters. Companies that provide mail-order services to consumers and retail accounts are clearly identified and compiled in a separate index. $149 for non-members, $25 for members, plus $15 s&h.
- The Organic Fiber Directory lists companies that handle organic cotton, flax, hemp, and wool. The directory contains listings and contact information for organic fiber growers, brokers, mills, manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers. $25 for non-members, $15 for members, plus $3 s&h.
- Organic Export Directory is an online resource that allows users to search for U.S. exporters of U.S. organic products.
- OTA's Manufacturers' Market Survey provides statistical data on organic manufacturers. $50 for non-members, $25 for members, plus $3 s&h.
For more information on these publications and other programs and services, contact:
Prepared Foods magazine hosts an online directory of organic and nutraceutical ingredients suppliers.
Internet Trading Sites
OrganicTrader.net is a very good, active site with current listings. Suppliers can list detailed product information. Buyers can find suppliers and current product information and order online. A request database matches buyers with suppliers who have or wish to provide specific products. Free classifieds for visitors and registered users.
Organic Trade Services is another excellent resource, with a more international focus than OrganicTrader.net. The site features an online marketplace for buyers and sellers of certified organic products. You can get free subscriptions to e-mail news and trade offers at this site as well. There is also a directory of suppliers, buyers, certification bodies, and service providers available at the site.
Agriculture Online hosts some active classifieds—search on "organic" to see listings.
GaiaOne Knowledge Systems is a network for farmers, gardeners, consumers, and industry professionals working together to bring organic food to the world. Its Web site includes the Eco-Market Database, where you can find organic products or list your own, as well as information on organic certification and other resources.
Not Strictly Organic, But Useful
Price and other market information for conventional products can be used in market analysis by organic growers. The following list identifies several useful resources.
Farmers may want to add Local Harvest to their array of marketing tools. Farmers can be listed on Local Harvest's Web site as a means of marketing their products directly. Local Harvest is oriented primarily towards direct-to-consumer sales, but as the site grows, buyers for restaurants and stores may begin using it.
Many organic, natural, and value-added products can be marketed through the specialty and fancy foods markets, as well as the health/environmentally conscious market. The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) offers participation in the International Fancy Food & Confection Shows, advertising in NASFT's Specialty Food Magazine, and substantial discounts on seminars, workshops, publications, training tapes, videos, and manuals. Contact:
National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT)
120 Wall Street
New York, NY 10005-4001
212-482-6440, ext. 250
The Chefs Collaborative is a network of chefs, restaurateurs, and other culinary professionals who promote sustainable cuisine by teaching children, supporting local farmers, educating each other, and inspiring their customers to choose clean, healthy foods. If you are interested in selling to restaurants or other food services, this may be a good place to get information. Contact:
agAccess Information Services offers business, marketing, and strategic planning services as well as market research. Services are oriented towards specialty and organic producers. Contact:
FarmWorld Agricultural Exchange offers a wide range of listings for agricultural crop and livestock products, aquaculture, and many other related categories. Access is free.
Marketing Strategies for Vegetable Growers provides growers with useful information about marketing methods, product decisions, pricing strategies, and merchandising.
The Packer magazine is a great source of information on the produce market, including organic produce. Basic rates are $65 per year to addresses in the United States; discounts for longer subscription periods and group subscriptions are available. Annual publications are free to subscribers, and also may be purchased separately. The Produce Availability & Merchandising Guide covers handling, storage, seasonal availability, grades and packaging, merchandising, and nutritional data, and includes 330 commodities and 5,000 shipper listings ($35). Contact:
10901 W. 84th Terrace
Lenexa, KS 66214
800-255-5113, ext. 748 (toll-free)
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) has funded some 1,800 projects since 1988, many of which are related to marketing, from direct to cooperative wholesaling. SARE's Web site features a searchable database of projects from across the country, with contact information for project leaders. Speaking with project leaders and participants is a great way to learn about opportunities and problems in marketing from those with "on-the-ground" experience. For more information, visit SARE's Web site or contact:
The Small Farm Center at the University of California offers very useful market information and advice through newsletters and fact sheets, most available online. While not dealing specifically with organics, the marketing information available here is applicable to any small producer. Contact:
Vegetables and Melons Outlook is published every other month by the Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC 20005-4788. This newsletter, replaces the former Vegetables and Specialties Situation and Outlook report series. Printed copies of the newsletter (together with the yearbooKB] can be purchased from the National Technical Information Service by calling 800-999-6779 (specify SUB-VGS-4039).
The USDA's Market News Service offers weekly reports on prices and other market data for a wide variety of agronomic and horticultural crops, including ornamentals and culinary herbs.
In addition, you can get Market News service data for the following terminal markets:
|Related ATTRA Publications
Organic Marketing Resources
By Holly Born
NCAT Agriculture Specialist
Paul Williams, Editor
Cole Loeffler, HTML Production
This page was last updated on: August 28, 2014