Expanding the Marketing Opportunities for Organic Growers in Texas

Final Report for LS03-144

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2003: $19,924.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $3,409.00
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Principal Investigator:
Douglas Constance
Sam Houston State University
Expand All

Project Information

Abstract:

The major objective of this planning grant project is to conduct preliminary research in support of the goal of expanding the marketing opportunities for organic farmers in Texas. To accomplish this objective the research team employed a three pronged approach: First, focus groups of both producers and consumers of organic foods and products were conducted in each of the five regions of Texas. Data gathered in the focus groups reveal that there is a wide diversity of commodities produced across Texas as well as wide variety of marketing channels utilized by organic producers and purchasing venues utilized by organic consumers. Another major issue that emerged from the focus groups was the diverging opinions on the topic of organic certification. Second, information gathered in the focus groups was combined with other information from a literature review on organic food systems and previous surveys of organic producers and consumers to create a tailored survey instrument for organic food consumers and producers in Texas. Some results from the survey are reported below and a copy of the survey results is available through the Southern SARE office as part of this final report. Finally, the research team has been successful in beginning to build a network of both farmers/producers and organizational liaisons of parties interested in the project. University extension agents, farmers market managers, urban gardening program coordinators, and a wide diversity of farmers, gardeners, input suppliers, and alternative food production/processing companies have been involved in the research. Research staff members have discussed the next step in the process which includes the development of a larger funding proposal.

Project Objectives:

Most of the targeted objectives were met. The focus groups were carried out and transcribed. A literature review was carried out including examples of survey questionnaires. The focus group information was combined with information from the literature review and sample questionnaires to create a tailored survey questionnaire for Texas organic producers and consumers. The survey was printed and sent to two lists of respondents. Returned surveys were entered into a SPPS data set and descriptive information was written up in report form. A variety of networking activities were carried out by project staff throughout the project. Project staff members discussed the results and the next step in the process. At this time the goal of the development of a larger research proposal has not been carried out but is still in the planning and development stages.

Introduction:

The major objective of this planning grant project is to conduct preliminary research in support of the goal of expanding the marketing opportunities for organic farmers in Texas. To accomplish this objective the research team employed a three pronged approach: First, focus groups of both producers and consumers of organic foods and products were conducted in each of the five regions of Texas. Data gathered in the focus groups reveal that there is a wide diversity of commodities produced across Texas as well as wide variety of marketing channels utilized by organic producers and purchasing venues utilized by organic consumers. Another major issue that emerged from the focus groups was the diverging opinions on the topic of organic certification. Second, information gathered in the focus groups was combined with other information from a literature review on organic food systems and previous surveys of organic producers and consumers to create a tailored survey instrument for organic food consumers and producers in Texas. Some results from the survey are reported below and a copy of the survey results is available through the Southern SARE office as part of this final report. Finally, the research team has been successful in beginning to build a network of both farmers/producers and organizational liaisons of parties interested in the project. University extension agents, farmers market managers, urban gardening program coordinators, and a wide diversity of farmers, gardeners, input suppliers, and alternative food production/processing companies have been involved in the research.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Joe Novak
  • Louise Placek

Research

Materials and methods:

A combination of qualitative and quantitative methods were utilized in this project. Focus groups were carried out with organic producers and consumers in each of the five Texas regions. Project staff worked with the regional coordinators for the five Texas regions to organize the focus groups. For both groups a set of guiding questions was developed. For the producers, questions such as “what do you produce”, “where do you sell”., “where would you like to sell more product”, “what keeps you from selling more product where you want to”, “what are the most important barriers to expanding production”, and “how important is organic certification” were used to guide the focus group. Similar questions such as “what organic foods do you buy”, “where do you buy them”, “where would you like to buy them”, “what keeps you from buying more organic foods”, and “how important is organic certification” were used to guide the consumer focus groups. Focus group data was transcribed. Information garnered from the focus group data was then combined with information from the literature review and sample surveys to create the Texas survey questionnaire. The research staff met to finalize the survey questionnaire. The survey was sent to the member list (210) of the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (TOFGA) and the list (152) of Certified Organic producers in Texas obtained from the Texas Department of Agriculture. Included in the TOFGA list were twenty- three people from the Arlington area who were members of organic gardening clubs. A total of 362 respondents were identified. Respondents were asked to fill out the survey and return it within ten days. Four of the surveys came back as undeliverable. After two weeks a reminder letter was sent out. A total of 164 of the 358 valid questionnaires were returned for a response rate of 45.5%. Data from the questionnaires were entered into a SPSSX program for analysis. A report detailing the information collected in the survey was created. Some analyses of the date by region have been conducted. Similarly, other analyses focusing on (1) producers versus consumers attitudes regarding organic certification and (2) certified producers versus non-certified producers attitudes towards organic certification have been carried out.

Research results and discussion:

Information gathered in the producer focus groups reveals the great variety of crops grown organically in Texas and the various marketing strategies used to sell these crops, including barriers to further market access. For example, the producers of organic cotton in Northwest Texas produce for a global market while the producers of organic produce in Northeast or South Central Texas are more likely to direct market their products at farmers markets or direct to consumers. Additionally, data from the consumer focus groups reveals that consumers of organic products take part in a variety of buying strategies ranging from direct buying from farmers to relying solely on the organic section of their regional grocery store. The focus groups were carried out in each of the five regions to try to capture some of the particularities of each reason. The results of the focus groups did reveal that there are such predicted differences in both consumer behaviors and producer marketing strategies by region.

The primary accomplishments of the project are (1) completing the consumer and producer focus groups, (2) networking with people and organizations across the state interested in the project, (3) completing the survey and producing a final report of the survey data. A number of ideas gleaned from the focus groups and survey data have already pointed to research and program needs in the state. The process of networking has already started to galvanize a state-wide group interested in continuing to advance the goal of organic production and consumption in Texas. Several university extension agents have indicated their willingness to be part of the current project as well as work on other projects. Similarly, Texas Department of Agriculture staff have also indicated their further support for this and similar projects. There has also been several good links made with farmers markets in and/or near major metropolitan areas who are interested in getting more organic foods represented in their markets. The research team and TOFGA has been well received in each of the five regions.

The survey questionnaire covered numerous topics that are provided in the Final Report. Some notable results from the Producer Section of the questionnaire include the following items. The five most reported crops produced are vegetables (40), fruits/berries (33), eggs (22), herbs (22) and beef (16). The top five marketing aids utilized are word of mouth (82.6%), organic certification (60.0%), other label claims such as Go Texan (39.5%), phone calls to potential buyers (37.2%), and farm product websites (33.7%). Many producers (42.4%) indicated that their market demand in the current year (2004) was excellent and just a few (3.5%) reported poor conditions. Regarding prices for organic foods, about one-half (48.2%) reported good marked conditions and very few (2.4%) replied conditions were poor. A majority of respondents indicated that the overall market for organic products had either expands by 5% to 25% (31.8%) or held steady within a few percentage points (28.2%). Similarly, over half (52.3%) reported that the overall market price for their organic products had held stead with a few percentage points. When asked about what percentage of last year’s crop was sold at an organic premium prices, about one-third (30.9%) indicated 100% of product sold” and just less than one-half (48.2%) replied that at least half of their crop was sold for organic premiums. The top six reasons for having to sell some organic product in conventional markets are organic market not available (94%), over supply (59%), organic market too far away (41%), organic market not reliable (41%), conventional price was good/high (41%), and out-of-state/out-of-country competition (41%).

The five most common marketing problems are (in order) lack of organic marketing networks, competition with “non-organic products”, finding organic markets for my organic products, distance to available organic markets, and affordable advertising. The five most common production problems are (in order) weather-related production losses, high cost inputs, lack of organic feed, lack of organic processing facilities, and production losses due to pests/diseases. The top five information sources utilized are (in order) other farmers, individual customers, newsletters/magazines/books, buyers, and conference/workshop/seminar. The five most useful information sources are Cooperative Extension Services, USDA, marketing cooperatives, other non-profit associations, and other growers associations. When asked about what information and/or services would be most useful in improving the marketing of organic products, the top five responses are (in order) consumer education programs about organics, organic-specific research and Extension services, local/regional organic market development, direct-to-consumer market information/development, and Texas organic information clearinghouse. The five most frequently requested topics for more information are insect control (56%), weed control (55%), marketing (51%), cover crops (50%), soil biology (48%), and consumer education on organics (48%).

When asked about their type of farming operation, about half (47.1%) reported they were certified organic, followed by organic but not certified (27.1%), mixture of certified organic and conventional (9.4%), mixture of conventional and non-certified organic (8.2%), am not certified organic but would like to be (3.5%), in transition to organic (2.4%), and was organic but no longer is certified (2.4%). Respondents indicated that they had been farming an average of 18.3 years. They had farmed organically for an average of 11.57 years, and certified-organically for an average of 8.4 years. The acres they farmed organically ranged from 1 to 4,500 with an average of 33.0.87 acres. About one-fifth farmed 1-5 acres (18.6%) and 100-500 acres (22.7%). There were 9 farmers who reported that they farmed sq. ft. instead of acres. A majority owned their land (76.7%) and farmed full time (63.6%). Similarly, a majority had at least one family member working on the farm full-time (59.5%) and not quite one-half with part-time (47.7%). About forty-percent of respondents had one or more non-family members working either full-time or part-time. The majority of respondents indicated that they did not transition so organic but began their farming career using organic methods (58.1%). A large majority (73.6%) reported that they expected their operation to expand in the next three years and most were somewhat satisfied or mostly satisfied (69.8%) with the profitability of their organic farming operation.

The five most likely reasons given for farming organically are (in order) chemical avoidance for environmental health, quality of organically grown products, chemical avoidance for family/farmworker health, land stewardship/ecological sustainability, and community values, tradition, quality of life. Very few (12.3%) reported that they were members of a organic cooperative but of the ones who were members, most all (81.3%) were members of a marketing cooperative. An overwhelming majority reported that they were somewhat or very interested in learning more about input/supply cooperatives (87.1%) and marketing cooperatives (81.9%). There are twelve likert-scale questions dealing with issues related to organic certification on the questionnaire. A paper presented at a professional meeting that discusses the difference in opinions of “certified” and “non-certified” producers is included in the paper copy of the final report.

The majority of respondents (59.5%) reported that between 1% - 25% of their household income came from organic farm products and about one-fifth (21.4%) reported between 76% - 100%. Respondents’ gross farming income was spread fairly evenly across the categories with the most frequent answers being “less than $5,000” (23.3%) and “no income or loss” (14.0%) and “$50,000 - $99,000” (14.0%). The most frequent categories for level of education are completed graduate work (27.6%), completed bachelors work (23.0%), and some college/technical school (20.7%). The vast majority of respondents are of White/Anglo American race/ethnicity (82.6%). The average age is 54.2 years with a range from 25 – 84 years old. Most respondents are male (70.9%). In order of region of residence, respondents are from South Central Texas (33.3%), North Texas (28.6%), Gulf Coast (15.5%), South Texas (8.3%), and West Texas (7.4%).

The survey also contained a series of questions designed to gather information regarding the practices and attitudes of organic consumers in Texas. This section reports some notable results. Texas consumers were most likely to buy their organic foods at a natural food store (78%), conventional grocery store (71%), farmers market (49%), health food store (43%), and direct from a local farmer (32%). When asked where they would be “somewhat” or “very” interested in buying their organic foods, the top five responses are conventional grocery store (87.1%), natural foods store (83.9%), farmers market (77.2%), direct from the farmer (75.%), and restaurant (59.6%). The top five reasons (in order) for buying organic foods are reduced pesticide residue, support sustainable agriculture, prefer environmentally friendly products, more nutritious, and support local organic farmers. Most respondents (38.3%) indicated that organic foods made up between 1% - 25% of their food purchases, followed by 76% - 99% of purchases (19.5%). Respondents spent on average less than $25 per week on organic foods (41.4%), followed by between $51-$100 per week (19.7%). The vast majority of surveyed Texas consumers indicated that they would be willing to pay up to 10% more (34.3%), up to 25% more (37.5%), and greater than 25% more (22.4%) of the typical retail price for similar items. Regarding certified organic foods, most consumers (42.3%) spent between 1%-25% of their food dollars on these items and most (44.1%) preferred to buy certified organic foods at a grocery store, followed by a natural foods store (22.8%), and direct from the farmer (10.3%). Consumers most often bought (top five in order) vegetables, fruits/berries, grains/cereals, dairy, and poultry.

There are twenty-six likert-scale questions included in the survey related to consumer opinions regarding organics in general and certified organic products in particular. A paper presented at a professional meeting that discusses the difference in opinions of between “certified organic producers” and “organic foods consumers” is included in the paper copy of the final report. Some notable results not included in the conference paper are that the majority of consumers (55.6%) reported that organic foods are not readily available in their area and that if available, almost all (87.4%) would buy more. About two-thirds of respondents (67.9%) indicated that farmers markets were not readily available in their areas. While a third (38%) reported that the high costs of organics keeps them from buying more, a large majority (84.7%) agreed that organic foods were worth the extra cost. Most respondents (73%) indicated that they would prefer to buy their organic products in Texas. Finally, a large majority (76.7%) agreed that the County Extension Office should provide more information and programs on organic marketing and organic market outlets.

Most respondents (73.0%) had a vegetable garden at home and almost all (86.3%) were organic gardens. Respondents were evenly distributed across income brackets but were over-represented in completed college or advanced coursework/degrees (64.9%). The vast majority are White/Anglo American (91.5%). The average age is 53.11 years. About one-fifth (21.3%) had at least one child in the home. There are slightly more female (54.3%) than male (45.7%) respondents. Most consumers came from rural areas (46.4%), followed by suburban area (20.9%). In order of region of residence, respondents were from North Texas (36.0%), South Central Texas (32.7%), Gulf Coast (17.3%), West Texas (7.4%), and South Texas (6.0%).

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

So far, two papers have been presented at professional meetings. Other papers are scheduled for June and August.

Constance, Douglas H. and Nicole Infererra. 2005. “Organic Agriculture in Texas: Producers’ Views on Certification.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Southwestern Sociological Association. New Orleans, LA. March 25.

Constance, Douglas H. 2005. "The Views of Organic Food Producers and Consumers in Texas.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Southern Rural Sociological Society. Little Rock, AR. Feb. 7.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The impacts and contributions are nascent at this time but have been alluded to above. The process of carrying out the focus groups has aided in the networking effort across the state. A major early outcome is the willingness of several Texas A&M-based extension agents to collaborate on this and future projects. We feel this is notable accomplishment already. Another notable accomplishment is early work being done to connect organic livestock producers with a source of organic livestock feed from Texas. This is a major issue that came up repeatedly in the focus groups and the questionnaire. Finally, the diversity of opinions on the part of both producers and consumers regarding the importance and the necessity of food being “certified organic” is a valuable early outcome of the project.

Economic Analysis

n/a

Farmer Adoption

n/a

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

The research points to several areas of further study. First, the issue of organic certification needs more attention. To what degree the organic food system is bifurcating into large certified organic operations servicing the mass, indirect market of the large grocery store and a smaller, direct market system such as farmers markets needs to be researched. Second, the interest in both input and product marketing cooperatives need to be investigated. Third, the issue of organic feed supplies for livestock growers and access to organic slaughter facilities needs to be further researched. Finally, what kinds of collaborative efforts can be created between government agencies, educational institutions, non-profit groups, and organic producers and consumers deserves further study.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.