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Organics Growing--Even in Texas Cattle Country

Organic grows in popularity
By Analisa Nazareno

Express-News Business Writer (San Antonio, Texas) 11/15/03

San Antonio resident Lodie Mueller worries about raising her two teenage
daughters in a safe and healthy environment, and that includes the fruits
and vegetables she buys at the supermarket.

³I like to buy organic produce because I like to send a message that I value
foods made without pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics,² she said. ³I
would like to buy more, but with our budget, we can't buy everything
organic.²

Mueller said she has been buying organic foods for about 20 years but is
buying more and more these days as the prices drop for some products and as
more organic goods become available.

This week, Mueller came out of the Whole Foods store on Basse with bread and
cheese ‹ but neither was organic. She doesn't buy organic meats, largely
because they're not yet widely available. So, for practical reasons, she'll
also buy other foods that aren't organic.

Mueller's buying habits ‹ and those of shoppers nationwide ‹ are very much
of interest to grocers, growers, food marketers and people advocating
organic farming, all of whom are taking the business of organic foods very
seriously.

Over the past 10 years, the supply and the demand for organic foods have
steadily increased. And ‹ as with all markets ‹ as more organic products
move off the shelves, more producers and retailers take note and become
interested in making the products more available.

In 2001, organic foods constituted almost $5 billion in food sales. A
MarketResearch.com estimate projects this year, sales will increase to $13.4
billion, with 51 percent of sales from health and natural food stores and 49
percent from conventional stores.

According to some trade estimates, the sale of organic products has
increased by 20 percent each year since 1990, but such goods still make up
just 2 percent of the foods that are sold.

³The more it becomes available and the more people hear about it, the more
companies figure, ŒHere's a new market that I can get into,' ² Holly Givens,
communications director for the Organic Trade Association, said. ³And as
people learn more about diets and health issues, and how foods are
processed, the more people learn how organic fits in with their desires to
have a healthy lifestyle.²

The Organic Trade Association has 1,300 members, including 61 producers,
processors, marketers and retailers in Texas.

Givens said since the federal government adopted labeling and certification
standards for organic foods last fall, promoting organic products has been
easier for producers, marketers and retailers.

Between 1997 and 2001, the amount of acreage for certified organic pastures
and croplands increased by a million to 2.34 million acres, with pastures
for milk, chicken and beef production making up the fastest-growing
categories.

³I think there's a big market for this,² said rancher David Todd, who
operates SWT Cattle in Fayette County.

SWT started operating an organic ranch separate from the company's
conventional ranch operation two years ago and is expecting to take its
first organic herd to market next spring. The herd will make up 10 percent
of total output for the ranch.

Todd said he became interested in organic ranching as a means of
diversifying his ranch business in addition to having an interest in
learning how to manage ranch land without chemicals.

According to a Food Marketing Institute report, about 3 percent of U.S.
shoppers have bought organic meats within a six-month period in 2001. But
Todd is banking on the idea that consumers have become more and more wary of
beef produced with grain and antibiotics because of concern about mad cow
disease.

³The beef industry has a lot of stages to it and if you're a conventional
business, most of those stages you don't have control over,² Todd said. ³And
our belief is if you get into the organic grass-fed or natural business, it
brings you several steps closer to the consumer, so you capture some of that
business.²

Because of a growing interest in organic ranching, Texas went from being
12th in organic acreage to second. Today, Texas has 266,320 acres under
organic production, behind Colorado, which has 581,614 acres.

³Beef production is Texas' No. 1 agricultural business,² Leslie McKinnon,
coordinator for the Texas Department of Agriculture's organic certification
program, said. ³There's a lot of potential for more organic beef businesses
to be certified.²

McKinnon said while Texas' increase in organic acreage has been tremendous,
it's been largely due to the fact that ranches require great swaths of land.

³If we were just looking at vegetable production, California beats
everyone,² she said.

After living in California for several years, farmer Dan Rohrer ‹ who
operates Rocky Hill Orchards in Fredericksburg ‹ said he became concerned
about chemicals in food production as a consumer.

³My personal concern for food safety was the main reason why, and the market
demand reinforced that a little bit,² Rohrer said.

Rohrer manages 65 acres of cropland and produces tomatoes, melons, peaches,
blackberries and apples.

³There has been a really persistent increase in organic food purchases,² he
said. ³Looking at stores like H-E-B and the amount of shelf space that
they're giving to organic produce is really interesting.²

According to a Whole Foods Market survey of consumers, 86 percent of
shoppers said they would buy more organic food if the prices were lower. 76
percent said they would do so if there were more products in the
supermarkets. And 75 percent said they would buy more if there were more
products available.

The typical profiles for a regular organic food shopper are baby boomers and
college students. Typically, organic food buyers are more likely to have
college degrees.

Organic food promoters said there are signs that organic foods are becoming
more and more a part of the mainstream, a process that will hasten the
growth of organic food production and sales.

³Wal-Mart sent a representative to our trade show last year,² Givens of the
Organic Trade Association said. ³There are some Wal-Marts that carry organic
products. Now, that's great. They're offering additional accessibility, and
that's great.²

anazareno@express-news.net

 

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