University's Organic Agriculture Working Group
brings together KSU researchers, teachers, and extension
staff whose work relates to organic agriculture. We are
a diverse group, with a broad range of ideas and
expertise. By working together, we try to approach
problems holistically, according to the ideals of
National Organic Program standards and suitable for adoption by Kentucky’s small farmers and gardeners.
"These questions are complex [...] For their solution they manifestly require every aid that a wide knowledge of science can give."
--Sir Albert Howard,
Father of Organic
A rapidly growing niche marketIn 2002 the USDA adopted national organic standards, establishing a definition of the word "organic" for use in marketing agricultural products in the United States. The standards require practices intended to "foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity" (see sidebar). They prohibit most synthetic products, including chemical fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, and genetically modified organisms. The standards are built on a philosophy of creating agricultural ecosystems that mimic natural ones.
offers premium prices for
Organic farmers strive to use few off-farm inputs. On average, organic farms consume less energy than conventional farms, reducing resource consumption and pollution.2
The US Organic food market has grown by about 16 percent per year for over a decade, from approximately $6.1 billion in 2000 to $26.7 billion in 2010.3 Organic farmers have enjoyed substantial price premiums during this period of growth: For example, organic corn and soybean prices ranged from 50% to 300% higher than conventional prices between 2004 and 2009.4
A state of small farmers seeks high value
alternatives to tobacco, the traditional
backbone of the rural economy.
Kentucky is a state of small, limited resource farms. More than 75% of the commonwealth's 85,000 farms are smaller than 180 acres, and 80% have an annual income under $25,000.5
Supply-managed tobacco production was long the backbone of Kentucky's unique small farm economy. In the 1990s, the return from 5 acres of tobacco was about the same as from 100 acres of corn, or 50 acres of double-crop wheat and soybean.6 All tobacco price supports and marketing quotas were eliminated before the 2005 crop year, resulting in lower, less predictable tobacco prices. Most of the farms that once grew tobacco are getting out of the business.
The loss of tobacco as a stable source of income leaves Kentucky's small farmers looking for other high-value crops to replace it. Returns from organic horticulture production can be as high, or higher than returns from tobacco. Organic production could allow Kentucky's small farmers to stay in business.
"An organic farm, properly speaking, is not one that uses certain methods and substances and avoids others; it is a farm whose structure is formed in imitation of the structure of a natural system that has the integrity, the independence and the benign dependence of an organism."
Farmer and Author,
A historically black land grant universityKentucky State University is a historically black land grant university with a simple motto: "Enter to learn. Go out to serve." Building on its history of service to the under-served, the university's College of Agriculture, Food Science and Sustainable Systems, directed by Dean Teferi Tsegaye, caters to small farmers, minority farmers, and farmers operating with limited resources.
continues a tradition of service
to the under-served.
"'Take care of the waste on the farm and turn it into useful channels' should be the slogan of every farmer."
--George Washington Carver, Inventor and Educator, Birmingham, Alabama, 1936
2. Derek Lynch, Rod MacRae and Ralph
Martin. 2011. The
Carbon and Global Warming Potential Impacts of Organic
Farming: Does It Have a Significant Role in an Energy
Constrained World? Sustainability
3. Organic Trade Association. 2011. US Organic Industry Overview. Organic Trade Association, Greenfield MA.
4. Ariel Singerman. 2011. Price Analysis,
Risk Assessment, and Insurance for Organic Crops. Iowa
State University. Graduate Theses and Dissertations Paper
5. USDA-NASS. 2008. Kentucky State and County Data. 2007 Census of Agriculture.
6. Will Snell and Steven Goetz. 1997. Overview of Kentucky's Tobacco Economy. University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service Bulletin.
7. Wendell Berry. 1982. The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural. North Point Press, New York, NY.