A new University of California survey indicates that about 2 percent, or $6.7 million of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources funds go toward personnel and grant projects targeting organic farming research and education. Organically grown farm products represent about 2 percent of the value of all agriculture statewide.
"Organic farming in California has increased significantly in acreage, number of farms and farm gate value over the last decade," said Rick Roush, interim director of the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP), which coordinated and partially funded the project. "It is encouraging to see that UC researchers are engaged in organic research and education."
The survey work was conducted by visiting scholar Chulgoo Kang of Korea, SAREP researcher Janet C. Broome, SAREP education coordinator David Chaney, and former SAREP director Sean L. Swezey.
More than 1,000 academic personnel at the University of California (Davis, Riverside, Berkeley and Santa Cruz campuses) as well as county-based farm advisors and members of the UC Organic Farming Research Workgroup received surveys in 2004. Of the 95 people who responded to the survey, 81 reported that they were involved in organic research and Extension.
"We conducted an e-mail survey on the present status of organic farming research and Extension at the UC to identify current organic expertise, and research and educational activities," Broome said. "These data can provide a basis for analysis of this work within the university, and the results will be useful to the university and others in prioritizing research needs, organizing education programs, and coordinating fundraising."
Responses to the survey indicate there are the equivalent of 17 full-time employees conducting work relevant to organic agriculture, Broome said. She noted, however, that none of these employees is assigned solely to organic research and extension.
Organic agriculture is one of the fastest growing sectors of agriculture, averaging 20 percent growth per year for the last five years or more. Data from the California Department of Food and Agriculture's California Organic Program show registered organic acreage in the state more than doubled since 1998. In 2000, the U.S. market for organic products was over $6 billion, up from $78 million in 1980. European Union members spend an estimated $4.5 billion on organic products and Japanese consumption approaches $2 billion per year, according to reports.
"The rapid growth in this sector of the economy, provides a strong justification for public-sector investment in organic research to assist organic producers," said Broome.
The SAREP report's primary author, Kang, is a visiting scholar from South Korea. He has been an assistant director of the country's Sustainable Agriculture Division, and head of a provincial office of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, which supervises the certification and registration of organic farmers and their products. He noted that organic agriculture more than doubled in South Korea between 1999 and 2001.