Organic Needs Assessment Highlights Need for Additional Research

Brian GermanAgri-Business, Industry, Organic

UC Organic Agriculture Institute (OAI) post-doctoral researcher Shriya Rangarajan and her team released key findings based on their organic needs assessment last month. She said that the survey took a holistic approach, analyzing needs of farmers, retailers, and various industry partners to better understand the organic production experience in California. 


Obtaining certifications through the National Organic Program is one of the biggest concerns producers are experiencing. There is apprehension surrounding organic integrity and customer satisfaction, which requires certification reporting at every level of the supply chain to ensure a quality product.  

Organic Needs Assessment

Rangarajan said that it disproportionately affects many production scales. “A lot of the smaller farms who have fewer workers are managing everything,” she said. And for “those which have vertically integrated operations or highly diversified operations, they are now managing paperwork for multiple aspects of their operations,” indicating the size and way a farm operates poses many burdens to obtaining a certification. 

Despite many farmers indicating a desire to have certified organic products, the certification process is expensive and rigorous. “People are looking for ways to reduce the cost and streamline the process,” she said. 

OAI seeks to assist farmers in meeting the regulatory requirements for organic certification. The provision of subsidies to support the transition process from conventional to organic certification could also help to minimize risks.


The assessment also recognizes how individuals involved in California’s organic sector acquire industry data. Rangarajan said that there is no consolidated source of bona fide information for industry members, so “people are either tapping into their own networks or looking up online sources,” which varies depending on their connections, she said. 


The National Organic Program permits the use of conventional seed on organic farms granted that organic seed of the variety is not available. 

“Large-scale availability of organic seed continues to be a problem and doesn’t seem to be resolving anytime soon,” Rangarajan said, “This hurts growers because they are forced to grow seeds that were developed for conventional production.” 

Conventional seeds are developed to be treated with synthetic additives, which poses a risk to the integrity and viability of that plant when farmed under organic methods. 


The organic needs assessment found that overall, additional research is necessary for the advancement of the industry, as well as to bolster consumer confidence in purchasing organic products. 

Rangarajan recommends research at a production level because of the diversity of organic practices including crop rotation, soil management, pest management, and preserving ecology.  “I think there are more system-level interactions between all of these different aspects, which is something that we don’t fully understand,” she said. 

Additionally, she identified that consumer confidence in products is at risk.  “There are so many products and so much information that’s out there, that [consumers] don’t really know which products to trust and which not to,” she said, “which affects both suppliers and growers.” 

Conducting third-party trials and efficacy reports will consolidate and validate information presented to buyers in stores, but Rangarajan said that the findings and dissemination methods also need to be improved to help customers make purchasing decisions. 

OAI hopes to support systems-level research to understand how organic cultivation practices interact, with the desire to improve the integration of production methods. 

“It’s a huge risk for growers to commit to growing one product,” she said, “but it can be achieved through extension support and funding for trials, through better risk mitigation strategies and if growers work together to trial these products,” she said. 

Contributing Author:
Lauren McEwen
AgNet West Intern