Organic farming systems differ fundamentally from conventional ones in their primary focus on management practices that promote and enhance ecological harmony. Organic farmers also tend to have a different socioeconomic profile. In this study, we summarize average socioeconomic characteristics and production practices of a national sample of about 300 certified organic vegetable growers from 14 states and compare them to a large sample of about 6,900 conventional vegetable growers. We also examine the specific materials used by organic growers for pest and nutrient management.
Organic vegetable growers tend to be younger, more educated, less experienced in farming, and less likely to have grown up on a farm than conventional vegetable growers, and tend to operate smaller farms. Over three-quarters of the organic vegetable growers surveyed have small operations (less than 10 acres of vegetables), and they are much younger and work fewer days in off-farm jobs than conventional small growers. In contrast to conventional marketing practices, nearly half the surveyed organic growers, and the majority of small ones, market their vegetables directly to consumers through farmers' markets and other direct marketing channels.
The organic growers rely primarily on traditional organic processes such as green manuring (legumes), animal manuring, composting, and crop rotation to supply crop nutrients, and on cultural and biological tools, including pest-resistant plant varieties, water management techniques, adjustment of planting and harvesting dates, and beneficial organisms, for pest management. Animal meal, fish products, and lime are their most frequently reported supplemental nutrient sources (14, 20 and 28%, respectively, reported using these materials), and Pyrellin EC and petroleum-based soaps were the most frequently reported supplemental pest management materials (used by 6 and 8%, respectively). The pest and nutrient materials used by the organic growers are generally consistent with current guidelines of major certification organizations that provide services to organic growers, and there is high consistency among those guidelines and national recommendations for most of these materials.