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The purpose of the survey was to provide an overview of organic farmers in Québec with particular attention to marketing and credit problems (MacRae et.al. 1989). Data was gathered in 1990 through a survey of certified farmers, and this yielded 80 respondants. The survey was designed to elicit factual information on the nature of the farming operation, and farmers' attitudes and perceptions based on their responses to statements that they scored according to their level of agreement.
In general terms, the results indicated that compared to other farmers, organic farmers are relatively young, have not been involved in agriculture as long, and tend to operate smaller farms with lower sales levels. We also identified serious difficulties associated with marketing organic products.
The 1988 Farm Credit Corporation Survey indicated that in Québec, the average farmer had operated their farm for between 17 and 20 years. Meanwhile, the average organic farmer had been operating for eight years, and more than 50 per cent had been operating for four years or less. Organic farmers were also found to be relatively well educated compared to other farmers, with 43% having some post secondary education. This compares to 30% for Canadian farm operators in general (Statistics Canada, 1988).
These findings can likely be explained by the fact that the organic sample also tended to be younger than Québec farmers in general. A large proportion of respondents fell into the 30-34 year age group (37.5%) compared to 10.5% for census farmers (Statistics Canada, 1987a). At the other end of the distribution, only about 9% of producers were aged 50 years or more compared to about 41% in general.
As might be expected, for a population of recent entrants, organic farms tend to be relatively small. Only 15 per cent of the sample operated on more than 60ha and 35% operated 4 ha or less. In Québec, about 20% of farms are 28 ha (70 acres) or less, compared to 46% of the organic farms in the sample (Statistics Canada, 1987a). There are, however some relatively large dairy enterprises.
The smaller resource base of organic farmers is reflected in terms of their value of sales. In each class up to $50,000, the percentage of organic farmers in each sales class is greater than for farmers in general, with the opposite relationship for sales above $50,000.
The yields achieved by organic farmers were only addressed in general terms. However among the respondents, there was a tendancy to disagree with the statement that yields are lower for organic products, and strong support for the idea that organic yields are more stable than for conventional farming.
As yet there is no ongoing collection of price data for organic products, although there have been some attempts to collect data.
In our survey, farmers expressed the view that prices for organic products are higher, and on average, they reported receiving a premium of about 30 per cent, with premiums as high as 250 per cent. However, many producers complained that they were not able to get a price premium for their organic products or that premia were unstable.
Respondents were clearly convinced that organic is as profitable as conventional, with 72 percent expressing strong agreement with the statement.
The respondants were asked to provide information on the problems they faced as organic farmers, and the types of problems reported were very typical of those that can be found in the literature in other countries.
Access to technical and market information is a well known problem for organic farmers, and the survey supported this. The most important sources of information for organic farmers were reported to be their own on-farm experience and that of other farmers. Public institutions (universities and government) and the private sector were not well regarded in this respect.
In terms of borrowing, 44% responded that they normally borrow for operating expenses and reported average borrowing of $11,000. However, most who use the credit market are making modest demands, with 60% of those borrowing $5000 or less.
Respondents were asked to estimate their equity-asset ratio, which provides a measure of solvency. The 1988 FCC survey reported a ratio of 0.7 for large farms, up to 0.9 for small farms. On average, the data for organic farmers indicate a ratio of between 0.51-0.60 with about 33% having a ratio below 0.5 which is a level indicating financial weakness. This suggests that organic farmers may be financially weak in relative terms, but at the same time this is likely a reflection of the fact that many organic producers are relatively recent entrants to agriculture and are more likely to be financially weaker than more established producers.
Given these results, it was not surprising to find that some problems had been experienced in the credit market. Twenty respondants reported either a personal problem, or knowledge of the existence of a credit problem for others. However, at least eight stated that they were aware of credit problems, but added that the problem might not be totally related to the issue of organic production. Size of operation (assets or cash flow), operator age, and being part time versus full time were also cited as possible causes. This accords with the response to other questions in the survey. When asked directly if being an organic farmer made it more difficult to get loans, most responded that it did not, although opinion was divided when responding to the statement that loans are harder to get for organic producers versus conventional.
The results indicate that all channels are important to at least some of the producers. However, as might be expected, conventional channels were the least important. On the other hand, organic retailers and direct to consumer marketing are the most important channels.
Respondents identified numerous and widespread problems with the marketing system for organic products. The most serious problems identified were the lack of uniform certification standards and labelling, the lack of consumer awareness, and the general lack of organization in the marketing system, particularly at the wholesale level. As a result, farmers are primarily using direct to consumer or retailer marketing channels.
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