Organic farming was introduced in Alabama as early as the 1980s, but didn’t take off until the late 1990s. As people grew more aware of the potential effects of synthetic chemicals to their health and the environment, the demand for organic farm products began to grow.
Today, organic farming is an emerging industry in the state. As of 2015, around 35 farms and 10 food handlers were certified organic or have an alternative label. Many others who have not been certified claim to use organic farming methods in various degrees.
Local farms that have been certified or are transitioning to organic agriculture may receive financial assistance through the Environment Quality Incentives Program of the USDA-National Resources Conservation Service.
If you’re interested in starting an organic farm in West Alabama, here are a few pointers to set you on the right path:
- Know your farming goals
- Determine the products you intend to grow or raise
- Develop and enhance the skills needed for organic farming
Do you plan to grow organic products only for your family’s or for the community’s consumption? Or do you intend to make organic farming a business? Your goals will determine many things, including the acreage, equipment, and tools you’ll need, the capital you have to infuse, manpower, and so on.
It would also be good to know what organic farming means to you. Does it support a personal cause, such as environmental protection? Do you advocate healthy eating? Or are you doing it for the potential profit?
There are no right or wrong answers, of course, but your personal philosophy and objectives can help you see if organic farming is the right venture for you.
You may grow crops, vegetables, and fruits, or raise organic livestock. You can also raise both crops and animals.
Traditional crops in Alabama include cotton, peanuts, corn, and soybeans. Compared to other states, fewer growers in Alabama have adopted organic methods. However, the number has been steadily growing, thanks to government initiatives and the introduction of methods suited to the conditions and soil quality in the state.
The increasing popularity of farmers’ markets, online stores, and group marketing has allowed farmers to sell directly to consumers. This has led to increased production of organic vegetables, fruits, herbs, cut flowers, and other products on smaller acreages. There’s also a growing demand for organic meat, such as grass fed beef and free range chicken.
The most suitable vegetable varieties in Alabama are those that can thrive in hot and humid conditions, including eggplant, okra, peppers, basil, and others. Check out this page for more information.
Whether you’re doing traditional or organic farming, certain skills and attributes can help you succeed. These include:
- Good health
- Management and organizational skills
- Analytical skills
- Technical or mechanical skills or knowledge
- People skills
Lacking one or more of these qualities doesn’t mean you will not thrive in this venture. If you can learn how to improve your weaknesses, however, that can go a long way toward a fulfilling journey in agriculture.
If you have not acquired hands-on training yet, it’s best to do it before you venture into your own business. Find an internship or apprenticeship program on organic farming to give you an actual feel of how it works.
Get the help of a local agricultural expert in getting started and learn about incentive programs for organic farming practices. A good place to start is Alabama’s USDA National Resources Conservation Service, the USDA National Organic Program, and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.
Other potential sources of information and training include:
- Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network
- Organic Farming Research Foundation
- Colleges and universities, such as Alabama Extension at Auburn University and Alabama A&M University
- Local cooperatives
If you make over $5,000 a year in gross sales, you need to get an organic certification. If you’re making less than this, you’re not required to get certified but you may apply for certification.
A certified operation is subject to more paperwork and extensive record keeping. However, you get important advantages, including:
- You can use the USDA Organic Seal on your products, which immediately provides assurance to consumers that they’re buying the right products
- You can put a premium on your prices
- You can market your products locally, regionally, and internationally
- You may qualify for additional funding and technical assistance
- You’re conveying your commitment to organic and sustainable farming and its benefits to human health and the environment
See this page to learn about getting certified.
Work with the right Realtor
We at Bill Mackey Real Estate have the expertise to guide you to the right property in West Alabama and help get you started. Learn more about agriculture in the area from our blog. Call us today at 334-289-8470 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.