Organic Farming in West Virginia: A Behavioral Approach
Keywords:Organic Agriculture, Sustainable Agriculture, Farming, USDA, Certified Organic, West Virginia, Central Appalachia
AbstractAlthough organic production continues to expand and remains the fastest growing segment of the U.S. agricultural economy, demand for organics continues to outpace supply, causing a lag in the supply chain. One of many important elements to remedying this issue is for more farmers to adopt organic practices and/or transition to organic certification. One state well positioned to tap into eastern U.S. metro markets is West Virginia. Our study sought to understand the factors affecting West Virginia farmers' decision to farm organically, as well as the barriers limiting pursuit of certification. Though West Virginia has the highest number of small farms in the U.S., only five farms were USDA organic–certified in 2012. We used a mixed-methods approach to explore the barriers to implementing organic practices and pursuing organic certification. The methods included interviews and mailed surveys, garnering responses from more than 230 farmers in West Virginia. We applied a social-ecological system lens for the development of a statistical model to parse out the major variables affecting transition to organic methods. Our results suggest that the decision to farm organically is largely an economic one, with a lack of perceived benefits being nearly as influential as perceived constraints as barriers. We also found that social ties to certified organic farmers reduced the likelihood of others implementing organic production practices. Finally, we propose that the choice to farm organically and pursue organic certification be studied in a holistic manner that assesses motives, constraints, and barriers to implementing organic practices in conjunction with relevant contextual attributes (farm characteristics and personal demographics) that affect the decision-making process.
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