If our shared goal is to catalyze a strong, thriving regional food economy in the Pacific Northwest, what should we invest in?
This is the question that spurred our partnership with the Cascadia Foodshed Financing Project to research the opportunity for regional market viability in six food product categories, and to explore the potential for successful collective investment.
This research follows from our 2015 report, Oregon Food Infrastructure Gap Analysis, a 15-month study funded by Meyer Memorial Trust.
That research explored the barriers and gaps preventing regional food economies from flourishing beyond direct market channels, like farmers’ markets and farm subscription programs, to wholesale channels, such as retail grocery, regional restaurant, value-added manufacturing, and institutional foodservice.
The study identified a significant gap in the size and vitality of the region’s “agriculture of the middle.” Ag of the Middle (AOTM) is a conceptual framework that refers to mid-sized, locally-owned farms and ranches — those that are too big for farmers’ markets, but too small for global commodity markets.
Download the full synthesis of our findings and keep reading to explore the challenges and opportunities around building markets for regenerative agriculture.
Grass-finished beef is an important and growing production system that offers an alternative to conventionally raised, grain-finished feedlot beef. Grass finishing promises superior animal welfare, as well as a range of environmental benefits if approached using rotational grazing or a related practice such as holistic management.
It is possible that locally and regionally focused, grass-finished beef production in the Pacific Northwest can be scaled up beyond its current production level. However, to do so would require significant supply chain strengthening across the region to ensure year-round (or at least three-season) supply at a reasonable finishing and processing cost.
Download our full analysis on beef production in the Pacific Northwest.
Pastured poultry production holds the potential for growth in the Pacific Northwest. And while there are some producers who can satisfy consumer demand for this product, with a limited number of producers who have access to land, markets, and expertise to produce pastured poultry it is very unlikely that it will be competitive to conventional poultry on price.
Our research suggests pastured poultry is more expensive due to higher costs of feed, higher land and labor requirements, and scale factors. However, it is possible that production costs can be reduced by smart interventions in key links of the supply chain, thus making the poultry both a viable business opportunity for producers and affordable for individual and institutional buyers alike.
Download our full analysis of chicken production in the Pacific Northwest.
The Pacific Northwest is an importer of swine products, suggesting that there may be a market opportunity in expanding regional hog raising to meet local demand for pork. However, to take full advantage of this opportunity would require the rebuilding of a regional pork industry using alternative methods of production relatively new to the region and producing a differentiated product at premium prices to meet demand from regional consumers, predominantly located in metropolitan areas.
While the rebuilding of the Northwest pork industry may be both possible and a worthy goal, it will require a high level of patience and medium- to long-term commitment on the part of investors, entrepreneurs, producers, extension agents, and established businesses at all links of the value chain.
Download our full analysis of pork production in the Pacific Northwest.
Leafy green vegetables are an important source of nutrition, and thus form a vital part of the food system for any region. The Pacific Northwest, while not a major producer of leafy greens nationally, nonetheless possesses a thriving diversified organic farm sector, predominantly on the West side of the Cascades. These farms produce leafy greens in combination with an array of storage crops, brassicas, and other vegetables.
In general, we found that leafy greens produced in the Pacific Northwest are not competitive commercially with those produced in California, whether conventional or certified organic. The crop category of mixed vegetables is a more significant category of farming in the Pacific Northwest than leafy greens alone. In mixed vegetable farming, producers can combine leafy greens (e.g. lettuce, spinach) with root crops, alliums (e.g. onions), brassicas (e.g. broccoli), herbs, and other crops.
Download our full analysis of leafy green production in the Pacific Northwest.
Storage crops represent some of the Pacific Northwest’s most economically important commodities: in Washington State alone, the potato industry accounts for $4.6 billion in state income, as well as providing 23,500 jobs. From a global perspective, the U.S. also profits from storage crop exports, particularly with regard to processed products.
We focused on the three most economically important storage crops in the Pacific Northwest: potatoes, onions, and carrots. In addition, we considered organic production of these three crops as the major alternative to conventional, industrial storage crop production.
Download our full analysis of storage crop production in the Pacific Northwest.
Small grains are an important part of Pacific Northwest agriculture and food systems. This study documents important, emerging trends in alternative production systems for the small grains sector in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. The principal finding is that the two most economically and ecologically important, emerging trends in this sector are the rise of no-till farming and related practices of conservation tillage; and the increasing diversity and complexity of crop rotations.
These practices are dramatically different from conventional grain agriculture, which tills (turns over) the soil before each planting, eliminating weeds but also releasing soil carbon into the atmosphere and creating the conditions for erosion. No till and conservation tillage comprise arguably the most important environmental trend in Pacific Northwest small grain agriculture today: they build soil health, reduce erosion and nutrient runoff, and sequester soil organic carbon.
Download our full analysis of small grain production in the Pacific Northwest.