Understanding Farmers' Reasons for Pursuing USDA Organic Certification

    Updated: Aug 7, 2019

    Despite a sizable literature on reasons people opt into voluntary regulatory programs, little is know by why they are motivated by some reasons more than others. In an article published in the journal Public Administration, Tanya Heikkila, Christopher Weible, and I examine what shapes organic producers' reasons for being certified USDA organic. We find that producers high in "grid" (meaning they value rules and authority) are more likely driven by a desire to differentiate their products from others claiming to be "natural" and to support the organic movement. Producers high in "group" (meaning they value collective efforts and cooperation) are also driven to support the organic movement and less likely to be motivated by the promise of increased profits.

    The most consistent explanation for producers' reasons for being certified organic is the extent to which organic agriculture reflects their personal values. The tighter the alignment between organic methods and a producer's values, the more likely they are to report getting certified to differentiate their products and support the organic movement, and the less likely they are to be driven by a profit motive or fear of penalties for selling non-certified produce as organic.