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The objective of this paper is to explore the potential of the real options approach for analyzing farmers’ choice to switch from conventional to organic farming. Understanding the determinants of this decision is relevant in particular for agricultural policy makers when predicting the response of farmers to support programs. After a brief review of the existing literature on barriers to the adoption of organic farming a theoretical model is presented that allows one to incorporate two main features of the adoption decision, namely irreversibility and uncertainty of the returns. The real options model quantifies investment multiples that trigger the adoption of organic farming. Compared with neoclassical models it suggests an inertia of the respective farming type, i.e. economic hysteresis. In order to find some empirical evidence for that hypothesis we utilize a switching regression model has originally been developed to test for market integration. The econometric model is then applied to aggregated data of conventional and organic farms in Germany and Austria spanning the period from 1982 until 2002. The empirical analysis confirms the reluctance to adopt organic farming due to option-like effects. We conclude that the incentives for adoption of organic farming (e.g. higher prices, direct payments or income stabilization) have to be increased if a higher share of this production type seems desirable.


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