USDA puts organics in the spotlight

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Organic farming Agriculture

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that the US Department of Agriculture will conduct its first ever large-scale survey of organic farming in the US this spring.

Speculation has been rife about how well the organic sector will hold up during the recession as consumers change their purchasing priorities and look to scale back as a result of financial hardship. Research indicates that organic growth has frozen, but it is still expected to pick up as the global economic situation improves.

Vilsack said: “The Organic Production Survey is a direct response to the growing interest in organics among consumers, farmers, and businesses. This is an opportunity for organic producers to share their voices and help ensure the continued growth and sustainability of organic farming in the United States.”

He added that the reason for the survey was to better understand how organic farming is “changing the face of US agriculture”​.

In 2007, the Census of Agriculture counted more than 20,000 farms involved in organic production. The survey will concentrate on various aspects of organic farming during the 2008 calendar year, including marketing and production practices, as well as income and expenses.

Shaping future decisions

It will also focus not only on established organic farms, but also examine those making the transition to organic, with the aim of helping other farmers make informed decisions about the future of their production practices.

The USDA said in a statement: “The results will help shape future decisions regarding farm policy, funding allocations, availability of goods and services, community development and other key issues.”

Despite promising growth in recent years, research conducted by the Hartman Group found that demand for organic goods began to slow last year.

Although the number of consumers using organics increased from 55 percent to 73 percent between 2000 and 2006, there has been no notable change between 2006 and 2008, according to the organization.

It concluded that its findings “indicate that aggregate organic use patterns have basically remained the same since 2006”.

Market research organization Mintel, on the other hand, said that it expects to see “slowing but steady growth”​ in the organic sector over the next five years.

The USDA said that it will mail its survey to all known organic farms in the country in early May, and asks that they are returned by June 17. It will also be possible to complete the survey online at​.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service said it will publish its findings this winter.

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