Organic production on the up – but field crops still struggle

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Organic food, Agriculture, Organic farming, United states, Usda

Organic production has risen dramatically over the past decade but only a tiny percentage of soybean, corn and wheat crops are certified organic, according to a new report from the USDA.

The new US Department of Agriculture (USDA) data show that the overall amount of certified organic farmland in the United States accounted for 0.6 percent of the total in 2008. However, even with burgeoning demand for organic foods, the top US field crops could be cause for concern, with only 0.2 percent of US corn and soybeans, and 0.7 percent of wheat certified as organic.

Indeed, demand has been rising at a far faster rate than supply. Although certified organic acreage has doubled in the US since 1997, organic food sales have quintupled over the same period, from $3.6bn to $24.6bn last year, according to USDA figures. This has led handlers to look to international markets for supplies – which can often be cheaper due to lower labor and input costs.

“Obstacles to adoption by farmers include high managerial costs and risks of shifting to a new way of farming, limited awareness of organic farming systems, lack of marketing and infrastructure, and inability to capture marketing economies,” ​the USDA said.

However, the department added that many are turning to organic farming all the same, looking to capture the high-value organic market, as well as lower input costs, increase farm income and conserve non-renewable resources.

Fresh produce remains the best-selling organic category in the United States, with organic carrots accounting for 25 percent of all US carrot acreage, and organic apples for five percent of all apple acreage, for example. The new data also show that organic livestock production is beginning to catch up to produce, with 2.7 percent of dairy cows being managed under certified organic systems.

In 1990, when Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act, the United States had less than one million acres of certified organic farmland, according to the USDA. That had doubled by 2002, when the USDA implemented national organic standards, and acreage doubled again between 2002 and 2005.

The USDA’s new organic production data is available online via this link​.

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