“We are now importing more organic soy beans that we are growing” with 31% of all the soybeans imported to the U.S. in 2014 being organic, Batcha said at the association’s policy conference in Washington, D.C., April 15.
She added that organic soy bean imports in 2014 were worth $186 million, and that a bushel of organic soy sells for $30 compared to only $9 for conventional soy. Likewise, 33% of all imported corn in 2014 was organic and sells for $14 a bushel compared to $4 for conventional corn.
“This is an opportunity for U.S. farmers to take advantage of the premium,” Batcha said. And in doing so, she added, they could help alleviate the acute shortage of organic dairy and eggs in the U.S. due to insufficient supply of organic feed grains.
OTA is actively educating policy makers about the disparity between demand and supply of these crops in the U.S. in hopes that they will encourage the adoption of organic practices by the farming community to take advantage of the premium pricing, Batcha said.
She explained that while there was early adoption of organic practices for those primary animal feed commodities, the production of organic soy has stagnated since the early 2000s. Organic corn production has increased, but not fast enough.
Addressing organic farming challenges
Batcha noted there is a “host of reasons” for the insufficient production, including concerns about making ends-meet during the three-year transition period towards certified organic when crop yields are lower but farmers cannot yet take advantage of the higher price point for organic.
Insufficient data about the organic sector, such as what quantities the market needs and what the prices will be also have hindered expansion of organic acreage, according to OTA.
Social and mind-set challenges also could stop farmers from making the switch to organic, OTA notes in materials distributed at the conference. For example, if a farmer switches to organic she might not have as much in common with her cohorts in conventional farming and could feel isolated.
To an extent, the organic check-off campaign for which OTA is advocating would address some of these concerns. For example, some of the funds collected would go towards research that could answer questions about market demand and production.
Beyond corn and soy, most of the $1.28 billion in organic imports in 2014 were products that are not easily grown in the U.S., according to OTA, which commissioned analysis of international trade trends of organic products from Edward Jaenicke, an associate professor of agricultural economics at Pennsylvania State University.
His findings, released April 15, found the top five organic imports are coffee, soybeans, olive oil, bananas and wine.
In addition, he found a phytosanitary regulation for almonds led to a spike in organic almond imports, which account for 53% of almond imports, according to OTA.
Organic exports are increasing
While organic imports continue to outpace organic exports, exports are up, reaching $553 million in 2014, according to the research.
“The U.S. is the preferred provider for fresh organic product in terms of fruits and vegetables and these products really do over perform in that market,” Batcha said. In particular, 33% of exported carrots were organic, as were 33% of exported spinach, 42% of exported cherry tomatoes and 27% of exported onions, she said.
Most exports go to Canada and Mexico, but “we have seen strong penetration in Japan, Korea and Taiwan,” Batcha said, adding, “Increasingly we supply the world in that fresh market.”