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Organic agriculture sales up 31% in three years

The USDA attempted to contact every farm with certified organic production in 2019 as well as farms transitioning to organic.

While still a small sector of U.S. agriculture, organic agriculture is booming, reported the USDA on Thursday. Sales totaled $9.9 billion in 2019, an increase of 31% in three years, and 29% of organic farmers say they plan to expand production.

There are more farms and more land in organic production — 16,585 farms and 5.5 million certified acres — than ever before. The USDA conducted its first organic survey in 2008.

“Talk about a pretty picture!” said Kathleen Merrigan on social media, referring to the steadily growing numbers for organic. Merrigan, now a professor at Arizona State, helped write the law creating the U.S. organic program as a Senate staff worker and helped implement it as a USDA official during the Obama era.

The farm-gate value of organic products, predominantly dairy, vegetables, and fruits, is triple the sales value reported more than a decade ago in the first USDA report, said the Organic Trade Association.

California has the largest sales ($3.6 billion), number of farms (3,012), and amount of land (965,257 certified acres) in the nation. The rest of the top five organic states are Washington ($886 million in sales), Pennsylvania ($742 million), Oregon ($454 million), and Texas ($424 million).

For its report, the USDA attempted to contact every farm with certified organic production in 2019 as well as farms transitioning to organic. It counted 16,585 certified organic farms. When farmers were asked about their plans for the next five years, 29 percent said they would increase organic production and 44 percent said they would maintain their current level of production. In the 2016 survey, the USDA reported 14,217 organic farms and sales of $7.55 billion.

“The results of the 2019 Organic Survey show the continued growth of organic production in the United States,” said Hubert Hamer, administrator of the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Most organic farmers are relatively small producers, with the lion’s share of production on the 2,824 largest-volume farms with a combined $8.4 billion in sales. The average size of an organic farm is 333 acres.

By comparison, the average U.S. farm is 444 acres. There are 2.02 million farms in the nation, covering 897 million acres, according to USDA data. The largest farms, with more than $500,000 a year in sales, account for 40 percent of the farmland.

More than half (56 percent) of the farms in the USDA survey grow only organic products, while the rest have some mix of organic and conventional crops and livestock. Some 1,460 farms say organic accounts for less than 25 percent of their sales.

A two-page “highlights” summary of the 2019 report is available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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