Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA

California leads the way as organic agriculture spreads its wings from coast-to-coast


The USDA has released its first-ever survey of organic farmers to determine that organic sales across the country in 2011 totaled more than $3.5 billion, with nearly 40 percent of that –almost $1.4 billion–coming from California.  The development is discussed further in the latest installment of the USDA blog’s Science Tuesday feature.


Posted by Hubert Hamer, Agricultural Statistics Board Chairman

Organic agriculture is proving itself to be a veritable cornucopia, according to the results of the first-ever report on USDA-certified organic production, which we released earlier this month. While the number of organic farms is a fraction of its conventional counterpart, an organically produced version of virtually every crop or animal product is now available in the United States.

This was the first time the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) conducted this survey, which means that we cannot see trends yet, but we can already easily see some of the impacts of organic production in the United States. From four farms in Alabama, Alaska or Delaware to 1,898 farms in California, every state in the nation is now home to USDA-certified organic producers. And while these farmers make up less than a half of one percent of all U.S. farmers, they already sell more than $3.5 billion worth of agricultural products.

Many of these growers are taking the time and effort to bring their products directly to U.S. consumers. While 81 percent of their sales come from products that go to wholesale markets and become available to shoppers through their local supermarkets, almost a third of all USDA-certified growers sell their products directly to consumers. In fact, as of 2011, each state has at least some USDA-certified producers selling their fruits, vegetables, crops, livestock or animal products, such as eggs or milk directly to local customers.

USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) provided funding and support for this NASS survey. RMA aims to use the survey results to examine potential risk management tools and crop insurance for organic growers. NASS also partnered with the Agricultural Marketing Service’s National Organic Program, which helped ensure that we reached all of the USDA-certified organic producers in the United States.

But this was just a brief glance of the USDA-certified organic production and we plan to learn more about this unique sector of U.S. agriculture. Over three years, USDA’s science agencies have invested more than $117 million on improving the productivity and success of organic agriculture. And for farmers, USDA provides up to 75% of the cost of organic certification. Those are a few of the ways that USDA shows its strong commitment to organic agriculture.

USDA has included organic industry questions in its Census since 2002, and as the next step, NASS will include some questions about organic production in the 2012 Census of Agriculture, which will arrive in producers’ mailboxes in just a few short months. These questions will help us take a more in-depth look at the organic agriculture industry and start identifying some of the trends for that sector.

I hope all organic growers will take the time to fill out the Census. After all, it gives them a chance to have their voices heard and an opportunity to shape their own futures.

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