The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) recently released the “2019 Organic Survey,” which showed total sales of $9.93 billion in organic products, an increase of $2.37 billion, or 31%, from 2016. Milk and broiler chickens were the top two organic commodities, with more than $1 billion in sales each, followed by eggs at almost $900 million.
There were 16,585 certified organic farms, a 17% increase from 2016, and these accounted for 5.5 million certified acres, an increase of 9% over 2016. California continued to lead the nation, with certified organic sales of $3.60 billion, which is 36% of the U.S. total and four times that of any other state. It also led all states with 3,012 certified farms and 965,257 certified acres. Washington ($886 million), Pennsylvania ($742 million), Oregon ($454 million) and Texas ($424 million) rounded out the top five states for organic sales by value.
“The results of the '2019 Organic Survey' show the continued growth of organic production in the United States,” NASS administrator Hubert Hamer said. “These comprehensive and essential, national- and state-level data are valuable to the organic industry as well as agri-business infrastructure and programs that support the sector.”
Ginger Harris, survey statistician for USDA's Research, Education & Economics Resources (REE), reported during a webinar that organic sales are primarily concentrated on very large farms, with 17% of farms reporting more than $500,000 in sales. Those farms produced 84% of all organic production, she added.
The top sectors and commodities in 2019 were:
- Livestock and poultry products -- $2.48 billion, up 12%
- Milk -- $1.59 billion, up 14%
- Vegetables -- $2.08 billion, up 27%
- Lettuce -- $400 million, up 44%
- Fruits, tree nuts and berries -- $2.02 billion, up 44%
- Apples -- $475 million, up 45%
- Livestock and poultry -- $1.66 billion, up 44%
- Broiler chickens -- $1.12 billion, up 49%
- Field crops -- $1.18 billion, up 55%
- Corn for grain -- $278 million, up 70%
Other top organic commodities with the greatest gains in value of sales from 2016 were spinach (52%), grapes (52%), cultivated blueberries (104%), raspberries (197%) and turkeys (68%).
Marketing practices in the certified organic farming sector showed that $2.04 billion in organic products were sold directly to retail markets, institutions and local/regional food hubs. Another $300 million in organic products were sold directly to consumers at farmers markets, on-farm stores and stands, roadside stands or stores, U-pick, community-supported agriculture farms and online markets. Value-added products such as jam, wine, cheese and meat accounted for $727 million.
Harris noted that the most common organic production practice reported by producers was using buffer strips or border rows to isolate organic from conventional crops. Almost 11,000 organic farms reported using buffer strips to protect their organic production, about 9,000 farms applied animal manure to their land and 8,000 used water management practices.
More than half of producers relayed that their most common challenge is regulatory in nature. More than one-third also expressed issues with pricing or production problems.
The survey asked producers about plans for future production. Twenty-nine percent of farms plan to increase their level of organic production. More than 1,800 certified organic farms have 255,000 additional acres in the three-year transition period required for land to become certified as organic. An additional 710 farms not currently certified reported 61,000 acres of land transitioning to organic production.
The Organic Trade Assn. thanked USDA for its work in compiling the most up-to-date statistics on organic agriculture but said the numbers show that organic acreage is still less than 1% of total U.S. farmland.
“This points to a real need for more technical, risk management and financial support for farmers wanting to transition to organic,” the organization said. “USDA’s data bears out the continued – and urgent -- need for greater support from the government to allow organic to continue its advancement.”