Wednesday, January 18, 2017 by Daniel Barker
Organic crops now cover more than 4 million acres of U.S. farmland – an 11 percent increase over the past two years – and the number of “certified organic” farms has risen to more than 15,000, an increase of more than 6 percent since 2014.
States not known for organic agriculture are beginning to catch up to those that are, such as California and New York, which traditionally have had comparatively large numbers of organic farming operations. Montana, North Dakota and Wisconsin are now among the top five states in terms of total organic farm acreage.
A 30 percent increase in Montana’s organic acreage since 2014 has earned the state second place on the list, while North Dakota has surged past Oregon for 5th place with its own 40,000-acre expansion.
But there’s still a long way to go before organic farming becomes the norm. (RELATED: Learn more about organic food choices food at Fresh.news)
“To be sure, the amount of organic cropland in the U.S. remains but a sliver of the total overall. Organic corn, wheat, and soybeans each account for less than 1 percent of the total number of acres planted with each crop.”
Oats, the nation’s biggest organic crop, accounts for less than 4 percent of the total amount of U.S. oats production.
However, the demand for organic products continues to grow, and the Big Food producers are taking note:
“According to the Organic Trade Association, sales of organic products grew almost 11 percent last year, the fourth straight year of double-digit growth. Compare that with the relatively meager growth rate of the market for food products overall (3.3 percent in 2015), and you can see why big food companies such as General Mills are committing themselves to expanding their organic offerings—which in turn is driving them to launch programs aimed at increasing the amount of organic farmland in the U.S.”
Ironically, the United States is forced to import organically-grown grain to meet the demand at home because so many U.S. crops are GM and raised using chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Although the U.S. exports more grain than any other country, we are simultaneously importing organic grain used to feed cows for producing organic milk, since our own conventionally-raised crops cannot be used in the manufacture of organic products.
The Organic Trade Association has just won USDA approval for a plan to introduce a new classification for food products that should encourage more farmers to embrace the organic approach.
Many farmers would love to benefit from the higher prices organic crops can fetch – nearly twice that of conventional crops – but making the transition to becoming certified is currently a long and expensive process.
To be certified as organic, a farmer must stop using chemical pesticides and fertilizers for three years. In the meantime, the farmer receives the same per bushel prices for a lower yield, making it an unattractive or completely unaffordable prospect for many conventional farm operations.
A new category of classification would allow farmers to label their products as “transitional” during the three-year period, enabling them to charge per bushel prices somewhere in-between those of conventional and organic crops.
The introduction of a transitional classification should help the organic movement considerably, but it’s still up to consumers to continue increasing the demand. In supporting organic farming now, you are helping to make organic farming a more viable model for farmers to adopt – and in the longer term, we should see the price of organic products decrease as the marketplace becomes bigger and more competitive.
In going organic, we improve our own health and that of the environment. It’s a win-win formula that must benefit the agricultural industry as well before organic food production can become the rule rather than the exception.
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