(Beyond Pesticides, October 10, 2012) U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-certified organic growers in the United States sold more than $3.5 billion organically grown agricultural commodities in 2011, according to the results of the 2011 Certified Organic Production Survey, released by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). The data shows a general upward trajectory for certified organic production and produce in the U.S. NASS conducted the survey for USDA’s Risk Management Agency to help refine federal crop insurance products for organic producers.
Organic sales totaled more than $3.53 billion last year, about 0.9 percent of total U.S. farm receipts, and an increase from 2008 reports. The 2011 Certified Organic Production Survey provides acreage, production, and sales data for a variety of certified organic crops and inventory and sales data for selected certified organic livestock commodities. In addition, data on land in farms, participation in federal farm programs, and marketing practices on certified organic farms are included.
The 2008 Certified Organic Production Survey, the first organic production survey conducted by NASS, reported certified and exempt organic farms had $3.16 billion in total sales —$1.94 billion in crop sales and $1.22 billion in sales of livestock, poultry and their products. In 2008, organic farms had average annual sales of $217,675, compared to the $134,807 average for U.S. farms overall. However, the 2008 survey included farms that were not certified as organic, but produce commodities classified as organic. This 2010 survey collected data only from certified organic operations. Similarly, according to a 2011 report from the Organic Trade Association, U.S. sales of organic food and beverages grew from $1 billion in 1990 to $26.7 billion in 2010. According to this report, sales in 2010 represented 7.7 percent growth over 2009 sales. Total U.S. organic sales, including food and non-food products, were $28.682 billion in 2010, up 9.7 percent from 2009.
“This is the first time we have conducted a survey focused solely on the USDA-certified organic producers,” said Hubert Hamer, Chairperson of NASS’s Agricultural Statistics Board. “With this survey’s results, policymakers will be able to better assess the Federal Crop Insurance program and its impact on the organic industry.”
At least 3.65 million acres were used to raise certified organic crops and livestock, approximately 0.4 percent of the 917 million acres of farm and ranchland in the U.S. Crops accounted for $2.22 billion, or 63 percent, of total organic sales, followed by livestock, poultry and their products at $1.31 billion. Mirroring its conventional counterpart, corn leads organic field crops in sales and accounted for more than $101.5 million in 2011. The only other field crops to have more than $50 million in sales were alfalfa dry hay and winter wheat, accounting for $69.5 million and $54 million in sales respectively. When it comes to organic field crops acreage, Wisconsin leads the nation with more than 110,000 acres harvested in 2011. Wisconsin is followed by New York, with organic growers harvesting more than 97,000 acres. California closely follows the Empire state growers with more than 91,000 acres of organic field crops harvested in 2011. These top three states illustrate just how geographically diverse organic crop production is in the U.S.
In addition to looking at organically produced crops, the survey also gathered information on the organically raised livestock, which accounted for $1.31 billion in sales in 2011. Organic milk was the top livestock commodity last year, accounting for $765 million in sales. The other key organic livestock commodities were chicken eggs and broiler chickens, earning $276 million and $115 million in sales respectively.
Despite tough economic times, consumers continue to buy organic products. Most venues now offer organic products so more consumers now have the option of including organic products into their shopping carts. Increased use of coupons, the proliferation of private label brands, and value-positioned products offered by major organic brands all have contributed to increased sales.
Organic foods have been shown to provide numerous benefits to human and environmental health. A recent review conducted at Stanford University sparked headlines nationwide questioning the value of purchasing expensive organic food, despite its findings that consumers are exposed to higher levels of pesticides from conventionally grown food, while also ignoring the benefits of organic food and the hazards of pesticide residues on food, and the broader benefits of organic practices that protect farmers and farmerworkers, air and water quality, wildlife and biodiversity. Organic foods have been shown to reduce dietary pesticide exposure and children who eat a conventional diet of food produced with chemical-intensive practices carry residues of organophosphate pesticides that are reduced or eliminated when they switch to an organic diet.
There are numerous health benefits to eating organic, besides a reduction in pesticide exposure. Unlike the findings of the Stanford study, research from the University of California, a ten-year study comparing organic tomatoes with standard produce finds that they have almost double the quantity of disease-fighting antioxidants called flavonoids. A study out of the University of Texas finds organically grown fruits and vegetables have higher levels of antioxidants as well as vitamins and minerals than their conventionally grown counterparts. A comprehensive review of 97 published studies comparing the nutritional quality of organic and conventional foods shows that organic plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, grains) contain higher levels of eight of 11 nutrients studied, including significantly greater concentrations of the health-promoting polyphenols and antioxidants. The team of scientists from the University of Florida and Washington State University concludes that organically grown plant-based foods are 25 percent more nutrient dense, on average, and hence deliver more essential nutrients per serving or calorie consumed. A study by Newcastle University, published in the Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture, finds that organic farmers who let their cows graze as nature intended are producing better quality milk.
In addition, the adoption of organic methods, particularly no-till organic, is an opportunity for farming both to mitigate agriculture’s contributions to climate change and to cope with the effects climate change has had and will have on agriculture. Good organic practices can both reduce fossil fuel use and provide carbon sequestration in the soil through increased soil organic carbon. Higher soil organic carbon levels then increase fertility and the soil’s ability to endure extreme weather years.
Beyond Pesticides advocates through its Eating with a Conscience website for consumers to choose organic because of the environmental and health benefits to consumers, workers, and rural families. The Eating with a Conscience database, based on legal tolerances (or allowable residues on food commodities), describes a food production system that enables toxic pesticide use both domestically and internationally, and provides a look at the toxic chemicals allowed in the production of the food we eat and the environmental and public health effects resulting from their use. For more information on the benefits of organic agriculture, see Beyond Pesticides’ Organic Food program page.
Source: USDA Newsroom