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Growth Patterns in the U.S. Organic Industry

U.S. consumer demand for organically produced goods has grown continuously since USDA established national standards for organic production and processing in 2002. According to new ERS estimates, the U.S. had 3.1 million acres of certified organic cropland in 2011 and 2.3 million acres of certified organic pasture and rangeland, continuing the long-term growth trend in this sector.

From the USDA Economic Research Service:

U.S. Certified Organic Acreage Rebounded in 2011

USDA set a uniform organic standard in 2000 to provide consumer assurance, and farmers with organic sales over $5,000 in a given year must obtain independent certification. ERS has tracked the amount of certified organic acreage and livestock in the United States since 1997, identifying State-level adoption patterns for over 40 commodities based on information from State and private organic certifiers. USDA currently provides accreditation to over 50 organic certifiers in the U.S.

According to new ERS estimates, the U.S. had 3.1 million acres of certified organic cropland in 2011 and 2.3 million acres of certified organic pasture and rangeland, continuing the long-term growth trend in this sector. Certified cropland and pasture dipped between 2008 and 2010 as sluggish growth in consumer demand during the recession dampened the short-term outlook for organic producers. However, the growth in certified acreage of both cropland and pastureland has more than recovered those losses and has reestablished its upward trajectory.

 

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Fruit and vegetable growers and producers in other high-value, market-driven sectors have adopted organic management systems much more widely than producers of other crops, although they typically do not require large amounts of land to produce such crops. As a result, the distribution of certified cropland among crop specialties is a poor indicator of the relative value of the organic food produced by each specialty. For example, fruits and vegetables accounted for an estimated 43 percent of U.S. organic food sales in 2011 but only 16 percent of certified organic cropland.

Overall, certified organic cropland made up roughly 0.7 percent of U.S. cropland in 2011. Only a small percentage of the top U.S. field crops—corn (0.3 percent), soybeans (0.2 percent), and wheat (0.6 percent)—were grown under certified organic farming systems. On the other hand, organic vegetables (6 percent of U.S. vegetable acreage) and organic fruits and nuts (4 percent) were more common. Markets for organic vegetables, fruits, and herbs have been developing for decades in the United States, and fresh produce is still the top-selling organic category in retail sales. As a result, the distribution of certified organic cropland used to raise specific commodities differs substantially from the share of total cropland for these commodities in the conventional sector.

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