| The USDA recently released a report on emerging issues in the U.S. organic industry. A major finding was that demand for organics is outpacing supply. Two-thirds of Americans purchase organics at least occasionally and 28% at least weekly. In the past, you may have had to go to a natural foods store to find organics, but now you can find them at Wal-Mart. Organic sales QUINTUPLED since 1997, growing from $3.6 billion to $21.1 billion in 2008. In 2008, organics were equal to 3% of U.S. food sales.
Organic sales may have quintupled, but between 1997 and 2005, organic acreage in the U.S. only doubled. Just to give you an idea of how American agriculture is keeping up with that demand, consider these stats from the 2007 Census of Agriculture:
Organic Farms: 18,211
Total Farms; 2,204,792
Organic Farm Sales: $1,709,111,000
Value of All Agricultural Products Sold: $297,220,491,000
Organic Cropland: 1,288,088 acres
Organic Pastureland: 975,380 acres
Land under Organic Conversion: 616,358 acres
Total cropland in America: 309,607,601 acres
(While obviously a very small percent of land is organic, the numbers differ from food to food... 5% of vegetable acres are organic, as are 2.5% of fruit and nut acreage, 0.5% of pasture, and 0.2% of corn and soybeans.)
So it's no wonder why 44% of organic handlers reported a shortage of organic ingredients or products in 2004... we're just not producing enough! To solve the supply problem, we're getting more and more organics from overseas. As the report notes, the USDA is working to fix the supply program by providing incentives for farmers to convert more land to organic. You may remember the recent announcement of $50 million in conservation grant funding (under the EQIP program) for farmers converting to organic production... that's part of what they are doing to increase our organic production.
Another nice detail is that government spending on organics has gone up five-fold between 2002 and 2008. See below for more numbers and facts about organics...
|Which States Have the Most Organics
(Measured in # of certified organic farms as of 2007)
1. California: 3515
2. Wisconsin: 1443
3. Washington: 1207
4. New York: 1137
5. Oregon: 933
6. Pennsylvania: 775
7. Minnesota: 718
8. Ohio: 687
9. Tennessee: 660
10. Michigan: 632
(Measured in organic sales as of 2007)
1. California: $656,821,000
2. Washington: $158,970,000
3. Oregon: $88,379,000
4. Wisconsin: $79,902,000
5. Pennsylvania: $58,293,000
6. New York: $54,164,000
7. Texas: $51,741,000
8. Colorado: $50,590,000
9. Arizona: $48,363,000
10. Idaho: $48,102,000
Interestingly, a chart compared organic adoption of a number of different fruits and vegetables, and there's a pretty big disparity from crop to crop. In 2005, nearly 6% of carrots were organic (by acreage), compared with about 3.5% of apples, 2.5% of grapes, 2% of nuts, 2% of tomatoes, % of citrus, and 0.5% of potatoes. (All numbers here are estimates from viewing a graph.)
Another chart shows organic adoption for grains, noting that adoption is highest for grains with "food uses." Topping the list were flax and then dry peas/lentils, each with about 3% of acres as organic. The rest of the grains listed are about 1% organic or less. They are (in order from most to least): oats, barley, rice, peanuts, hay, rye, wheat, sunflowers, soybeans, corn, cotton.
Shortages in Organics
How about the shortages mentioned before? Keep in mind that the numbers in this particular area are from 2004 (before we had a major dairy crisis on our hands, including a crisis for organic dairies):
Percent of handlers reporting a critical shortage
Feed grains: 22%
Organics from Foreign Countries
Want to know where the most organics come from (outside of the U.S.)? Ranked by number of organic farmers/handlers certified in a country, from most to least they are:
Together these 5 countries constitute half of total foreign organic farmers/handlers in 2007. The USDA lacks accurate data on organic imports, but they estimate that between $1.0-$1.5 billion in organics were imported to the U.S. in 2002 (a number that has gone up "substantially" since then). Our reliance on foreign countries is not only a result of U.S. farmers' slowness to adopt organic practices and to achieve certification. The report notes that organic farming practices can be labor intensive and foreign countries often have cheaper labor than the U.S.
Dairy: Some Good News
As of 2005, 63% of organic dairies reported allowing cows to graze on pasture (yay!) compared to only 18% of conventional dairies. (Also, while organic dairies are not allowed to use rbGH, 17% of conventional operations use rbGH.) As a result, the average organic cow produced 13,600 lbs of milk in 2005, compared to 19,000 lbs per conventional cow.
Soy: Why Don't We Grow It Organically?
Interestingly, the report notes that it's more profitable to grow organic soy (compared to conventional) but other factors keep our farmers from switching over. They cite: the 3-year transition period prior to organic certification, fewer organic marketing outlets, the need for onfarm storage, a lack of third party contractors for organic pest and nutrient management, heavy managerial requirements, fear of criticism from neighbors, unknown risks, lack of government infrastructure support, and subsidies for ethanol that increase conventional grain supplies. So some of these guys won't go organic because they don't want the neighbors to think they are hippies? Nice.
Bang For Your Buck
Another interesting point is that the price premium for organics differ from crop to crop. The following numbers are all estimates from looking at a graph in the report:
Organic price premium as a percent of conventional price, 2005
Green bean: 25%