The United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) released results from the 2014 Organic Production Survey. This is the first comprehensive snapshot of organic agriculture since 2008.
“This survey is incredibly valuable because it provides important trend data for the organic industry and farmers interested in transitioning into organic production,” said Paul Wolfe, a policy specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC).
Wolfe continued, “We are especially pleased to see that sales from the organic sector have increased significantly over the past five years. This clearly demonstrates opportunities for continued growth for farmers who wish to expand or transition into organic production.”
While the survey reports a 72 percent increase in organic sales since 2008, it also states that the overall number of organic farms and total acreage of farm and ranchland under organic production have decreased over the same time period.
“While we are concerned with both the small decrease in the number of organic farms and the sizable loss of acres being farmed organically, the findings suggest that organic farmers are intensifying production and finding ways to add more value to their existing operations, which is great” continued Wolfe. “The question nonetheless remains as to why we are losing organic acreage at a time when demand for organic products has never been higher and imports are increasing. This question needs to be addressed lest we lose valuable market share.”
The survey also shows that organic production remains geographically concentrated on the West Coast, the Northeast, and the North Central region. California continues to lead the country in number of organic farms, acres, and sales -- generating 41 percent of our country’s organic agricultural sales. Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon, and New York also have large numbers of organic farms and sales of organic products.
The survey also reports that while most organic farms rely on wholesale markets, almost half of all organic farms also sell directly to consumers, such as through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) or farmers’ market.
“Organic farmers continue to contribute significantly to local and regional food systems, with over 46 percent of all organic sales occurring within 100 miles from the farm.” says Wolfe.
“Organic farmers also continue to diversify their markets, with a much larger share of farmers selling to both wholesale and local markets compared with conventional producers. The continued growth of local and regional food systems helps support the next generation of organic farmers, especially in areas of the country that may not have access to reliable organic wholesale or retail markets.”
The survey includes several elements first included in the 2008 Organic Production Survey and retained in the 2014 survey at the urging of NSAC. These elements include the inclusion of data on exempt organic farms, the type of land transitioning to organic (pasture, cropland, rangeland), and the percentage of a farm’s total agricultural sales that are organic. These questions and several others were not included in the 2011 Certified Organic Production Survey (COPS), which was originally slated as the basis for the 2014 survey.
The survey expansion, which was done at the urging of NSAC and other organic stakeholders, will allow the organic industry to have important trend data, which will help organic producers and those considering transitioning to organic production to be better informed on growth trends, production challenges, price premiums, and domestic supply.
Wolfe concluded: “These recent findings not only provide an important snapshot of our country’s organic farming sector, but for the first time, also provides invaluable historical data needed to assess whether this growth trend is likely to continue in the years to come.”
“We hope that USDA and Congress will realize the value of this survey and the importance of the clearly growing organic farming sector, and we hope they will work together to ensure that the Organic Production Survey continues to be conducted regularly in the years to come” said Wolfe.
This survey was conducted as a follow-on to the 2012 Census of Agriculture. The 2014 Organic Production Survey was modeled after a nearly identical survey conducted in 2008 as the first follow-on survey of organic producers following the 2008 Census of Agriculture. NASS also conducted a more limited survey of organic agriculture in 2011, which was aimed at only certified operations, and primarily focused on the collection of price data to inform the development of organic crop insurance policies.
The 2014 Organic Production Survey results are the compilation of the answers to questionnaires sent to all organic producers, including exempt farms and farms transitioning to organic, in January 2015. The survey was distributed in 2015, but the questions cover the 2014 crop year.