Survey shows many farmers plan to expand acreage
By STEVE BROWN
Just as California dwarfs other states in overall agricultural production, its organic farmers also overshadow the rest of the country.
California's dominance shows up first in the number of certified or exempt farms. Of the 14,540 such farms in the U.S. in 2008, 2,714 were in the Golden State. Wisconsin was a distant second with 1,222 farms.
Nationwide, organic sales rang up $3.1 billion in 2008. California jumped into the lead with $1.15 billion, followed by Washington with $281 million in organic sales that year.
Of the 4 million-plus organic acres in the U.S., California accounted for 471,000. However, Montana topped that number with 677,000 acres, nearly all of that in pasture and rangeland.
The 2007 Census of Agriculture reported a boom in organic farming with more than 20,000 organic farms and more than $1.7 billion in sales, so USDA officials commissioned a 2008 survey to gather detailed industry data, providing acreage, production and sales data for an expansive range of organic crops and livestock.
In that vein, the National Agricultural Statistics Service followed up with the 2008 Organic Production Survey -- the first organic production and practices survey ever conducted on a national scale.
The Western states show considerable organic impact in specific commodities:
* California is the leading organic fruit producer in the nation, with its massive production of grapes, citrus, soft fruit and berries.
* Idaho ranks first for organic barley and hay.
* Oregon is first for acres in blueberries, second for pears and third for grapes.
* Washington is the leading producer of apples, pears and cherries -- both in conventional and organic production. Those three crops account for 93 percent of organic fruit sales in Washington and 31 percent of sales for those crops nationally.
Other parts of the NASS survey break out such diverse aspects as value-added production, Christmas trees and melons.
One part of the survey also collected farmers' responses about the challenges they face in organic production, specifically regulatory problems, price issues, production problems, market access and management issues.
The 2008 survey not only looked at rankings among the states, but it also gauged how organic farmers are planning ahead. NASS found that over the next five years, 29 to 33 percent of them planned to increase their acres, 43 to 47 percent planned to stay the same, 4 to 7 percent planned a decrease and 4 to 5 percent plan to exit organic production.
The full report is at www.agcensus.usda.gov (click on Publications, Online Highlights and Organic Production Survey.)