Organic agriculture continues to grow, with the number of certified farms up by double-digit percentages in three years.
The number of certified organic farms in the U.S. in 2019 was 16,585, up 17% from the last USDA organic survey in 2016.
Organic acreage, at nearly 5.5 million, rose 9%, and sales increased 31% to $9.93 billion, according to USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.
The sector has grown rapidly since the first survey in 2008, particularly in sales volume and number of farms, Virginia Harris, NASS survey statistician, said in a webinar hosted by the Organic Trade Association.
The number of farms in 2019 was up by almost 2,400 since 2016 and up by almost 5,700 since 2008, she said.
California continues to lead in organic production in farms, acres and sales and is the only state with more than 3,000 organic farms. Three other states — Wisconsin, New York and Pennsylvania — have more than 1,000 organic farms, she said.
Most of the large organic states saw an increase in farms since 2016. New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio saw increases of more than 25%. There were 10 states that experienced a decrease in organic farms, and most were smaller organic states, she said.
While California did experience a decrease — 1.4% — in organic acreage, it still led the nation. Lost acreage in California was all due to a decrease in pasture land — which was also seen at the national level, she said.
“The amount of land used for crop production in California actually increased by 30%,” she said.
Organic acreage more than doubled in Nebraska and was up by almost 70% in Texas, she said.
Oregon was the ninth largest state in organic land, and Idaho was the 10th largest.
Organic sales in 2019 were up 31% from 2016 to $9.9 billion.
“Since we conducted that first organic survey in 2008, organic sales have more than tripled,” she said.
But growth has varied among the organic sectors, she said.
At about $2.5 billion, the sales of livestock and poultry products increased 12% from 2016. Livestock and poultry sales grew by 44% to nearly $1.7 billion, and crop sales were up 38% to nearly $5.8 billion.
California accounted for 36% of all U.S. organic sales in 2019, she said.
“In fact, California is more than four times larger in terms of sales than the next leading state, which is Washington,” she said.
The top 10 states — including Washington, Oregon and Idaho — account for 75% of all organic sales. North Carolina and Idaho have more than doubled organic sales since 2016, replacing Colorado and Iowa on the top 10 list, she said.
The survey also found the 17% of organic producers with annual sales of $500,000 or higher accounted for 84% of all sales in 2019. It also found 18% of organic farmers sold directly to consumers.
Organic feed was the top expense for organic farmers, followed by labor. Regulatory issues were the top challenge for organic farmers.
The survey also found 44% of producers plan to maintain their current level of organic production over the next five years, 29% intend to increase, 4% intend to decrease and 2% plan to discontinue organic production.