California leads nation in organic production

by Keith Nunes
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WASHINGTON — Twenty per cent of the farms and ranches producing foodstuffs certified as organic are in California, according to the 2008 Organic Production Survey conducted by the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The state also led the nation in organic sales, with $1.15 billion, or 36%, of all U.S. organic food sales.

Nationwide, 2008 organic sales totaled $3.16 billion, including $1.94 billion in crops sales and $1.22 billion in sales of livestock, poultry and their products.

“This was U.S.D.A.’s first wide-scale survey of organic producers, and it was undertaken in direct response to the growing interest in organics among consumers, farmers, businesses, policymakers and others,” said Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary of agriculture. “The information being released today will be an important building block for future program and policy development.”

The survey also revealed the not-so-surprising fact that organic farms and ranches have higher average sales and higher average production expenses than U.S. farms overall. Organic operations had an average of $217,675 in sales, compared with $134,807 for all farms as reported in the 2007 Census of Agriculture. Production expenditures averaged $171,978 per organic farm, compared with the nationwide average of $109,359 for all farms.

Most U.S. organic producers sold their products locally, with 44% of sales taking place less than 100 miles from the farm. Nearly 83% of organic sales were to wholesale channels, including processors, millers and packers. Just over 10% of sales were direct to retail operations, including supermarkets. Only 7% of sales were direct to consumers, via farm stands, farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture and other arrangements.

The survey counted 14,540 U.S. farms and ranches that were either U.S.D.A.-certified organic or were exempt from certification because their sales totaled less than $5,000. The operations comprised 4.1 million acres of land, of which 1.6 million acres were harvested cropland and 1.8 million acres were pasture or rangeland.

Survey respondents indicated they face various challenges, including regulatory, production, management and marketing issues. Yet despite the challenges, more than 78% indicated that they plan to maintain or increase their organic production over the next five years.

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