New data show organic accounts for minuscule share of grain production

by L. Joshua Sosland
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WASHINGTON — Production of organic food products has enjoyed rapid growth over the past several years but still represents a small share of U.S. food production. How small? In the case of the principal grains harvested in the United States, very small.

According to the first-ever published Census of Agriculture Organic Production Survey (2008), published by the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, certified organic production of corn in 2008 was 15,702,177 bus and wheat was 8,271,251 bus. Those figures equated to 0.13% and 0.33% of total corn and wheat production in 2008, respectively.

Put another way, U.S. farmers grew one bushel of certified organic corn for every 769 bushels of conventional corn and one bushel of organic wheat for every 301 bushels of conventional wheat.

According to the U.S.D.A., the study is the first conducted on the national level by the Department.

“The organic industry has experienced measurable growth over the last few years,” the U.S.D.A. said. “This survey responded to the intense need for detailed industry data. The 2007 Census of Agriculture reported more than 20,000 farms engaged in organic production and over $1.7 billion in sales in the U.S. The 2008 Organic Production Survey collected additional information on organic farming for the 2008 calendar year.”

Production of organic soybeans in 2008 totaled 2,578,495 bus, or 0.09% of the total crop. Growers produced one bushel of organic soybeans for each 1,150 bushels of conventionally grown soybeans.

Oats had the greatest share of organic production in 2008. At 2,239,607 bus, organic oats equated to 2.5% of the U.S. crop. Rice produced organically in 2008 totaled 1,086,488 cwts, or 0.53% of the crop.

Breaking down the wheat figures further, organic winter wheat production was 5,753,853 bus, or 0.31% of total winter wheat production. Organic other spring wheat production was 2,495,365 bus, or 0.46% of total production.

Yields were consistently lower for organically produced grains. Organic corn yields in 2008 were 109.7 bus per acre, 29% beneath the 153.9 bus harvested overall. Winter wheat yields were 28.4 bus per acre, 40% lower than the 47.1 bu average yield.

Other spring wheat organic yields were 26.8 bus per acre, 34% smaller than the average of 40.5 bus for the spring wheat crop.

Oats yields of 54.6 bus per acre were only 14% smaller than the 63.7 bus garnered across the entire crop. Yields for organic soybeans were 26.3 bus per acre, down 34% from the crop average of 39.7.

Further breaking down organic wheat data, the leading states as measured by organic wheat production did not match up with the largest producing states overall.

Inter-mountain with large share

A band of states centered in the inter-mountain region accounted for a large share of organic wheat production in 2008.

Wyoming was the largest producer of organic winter wheat, at 727,993 bus, or 19% of the state’s total wheat production. Utah ranked second, at 588,842 bus, or 12%. The third largest producer of organic winter wheat was Nebraska, at 566,882 bus, or 0.77% of total winter wheat production.

Among producers of soft winter wheat, Michigan ranked first in production at 265,759 bus, or 0.5% of the state’s total crop.

Production data from Kansas, the nation’s largest winter wheat producer, were not published because of disclosure issues. The state had 46 farms that produced certified organic wheat, or about 5% of the total of 861 farms nationwide that harvested organic winter wheat.

In spring wheat other than durum, North Dakota was the largest producer of organic spring wheat. At 440,492 bus, the North Dakota crop equated to 0.18% of the state’s total production of 246.4 million bus.

Ranking second, and not too far behind North Dakota, in organic spring wheat production was Minnesota at 398,290 bus, or 0.4% of the state’s total wheat production. Third in organic spring wheat production was Oregon, at 256,643

bus, or 3.35% of the state’s crop total. Idaho ranked fourth, at 245,426 bus, or 0.7% of the state’s spring wheat outturn.

Organic yields vary widely

While organic wheat yields fell far short of conventional wheat yields, the lag varied widely by state.

Compared with the 40% overall deficit between organic wheat production and conventional, the states of California and Utah had the largest shortfalls, of 59% and 61%, respectively. At the other end of the spectrum, organic winter wheat yields in Colorado were 20% lower than conventional yields there; Michigan, 23% lower; and Wyoming, 4% higher.

Because the survey was the first ever published, no data on organic production were available from earlier years. Data published in the Census included number of farms, acres harvested, quantity of production and value of sales. Additional information for this story, including yields and share of overall crop, were calculated by Milling & Baking News using 2008 data published last month in the Crop Production 2009 Summary.

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