WASHINGTON — Total sales of certified or exempt organic commodities have more than doubled since 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2017 Census of Agriculture. Sales of organic products more than doubled on the largest organic farms (those with $50,000 or more in annual sales), while smaller farms recorded a slower rate of growth during the period.
The U.S.D.A. said organic product sales totaled $7,277 million in 2017, up 133% from $3,121 million in 2012, from 18,166 farms, up 27% from 14,326 farms in the prior Census. The average annual sales per farm in 2017 was $400,603, up 84% from $217,836 in 2012.
The Census also showed that 98% of the dollar value of sales came from 49% of total organic farms — the 8,830 largest farms with annual organic sales of $50,000 or more in 2017. Those figures are up from 2012 when 97% of total sales came from 5,721 farms with annual sales of $50,000 or more, which then made up 40% of total organic farms.
The number of U.S.D.A. National Organic Program certified farms totaled 17,741 in 2017, up 39% from 12,771 farms in 2012. There were 3,065 farms in the U.S.D.A. National Organic Program that were exempt from certification, down 18% from 3,754 in 2012. And there were 3,723 farms that had acres transitioning into U.S.D.A. National Organic Program production in 2017, up 15% from the prior Census.
For comparison, the 2017 Census said there were 2,042,220 farms in the United States in 2017, down 3.2% from 2012. Organic farms made up 0.9% of total farms in 2017. The total value of products sold by farms was $388,523 million in 2017, down 1.6% from 2012. Sales of organic products accounted for 1.9% of total farm sales in 2017 compared with 0.8% in 2012.
U.S. consumers spent nearly $50 billion on organic products in 2017, with organic food sales accounting for 5.5% of total retail food sales, according to the Organic Trade Association. While there is a growing amount of space allocated to organic products on grocery shelves, most organic grain is used for livestock feed, which is required for eggs, meat and other animal products to be certified organic.
Even with the surge in organic commodity sales and the sharp increase in the number of certified organic farms, domestic organic commodity production has been unable to keep pace with demand for organic feed and food products. Farmers must meet rigorous, multi-year standards for their products to receive U.S.D.A. organic certification. The shortfall is made up by imports of organic grains.
“The market for the top three U.S. organic commodities — corn, soybeans and wheat — continues to be led by growing demand for organic livestock feed,” Mercaris, the organic and non-G.M.O. trading platform and market information company, said in its 2018-19 Organic Commodities Outlook.
Mercaris estimated U.S. organic corn production in 2018 at 59.5 million bus, up 5% from 2017, while imports of organic whole and cracked corn were forecast to increase by 10% in the 2018-19 marketing year. The supply of organic corn for food and residual was forecast up 2% from the prior year.
U.S. organic soybean production was record high in 2018, but total supply was down 4% at 20.5 million bus due to lower imports, Mercaris said. The supply of organic soybeans for food and residual was forecast at 8.1 million bus, up 11% from 2017-18.
Domestic production of organic wheat increased an estimated 8% in 2018, and overall “U.S. organic wheat supplies appear robust,” Mercaris said. Demand for organic wheat for food and residual use was forecast up 4% in the current marketing year.
While the latest Census report included a broad picture of U.S. organic production, the U.S.D.A. will conduct its 2019 Organic Survey as a “follow-on special study to the 2017 Census of Agriculture” later this year for release in the fall of 2020.