Rapid growth in organic farms could signal maturing of sector
U.S. organic grain acreage was up 30% this year compared to 2016 estimates, according to a recent Mercaris report cited by Food Navigator-USA. The total number of certified organic farms as of October was 17,188, a 15% increase from last year.
Mercaris' "2017 Organic and Non-GMO Acreage Report" released November 7 showed organic certifications for corn and soybeans grew by 17% and 26%, respectively, in 2016. Hay and alfalfa organic certifications edged up 1%, Food Navigator-USA reported.
Ryan Koory, a senior economist with Mercaris, told the publication the growth in newly certified organic farms planting corn and soybeans means they can meet ongoing demand when already existing organically certified farms rotate their crops to legumes, cover crops and pasture.
Demand for organic food shows no signs of slowing down, and sales continue to rise despite its higher price. USA Today reported in July that sales of organic food were up 8.4% from the previous year, hitting a record $43 billion in 2016. According to the Organic Trade Association’s 2017 Organic Industry Survey, roughly 40% of all organic food sales were produce. That translates to about 15% of all the fruits and vegetables Americans eat.
The global organic food market is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of more than 14% from 2016 to 2021, according to a recent TechSci Research report. The new OTA survey supports this belief as the organic sector once again showed signs of an upward trajectory. In fact, organic now accounts for 5.3% of total food sales in the U.S. Organic foods are in 82.3% of the country’s 117 million households.
The future also looks bright as more younger consumers embrace organic. In addition, a survey from the Organic Trade Association in September found millennials already are major buyers of organic products and will likely purchase even more when they become parents. A quarter of millennials currently are parents, but according to estimates, 80% of millennials will have children in the next 15 years.
Koory told Food Navigator-USA that a significant piece of the growth in organic production is the fact that investment is being made in the "primary feed ingredients of soy and corn," which make up the largest market for the organic sector. Beyond consumption in their most basic form, those staples also are fed to organically raised animals and included as ingredients in other organic food production.
One group that’s having a harder time keeping up with increased demand for organic produce is the American farmer. The process of transitioning to organic is both expensive and lengthy, taking roughly three years — a transition period when farmers follow organic standards but don't get paid organic prices. This often holds farmers back from making the change, though a new U.S. Department of Agriculture transitional certification may help those efforts.
While the direction is clearly trending toward more organic farms and crops, farmers have a long way to go before the production gets anywhere near the levels of conventionally grown crops. Until then, the goal of reaching peak organic production is still out there.