Natural Foods Merchandiser

Organic farming and ranching continues growth spurt

Organic acreage doubled for many crops between 1997 and 2003, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service. Overall, organic acreage grew 71 percent for crops and 50 percent for livestock during that six-year period.

In 2003, 2.2 million acres were dedicated to organic crops and livestock production. All but one of the 50 states—Mississippi—had some organic farming. California, North Dakota and Minnesota led the pack in organic cropland but Alaska and Texas joined California as leaders for organic livestock production.

Organic acreage for spelt grew at the fastest clip—470 percent—since 1997, but other crops with strong showings included culinary and medicinal herbs (284 percent); dry peas and lentils (212 percent); rye (166 percent); corn (147 percent); and carrots (139 percent).

According to the ERS, certified organic acreage decreased in 2002 as a result of the implementation of the National Organic Program, but bounced back in '03.

Despite the gains, organic acreage represents only 0.4 percent of all U.S. farmland and about 0.1 percent of pasture. "Still, many U.S. producers are embracing organic farming in order to lower input costs, conserve nonrenewable resources, capture high-value markets, and boost farm income, especially as prices fall for staple commodities," the ERS said in a release about the report. Organic apples and lettuce commanded the largest share of their respective overall markets, accounting for 4 percent of the apples and lettuce grown in the United States.

For further data and discussion of the nation's organic acreage, visit

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