Natural Foods Merchandiser

1 Million Organic Acres Added

Certified organic farmland and cropland in the United States increased by 1 million acres between 1997 and 2001, according to figures recently released by the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"It's another major expansion," said Catherine Greene, the agricultural economist who compiled the organic briefing. "We're seeing the same type of growth" as was noted between 1992 and 1997, the last time the USDA issued its organic briefing.

The briefing tracks the amount of organic farmland, state by state, along with the types of crops grown and total number of livestock. The United States had a total of 1.3 million acres of organic cropland and another 1 million acres of organic pasture in 2001, Greene said.

California is still the leader in total amount of organic acreage, Greene said. California has seen 17 percent annual growth in organic cropland since 1992, according to Karen Klonsky, co-op extension specialist at the University of California-Davis Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics.

In 1999, there were 91,260 acres in California devoted to organic cultivation, with 1,823 growers reporting $213 million in sales, Klonsky said. In 2000, organic cropland hit 106,000 acres, with 1,945 growers reporting $247 million in sales. She estimates that in 2001, there were 2,172 growers grossing $284 million in sales from 190,000 acres of organic cropland.

"About half of those growers gross less than $8,000 a year and farm under five acres," Klonsky said. "In any given year, you've got 300 growers going out [of organic farming] and 350 going in."

She said 90 percent of California's organic revenues come from vegetables, fruits and nuts. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, organic grape production is growing. In 2001, the state had 6,800 acres of organic vineyards, up from 4,137 acres in 1998.

Other states on the West Coast are also reporting substantial growth in organic cropland. According to the Washington Department of Agriculture, last year Washington's 567 organic producers generated $47 million in sales from 40,000 acres of organic cropland. In 1997, 300 organic farmers generated $12 million in sales from 12,000 acres.

According to a March 2002 survey of Washington certified organic farmers, the state's main organic crop is tree fruit, at 53 percent, followed by organic vegetables at 30 percent, berries at 13 percent and livestock at 8 percent.

Greene said the USDA organic briefing shows that other areas of the country are keeping pace with the West Coast. "There's been a major expansion in organic cropland across the Midwest," she said, with corn and soybean production doubling since 1997.

The Northeast also boasts "a lot of organic operations," Greene said. "There are a lot of small market garden-type farms and dairies. We're showing a lot of dairy operation there."

The only area of the country that is lagging in organic acreage is the South, Greene said. "The markets for organic are smaller in the South," she said. "A number of small certified [farmers] have not continued on."

In the organic livestock category, the number of U.S. broiler chickens, layer hens, dairy and beef cattle has increased substantially between 1997 and 2001, she said.

Vicky Uhland is a freelance writer and editor in Denver. She can be reached at [email protected]

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 11/p. 1, 5

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