Organic Acreage Up in Oregon Despite Drop in Organic Farmers

December 17, 2015 09:00 PM
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Organic acreage has surged in Oregon even as the number of organic farmers has shrunk in recent years, according to federal data.

The total number of organic farms in the state decreased 18 percent, from 657 to 525, between 2008 and 2014, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Meanwhile, organic acreage nearly doubled in Oregon, from 105,600 to 204,000, the report said.

The agency found a sharp decline in the number of farmers who earn less than $25,000 in annual revenue, while the number of those with sales of more than $250,000 grew, said Dave Losh, Oregon's state statistician for NASS.

"The smaller folks are having a harder time and the larger operations are getting bigger," Losh said, noting that the trend is occurring in overall agriculture as well.

In some cases, organic farms may not have gone out of business but opted to drop their organic certification for financial reasons, said Chris Schreiner, executive director of Oregon Tilth, an organic certifier.

At the time of the survey, a USDA cost-share program that helped pay for certification costs had lapsed, so some growers decide the organic label was no longer financially feasible, he said.

That program has since been restored with funding from the 2014 Farm Bill.

Even so, the 2008 survey was conducted shortly before the financial crisis, so some farms might have shut down during the ensuing economic downturn, said Ivan Maluski, policy director of Friends of Family Farmers, a nonprofit group.

"I think the recession during that five-year window had a lot to do with it," he said.

Oregon's acreage growth has bucked a national trend, as overall U.S. organic acreage contracted nearly 10 percent, to 3.7 million acres, between 2008 and 2014.

The state has the fifth highest number of organic acres in the country, following California, Montana, Wisconsin and New York.

Oregon is also near the top of the list in sales of organic farm products, with $237 million in 2014.

Nationally, crops represent 60 percent of organic sales, livestock products such as milk and eggs represent 28 percent and livestock represents 12 percent.

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