Organic Grain Production Gains Momentum

October 26, 2017 12:29 PM
Al Clark Organic Grain Farmer

It comes as no surprise that the organic sector continues to grow at a faster pace than other agricultural production systems. And while vegetables, fruits and livestock account for the lion’s share of organic production, organic field crops have gained in acreage and value, according to a new report released by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

“It was quite a steep learning curve, and we’re still learning a lot,” says Al Clark, a producer in Portal, Ga., who switched all his acres to organic production beginning in 2007. He grows organic corn, soybeans and peanuts.

Contracts with Organic Valley Cooperative enable Clark to earn between $8 and $12 per bushel for corn and $17 to $22 on soybeans, depending on the market.

Rows Grow. USDA certifies organic products with strict production standards for commodities. The new data published in September represent the fifth NASS report ever compiled on acreage, production and sales for certified organic crop and livestock commodities.

Overall, U.S. farms and ranches during 2016 produced and sold roughly $7.6 billion in certified organic commodities, up an impressive 23% from 2015. The number of U.S. organic farms, meanwhile, rose 11% to more than 14,200 while certified acres increased 15% to more than 5 million.

That uptick is reflected in 225 U.S. counties that are hot spots, which means adjoining counties with high levels of organic farm and business activity, according to a white paper by the Organic Trade Association. The group represents 8,500 organic businesses nationwide. The report identifies numerous financial benefits for people living in counties with organic agricultural activity, including an average decline of 1.3% in county poverty rates and an average increase in median income of $2,000.

Steady Gains. More financial benefits for organics could be realized with USDA tools and supportive policies at all levels of government, the report says.

“Policy programs that integrate organic as an economic development tool with capital structures like banking, loan and finance programs could catalyze further hot spot formation,” the authors note.

About 7,400 farms planted 1.68 million acres to organic field crops and hay in 2016, USDA says. The value of organic field-crop sales totaled over $762 million. That’s up from 1.46 million acres with production of $660 million the year prior.

Producers raising organic crops and livestock collectively own more than 2.3 million acres, representing more than 12,000 farms, twice as many as organic farms under rent. They rent upward of 2.7 million acres representing a total of more than 6,000 operations.

The Dollars and Cents of Organic Crop Production

Many producers of organics readily admit the paperwork process can be daunting, and special care must be given to in-field management practices. But the market is growing and so are returns to farmers.

  • Among organic field crops, corn for grain leads the way with nearly 214,000 acres valued at $163.9 mil.
  • Organic growers produced more than 490,000 acres of hay valued at about $130 mil.
  • Organic soybean production accounted for nearly 125,000 acres with a value of $78.5 mil.
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