PANNA: U.S. Organic Agriculture Blooms


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U.S. Organic Agriculture Blooms
May 19, 2003

Certified organic agricultural land increased by 74% between 1997 and 2001, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This remarkable growth in organic acreage gives organics the distinction of being the fastest growing segment of U.S. agriculture. If this trend continues, the portion of overall agricultural land certified as organic will double in the next four years.

U.S. Organic Farming in 2000-2001: Adoption of Certified Systems, the report that documents this increase, was prepared by the Economic Research Service (ERS) of the USDA. ERS has tracked organic agricultural since 1991, when organic farmers prevailed upon the USDA to create national organic certification standards. Organic supporters predict the consistency and enforceability of national organic certification, in effect since October 2002, will increase the acreage as well as the credibility of U.S. organic products.

Despite this remarkable growth, only 0.3% of all U.S. agricultural land is certified as organic compared with 3.24% in the European Union and 2.31% in Australia. Bob Scowcroft of the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) points out that growth figures need more interpretation. "Acreage is one line in a more complex chart that we should look at to analyze this young industry," said Scowcroft. He suggests that an economic analysis of the value of various organic goods is needed, a type of analysis that may be available in 2004, when ERS will release data from 2003.

In addition to analysis, government support for research on organic farming methods is critical. Brian Leahy of California Certified Organic Farmers points to a 30-year vacuum of organic research following the widespread use of pesticides and fertilizers. For this reason the US$15 million allocated for organic research and the US$5 million for organic certification cost-share in the 2002 Farm Bill are important investments in organic agriculture. An extensive survey of organic farmers published by the OFRF reveals the second greatest barrier that farmers face when transitioning to organic practices is "information and experience, or re-education." The survey also sites "uncooperative or uninformed extension agents" as a constraint to organic production.

The growth in organic acreage is mirrored by a booming market for organic products; another ERS study has reported organic product revenues increasing by more than 20% each year since 1990. Katherine DeMatteo of the Organic Trade Association declares, "Such a large increase in organic acreage is tremendous news for the organics industry." DeMatteo believes that increasing organic acreage goes hand-in-hand with heightened consumer demand, which reflects consumers' interest in reducing pesticide use and environmental impacts of conventional agriculture.

While the U.S. market for organics is growing, European market growth appears to have slowed. A February 2003 report by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), terms the U.S. market the "world's most vigorous organic growth" and forecasts 20 to 25% growth in 2003. The European organic market, on the other hand, was forecast for zero to 20% growth in the same period. IFOAM concludes that the economic situation and geopolitical events in the Middle East make it especially difficult to predict the future of organic food markets worldwide, but suggests that a number of important factors are promising: growing organic markets within developing countries, increasing numbers of organic restaurants and hotels, organic food product lines in development by major food manufacturers, and growth in organic aquaculture and organic non food products such as textiles.

Sources: U.S. Organic Farming in 2000-2001: Adoption of Certified Systems, February, 2003, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Agriculture Information Bulletin 780, http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/aib780/; The World of Organic Agriculture: Statistics and Future Prospects, February 2003, International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, http://www.ifoam.org/neu_index.html; Recent Growth Patterns in the U.S. Organic Foods Market, September 2002, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Agricultural Information Bulletin Number 777, http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/aib777/; Final Results of the Third Biennial National Organic Farmers' Survey, Erica Walz, Organic Farming Research Foundation, 1999, http://www.ofrf.org/publications/index.html.

Contact: California Certified Organic Farmers; 1115 Mission Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060; phone: (831) 423-2263; fax (831) 423-4528; email ccof@ccof.org, website http://www.ccof.org/. The Organic Trade Association; PO Box 547, Greenfield, MA 10301; phone (413) 774-7511; fax (413) 774-6432; email info@ota.com; website http://www.ota.com/, PANNA.

PANUPS is a weekly email news service providing resource guides and reporting on pesticide issues that don't always get coverage by the mainstream media. It's produced by Pesticide Action Network North America, a non-profit and non-governmental organization working to advance sustainable alternatives to pesticides worldwide.

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