Increasing numbers of US farmers attracted to organic grain production

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis contact

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock
The premiums that the US organic market can offer farmers may be one reason that more are moving in that direction, says an expert.

“We see a huge increase in demand from farmers who want to become organic grain farmers,”​  John Mesko, executive director with the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES), told FeedNavigator.

MOSES is a non-profit organization offers education, resources and advice for farmers looking to use organic practices.

“Organic is here to stay,” ​he said. “However, it doesn’t mean that, even with a premium price on commodities, it doesn’t mean that a producer [close to retirement] is going to go that way – it’s an entirely different production method. But in a farming situation where there may be a family member or someone coming behind, that may be different picture.”

There has been a large amount of investment put into the processing and support side of organic production, continued Mesko.

“There is enough market demand that a supply chain company can afford to develop a parallel type of production."

Additionally, more support structures like grain elevators and processing facilities are being dedicated to organic production to improve supply lines, he said.

Large businesses are finding enough interest in organic products to make long-term investments in the sector, he said. The expectation is that the expansion will continue and could potentially increase in pace.

Much of the work on the processing side is taking place regionally so that grains don’t have to be transported long distances to be processed, said Mesko. “They’re going to put the infrastructure where there is low hanging fruit,” ​he added.

In addition to processing and supply lines, feed grain and crop producers continue to expand the acres in organic production, he said. “We’re seeing gradual shift starting with acres,”​ he added.

Another facet of the expansion is an interest within the organic industry to keep feed, grain and produce producers in the US, he said.

USDA data 

The USDA has just released​ a report about the organic agricultural market.

The report reflects the 2016 Certified Organic Survey ​– the goal of the survey was to detail acreage, production and sales information for several certified organic crop and livestock commodities.

Overall sales of organic agricultural products continued to climb in 2016, said the department. The sector saw about $7.6bn in sales for certified organic commodities, an increase of 23% from the $6.2bn in sales in 2015.

The total number of certified organic farms grew by 11% reaching 14,217 and the number of acres certified expanded about 15% to 5m, said the department.

California was responsible for the most sales of organic products in 2016 with sales reaching $2.9bn and accounting for 38% of the overall amount, the USDA said. Other high producing states include Pennsylvania, Washington, Oregon and Texas followed by Wisconsin, New York, Michigan, Colorado and North Carolina.  

The three states with the most certified organic farms are California, Wisconsin and New York, the department said.

Of the farms in production about 13,560 were focused on cropland, while 5,587 included pasture or range land, the department reported. About 3,275 farms grew feed corn, 510 farms grew grain barley, 1,748 produced soybeans, 133 raised triticale and four grew canola.

Additionally, about 1,109 farms raised acres of corn for silage or greenchop and almost 4,000 raised hay, said the USDA. Sixty farms raised grain sorghum and 123 grew it for silage or greenchop.

Top commodities in terms of sales included milk, eggs and broiler chickens, while among crops organic hay was in the top commodities, the USDA said. Animals raised on an organic production method have to be given 100% organic feed and not be given antibiotics or growth hormones.

Organic field crops, although including nursery and greenhouse production, earned about $4.19bn overall, the department said. Sale value of corn was about $163.9m and soy was about $78.5m.

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