A new report has found that U.S. land for organic farming reached 4.1 million acres in 2016, a new record and an 11 percent increase compared to 2014.
As of June 2016, the number of certified organic farms in the U.S. reached 14,979, a 6.2 percent increase of 1,000 farms compared to 2014 survey data.
The Mercaris Organic Acreage Report found that the top five states in organic cropland are California, Montana, Wisconsin, New York and North Dakota. California leads the U.S. with 688,000 acres. However, Montana has seen a 30 percent increase in organic farmland, reaching 417,000 acres in 2016, an increase of 100,000 acres since 2014 and adding 50 new organic farms.
The report also estimates that North Dakota, Colorado and New York all increased their organic farming acres by more than 40,000 since 2014. North Dakota has surpassed Oregon as the fifth leading state in organic acreage. Oregon is sixth followed by Colorado and Texas.
Scott Shander, an economist at Mercaris, attributes the increase in organic acres to farm economics and consumer demand for organic foods.
“The organic industry is growing and with lower commodity grain prices, and farmers are looking to add value and meet consumer demands,” he says.
According to Alex Heilman, a sales associate at Mercaris, the number of organic acres is likely to continue increasing, especially with larger companies such as General Mills and Ardent Mills launching programs to increase organic acres.
“I think we will see more of an impact of those programs in the next few years as more farmers start the transition process (to organic),” he says.
Organic alfalfa/hay was the leading organic crop grown with more than 800,000 acres in 2016. This was followed by organic wheat, corn, and soybeans with 482,000, 292,000, and 150,000 acres respectively. Organic oats reached a record level of 109,000 acres in 2016. Organic wheat showed the greatest increase with nearly 150,000 more acres since 2014 and a 44 percent increase since 2011. Plantings of organic corn increased by 58,000 acres since 2014.
The percentage of acres planted to organic crops such as wheat, corn, soybeans, and oats remains small compared to conventional crops in the U.S. Organic corn accounts for only 0.31 percent of total corn acres; organic wheat was 0.9 percent of total wheat acres; organic soybeans were 0.2 percent of total soybean acres. Organic oats account for the highest percentage of an organic crop with 3.6 percent of total oat acres.
Acreage of both organic corn and soybeans has seen small increases as a percentage of total acres for both crops in the past few years, according to the report. This may be due to the fact that the U.S. is importing large amounts of organic corn and soybeans, which is depressing the U.S. market and prices for both crops. According Shander, 25 percent of organic corn and 75 percent of organic soybeans used in the U.S. are imported.
“It’s a global market that is dictating U.S. prices,” he says. “Demand for organic corn and soybeans is still growing strongly, but production in the U.S. is not growing as fast so more of the production will be international.”