Organic Farming: Driving Our Economy

April 20th, 2011 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on Organic Farming: Driving Our Economy

Earlier this month, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) released their organic industry report for 2010 at the 2011 Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. There were many numbers to be excited about in this report, but one that stood out in my mind was that the organic farming sector grew by 8% in 2010, dramatically outpacing the food industry as a whole, which grew at less than 1% in 2010.

Despite the worst economic downturn this country has seen in decades, the organic industry has come out of this recession hiring employees, adding farms, and increasing revenue. Some of you may remember that last year at this time I wrote in a couple of different articles about the growing concern of the state of organic agriculture in our country.

Can organic farming keep up with supplies? There are now 5 million fewer farms in the U.S. than there were in the 1930’s. No doubt, we are far less of an agrarian society than we used to be, but we also have a far larger population to feed as well. According to Farm Aid, 330 farmers leave their land every week. Consumer demand for organic products has widened over the last decade. Since the late 1990s, U.S. organic food production has more than doubled, but the consumer market has grown even faster. Organic food sales have more than quintupled, increasing from $3.6 billion in 1997 to $29 billion in 2010. This astonishing growth has led to some shortages in certain areas of the organic supply chain.

What a difference a year can make. According to this latest report from the OTA, the organic industry supports 14,540 organic farms and ranches across the country. A total of 4.1 million acres of land are currently in organic management, and there are organic farms in all 50 states. Since 78 percent of organic farms report planning to maintain or increase organic production levels over the next five years, the organic sector will continue to play a contributing role in revitalizing America’s rural economy through diversity in agriculture. 40 percent of organic operations added jobs in 2010. In addition, 96 percent of organic operations are planning to maintain or increase employment levels in 2011, and 46 percent of them are planning to increase employment levels three times the rate of businesses as whole.

Organic agriculture and the organic industry appear to be a key driver in fueling America’s growth. U.S. Census data shows that on average, U.S. organic farms have higher sales, higher production expenses, and higher operating profit than the average for all U.S. farms, thus creating real opportunities for rural economic livelihoods. In fact, organic farms were shown to have an average operating profit nearly double that for all farms ($45,697 for organic versus $25,448 for all farms).