accounting for approximately 2.5 percent of total U.S.food sales.Following the establishment of federal USDAstandards for organic production in 2002,industry expertsexpect annual growth of 20 percent well into the nextdecade.“The food industry clearly continues to be excitedabout the organic sector,”said Catherine Greene,anAgricultural Economist with the USDA EconomicResearch Service,who has been tracking growthpatterns of the organic industry since the late 1980s.Fueling this rapid increase in organic sales are largenumbers of consumers who want organic food;accord-ing to a market survey by SPINS,68 percent of consumershave tried organic products.Consumers also wantorganic foods across a range of categories,includingpre-packaged meals,salad dressings and even pet food.In response to this explosive increase in demand,acreage in certified organic cropland and pasture morethan quadrupled between 1993 and 2005,according toUSDA estimates.While organic acreage is still only 0.5 percent of the total U.S.agricultural acreage,someproduction sectors are much higher.For example,3,6and 4 percent of all apples,carrots and lettuce,respec-tively,are grown organically.
THE USDA DEFINES ORGANIC AGRICULTURE AS “A PRODUCTION
system that is managed to respond to site-specificconditions by integrating cultural,biological,andmechanical practices that foster cycling of resources,promote ecological balance,and conserve biodiversity.”More specifically,organic farming entails:
Use of cover crops,green manures,animalmanures and crop rotations to fertilize the soil,maximize biological activity and maintain long-term soil health.
Use of biological control,crop rotations and other techniques to manage weeds,insects and diseases.
An emphasis on biodiversity of the agriculturalsystem and the surrounding environment.
Using rotational grazing and mixed forage pasturesfor livestock operations and alternative health carefor animal wellbeing.
Reduction of external and off-farm inputs andelimination of synthetic pesticides and fertilizersand other materials,such as hormones andantibiotics.
A focus on renewable resources,soil and water conservation,and management practices thatrestore,maintain and enhance ecological balance.Many organic farmers,including Wende Elliottand Joe Rude of Colo,Iowa,view organic productionas a means to work with the environment andmaintain the balance of their ecosystem.“Naturalsystems work hard if you incorporate biodiversity into your operation instead of fighting it,”said Rude,who co-farms 125 acres of pastured poultry,corn,hay and alfalfa.Using nature as a model for the agriculturalsystem – recycling nutrients,encouraging naturalpredators to manage pests,increasing plant densitiesto block weeds – organic farmers don’t merely substi-tute non-toxic materials for pesticides and fertilizers,but rather consider the farm as an integrated entity,with all parts interconnected.When livestock and poultry are incorporated intoorganic systems,the potential for diversification andintegration is even greater:Livestock feed on grassesand mixed forages,both of which help improve soilstructure.At the same time,livestock provide manureto fertilize soil,and can be used to “cull”any non-harvestable crops.
TABLE 1: U.S. CERTIFIED ORGANIC PRODUCTION
Year199220002005U.S. certified farmland (acres)
Total935,4501,776,0734,003,973Certified organic livestock (number)
Beef cows6,79613,82970,219Milk cows2,26538,19686,032Other cows
a58,172Hogs & pigs1,3651,72410,018Sheep & lambs1,2212,2795,347
Total livestock11,64756,028229,788Certified organic poultry
61,3633,159,05014,193,270Total certified organic operations
1. Includes unclassified cows and some young stock.2. Total poultry includes other and unclassified animals.* Number does not include subcontracted organic farm operations.Numbers may not add due to rounding.
Economic Research Service, USDA