Going organic is proving to be a good investment for small and medium-sized farmers--and they are receiving some government protection against Big Agriculture as well.
In a first-time statistical analysis of sales, production, profits, and management, the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) recently reported that the nation's organic farms and ranches have a higher average sales than U.S. farms overall even though average production expenses were higher.
"This was USDA's first wide-scale survey of organic producers, and it was undertaken in direct response to the growing interest among consumers, farmers, businesses, policymakers and others," said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan. "The information being released today [February 16] will be an important building block for future program and policy development."
Jim Riddle, outreach coordinator at the University of Minnesota, announced the good news at the 21st Annual Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) conference, held in La Crosse, Wisc., which attracted 2,700 organic farmers, retailers, university researchers, educators and supporters from all over the United States, as well as Armenia, Thailand, Austria, Canada, South Korea and Germany.
The NASS data was derived from the results of its 2008 Organic Production Survey that included more than 25,000 responses out of 29,000 surveys mailed in order to gain information on organic agriculture in the United States. About 12,600 of these responses were from active organic farms. This extensive survey of organic agriculture was performed in response to lack of information about organic farms and the organic marketplace. The 331-page document provides state-by-state information and is available at http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2007/Online_Highlights/Organics/.
Highlights of the survey show that the total organic sales in 2008 from 14,540 farms and ranches were $3.16 billion, including $1.94 billion in crop sales and $1.22 billion in sales of livestock, poultry and their products. California led the nation in organic sales with $1.15 billion or 36 percent of all U.S. sales.
Most U.S. organic producers sold their products locally, with 44 percent of sales taking place less than 100 miles from the farm. Nearly 83 percent of organic sales were sold to wholesale channels, including processors, millers and packers. Just over 10 percent of sales were direct to retail operations, including supermarkets. Only 7 percent of sales were direct to consumers via farm stands, farmers' markets, community-supported agriculture and other arrangements.
"The distinction between local and organic food is merging," said Riddle. "You want both in the food system over time."
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