Organic Broadcaster


2019 sees rise in organic field crop acres harvested, new certifications

By Audrey Alwell

Efforts to educate farmers and support their transition to organic crop production are paying off. A new report from Mercaris, the data service and online trading platform for organic and non-GMO markets, shows a 13% rise in certified organic field crop acreage in the U.S. in 2019, and a 14% jump in the number of certified organic field crop operations.

Nationwide last year, farmers harvested nearly 3.3 million acres of certified organic field crops, which includes corn, soybeans, wheat, oats, hay, and rye. That number is 13% higher than Mercaris reported for the 2018 harvest, which was only 2% higher than the prior year.

“Despite what can be fairly described as the most difficult growing season in more than a decade, 2019 was a remarkable year for organic production,” said Ryan Koory, Director of Economics at Mercaris. “Overall acreage expansion did prove to be limited by weather throughout the growing season. That said, the addition of new organic growers suggests that 2020 could see organic production reach new record highs.”

The final Mercaris 2019 Acreage Report shows that the number of growers converting land to organic production escalated significantly in 2019, with 908 newly certified organic field crop operations for a total of 18,556 across the country—that’s a 14% increase over 2018, which had only a 3% increase over the prior year.

“While growth in the organic industry was anticipated, the 14% year/year expansion in certified organic field crop operations well exceeded expectations,” Koory added.

MOSES Organic Specialist and OGRAIN Crop Specialist Carmen Fernholz viewed the report’s findings with cautious optimism.

“Organic field crop production is moving quickly into mainstream agriculture,” Fernholz said. “That could mean that a lot of conventional growers are jumping into organic for the price point since conventional prices have been so depressed. But organic is really about so much more than a premium price—it’s a whole system of working with the land, creating diverse rotations, and building the soil.”

Fernholz cautioned that farmers need to change their mindset when they go into organics. “We have to be prepared for downward pressure on prices if farmers approach organic production and marketing with a conventional production and marketing mindset,” he added.

The number of acres of organic corn harvested per operation was down last year, as Mercaris forecast in the December Organic Broadcaster. However, 13% more certified organic operations harvested organic corn in 2019, which offset those per-operation production losses.

The states with the highest number of organic field crop acres harvested are California, Montana, Texas, and New York. Wisconsin ranked fifth with 207,271 harvested acres or 6.3% of the country’s organic field crop harvest.

One of the factors contributing to the rise in organic field crop acres harvested was organic wheat production, which was 16% higher than in 2018. That increase was fueled by growth in the High Plains region, the report said.

The report also showed 1.1 million acres of organic hay and alfalfa were harvested in 2019, up 8% from the previous year with 11% more certified organic operations harvesting hay.

The full report is available for purchase online.

Audrey Alwell is the Communications Director for MOSES.

From the March| April 2020 Issue


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