National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, October 2, 2014- 

On September 30, the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released more detailed organic agriculture data from the 2012 Census of Agriculture. The basic Census information was published earlier this year. The Census of Agriculture has been conducted since 1840 and currently is collected once every five years. NSAC’s discussion of the first release, from May 2014, can be found here.

The new data set includes national and state level data on all farms and farmers with organic sales as of 2012. The data set includes state level data on the number of farms producing organic crops, total acreage in organic production, value of production from farms with organic sales, farming practices employed by farms with organic sales, and the ownership characteristics of farms with organic sales among several other data points.

The full 256-page report can be accessed here.

As part of its press release NASS noted the following significant findings about organic agriculture:

        • Organic agriculture producers were much more likely to report direct-to-consumer sales than conventional producers. While only 7 percent of all U.S. farms sold agricultural products directly to consumers, 42 percent of organic farms reported direct sales to consumers.
        • Organic farms were more likely than other farms to participate in non-traditional markets: 30 percent marketed products directly to retail outlets, 16 percent produced value-added products, and 13 percent distributed products through CSAs (community supported agriculture).
        • Organic farms were more likely than other farms to invest in on-farm renewable energy producing systems, such as solar panels and wind turbines.
        • Organic farms were also more likely to sell crops, such as fruits and vegetables, than livestock and poultry products. Almost 90 percent sold crops, while a slightly fewer than 50 percent sold livestock or poultry products.
        • Organic producers were more likely to be beginning farmers, with 27 percent starting farming in the last 10 years, compared to 18 percent of all principal farm operators.
        • Organic operators were younger, with 26 percent under 45 years old, compared to 16 percent of all principal operators.

This new release of data clearly shows that there is great diversity and innovation within the organic sector. It is also clear that organic producers are younger, are exploring diverse marketing channels, and are utilizing innovative sustainable farming practices at a higher rate when compared with all farmers.

NASS’s release of this data affirms the need for continued and increased support for research programs that benefit organic farmers. Programs like the Organic Research and Extension Initiative, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, and the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program are critical to ensuring the continued success of organic farmers and ensuring there are enough organic farmers to meet the increasing demand in the years to come.

The Need for More Organic Production Data

While this data is impotent to stakeholders, it does not provide the clearest picture possible of the trends occurring within the organic farming sector over the past five years. For example, the Census of Agriculture does not break out separately the organic portion of a farm’s sales since it reports all of the farm’s sales whether organic or conventional together.

It also does not provide trend data on the number of actual farmers engaged in organic production, since the 2007 and 2012 Censuses of Agriculture define “organic” differently and are therefore unable to compare some data points collected in both years.

In order to begin to create this trend data that is needed by organic farmers and other stakeholders, NASS has plans to conduct an organic specific survey for 2014 as a follow on to the 2012 Census of Agriculture. This Organic Production Survey will be almost identical to a similar survey conducted after the last census of agriculture, and will ask questions focused on a farmer’s organic production and not their entire farm’s production. Survey materials will be sent to organic farmers in early 2015.

This Organic Production Survey will contain the same questions as the 2008 organic survey and will allow NASS to create trend data on various components of organic agriculture in the United States, such as:

How much land is currently transitioning into organic production; information on what production practices organic farmers are implementing on their farms to control pest, weeds, soil fertility, conserve water and manage livestock; primary production challenges facing organic farmers; and price data on organically produced crops and livestock products. This data is important to organic farmers, researchers, and policy makers such as the Risk Management Agency, who need this data to expand the availability of organic crop insurance products.

This article was originally posted on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.


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