For both consumers and producers, organic agriculture in the United States has continued to follow a strong upward trend.
According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, certified organic cropland acreage increased by more than 70, to 3.5 million acres, between 2011 and 2019. Organic pastureland and rangeland also increased in that time period by about 22%, accounting for 2 million acres.
On the retail side, organic food is a big — if not yet entirely ripe — business. Industry sources indicate that sales of U.S. organic food products more than doubled in the decade after 2010, reaching more than $51 billion.
For some organic agricultural categories, such as grains and oilseed crops, American demand has increased at a faster pace than domestic supply.
Despite this booming business, farmers and other growers continue to face key challenges in taking advantage of this growing market.
Producers — whether they are already certified or are thinking of entering the industry — contend with any number of barriers to transition, which are often experienced because of a lack of effective tools in managing soil health, diseases, pests and weeds. Another problem is the limited availability of certified organic feedstuffs, certified land for grazing and identity-preserved supply chains.
On this year’s International Organic Day, we’re highlighting several projects funded through NIFA’s organic agriculture programs that are strengthening U.S. producers’ ability to grow and market high-quality organic agricultural products.
Balancing Soil Health and Food Safety in Farm Manure Use
In one $2 million, five-year project funded through the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, a team of scientists at Land-grant Universities from California to Maine worked in a public-private partnership to study how organic producers can best use animal-based manure and compost while simultaneously preventing the risk of foodborne illnesses.
The results of the research — intended to provide organic farmers with science-based strategies on developing optimal wait periods between manure application and crop harvest — were shared with farmers and other industry professionals through webinars, educational modules, and workshops and other trainings.
Watch the videos on the project’s website.
Improving Organic Milk Production Through Use of Legume-Grass Mixtures
At the University of New Hampshire, Dr. Andre Brito led a five-year study to determine how changes in various legume-grass mixtures across multiple years affect forage quality, milk production and greenhouse gas emissions when fed to organic dairy cows.
Among the study’s goals: deliver best management practices directly to farmers on how to produce nutritionally superior organic milk.
The research, funded through the Organic Transitions program, revealed a number of findings. One tip: second and third cuttings generally improve nutritive value. The research team shared these and other results with organic and conventional dairy farmers across the Northeast, as well as with Extension educators, industry stakeholders and academic communities, through workshops, webinars, pasture walks and field days.
Providing Education to Rural Veterinarians on Organic Regulations, Treatment Options
Research that advances organic production in the U.S. also takes place in other programs across NIFA’s funding portfolio, such as the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, the Small Business Innovation Research and Technology Transfer programs and the Veterinary Services Grant Program (VSGP).
Through VSGP, researchers at Iowa State University are developing six online continuing education courses to share knowledge about a subject that is generally not covered in veterinary school: organic regulations as well as treatment options and practices that are unique to organic and nonconventional producers.
The two-year project led by James Roth and Katie Steneroden seeks to close the gaps in perception, knowledge and communication between veterinarians and those producers, with the overall goal of helping to build relationships between those two groups to improve animal health, increase food safety and support rural economies.
Learn more about the $34 million in awards NIFA issued in fiscal year 2022 to help boost organic agriculture.
Top image: Amy's Organic Garden in Charles City, VA, on Thursday, May 5, 2011. Owner Amy Hicks harvesting greens at her farm.