The 2012 Ag Census gives us a blurry vision of trends in organic production. National media has been reporting steady increases in consumer demand for organic. Are producers as excited about growing food organically?
As reported by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the definition of an organic farm changed between 2007 and 2012, so it is hard determine the accuracy of the comparison between census years. The 2012 census reported $3.12 billion in sales from organic farms, up 84% from the 2007 census estimate of $1.7 billion. The number of organic farms decreased from 18,211 to 14,326.
In Maryland, the 2012 census reported $11.8 million in sales, up 118% from $5.4 million in 2007. However the number of organic farms decreased from 146 in 2007 to 91 in 2012. With the increase in sales and the decrease in number of farms, the average value of organic product sales per farm jumped from $37,003 to $129,646 per farm.
One could argue that organic agriculture is maturing. Farmers have experimented with organic agriculture and those who have stuck with it are averaging higher sales per farm. However, organic agriculture is also going through regulatory changes and some farmers are opting to use the Certified Naturally Grown label rather than deal with the paperwork involved with USDA Organic Standards. Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) uses organic principles in food production, but it minimizes paperwork and certification fees and utilizes a peer-inspection process. As per the CNG website. “They’re typically a better fit for small-scale producers who sell locally.”
New definitions, maturity of the industry and variations in branding make it hard to draw conclusions about trends in organic farming. However, with growing consumer interest in organic, it is not a market trend that is going away. As long as farmers get an adequate premium for growing organic, there will be producers.