Organic farming has been one of the fastest growing segments of
U.S. agriculture for over a decade. The U.S. had under a million
acres of certified organic farmland when Congress passed the
Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. By the time USDA implemented
national organic standards in 2002, certified organic farmland had
doubled, and doubled again between 2002 and 2005. Organic livestock
sectors have grown even faster. ERS collected data from
USDA-accredited State and private certification groups to calculate
the extent of certified organic farmland acreage and livestock in
the United States. These are presented in tables showing the change
in U.S. organic acreage and livestock numbers from 1992 to 2008
(see the U.S.
tables section). Data for 1997 and 2000-08 are presented by
State and commodity (see the State tables
U.S. producers dedicated approximately 4.8 million acres of
farmland-2.7 million acres of cropland and 2.1 million acres of
rangeland and pasture-to organic production systems in 2008.
California remains the leading State in certified organic cropland,
with over 430,000 acres, largely (over 40 percent) used for fruit
and vegetable production. Other top States for certified organic
cropland include Wisconsin, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Montana.
Forty-five States also had some certified organic rangeland and
pasture in 2008, and 13 States had more than 100,000 acres,
reflecting strong growth in the U.S. organic dairy sector between
2005 and 2008.
Adoption of organic farming systems showed strong gains between
2002 and 2008, averaging a 15 percent annual increase in cropland
acreage during this period. While the adoption rate remains high,
the overall adoption level is still low-only about 0.7 percent of
all U.S. cropland and 0.5 percent of all U.S. pasture was certified
organic in 2008. Obstacles to adoption by farmers include high
managerial costs and risks of shifting to a new way of farming,
limited awareness of organic farming systems, lack of marketing and
infrastructure, and inability to capture marketing economies.
Still, many U.S. producers are embracing organic farming in order
to lower input costs, conserve nonrenewable resources, capture
high-value markets, and boost farm income.
Adoption Levels Vary by Sector
Government efforts to boost organic production have focused
initially on developing national certification standards to assure
consumers of consistent product quality and on streamlining
interstate commerce in organically grown products. In 2008,
Congress included new provisions in the Food, Conservation, and
Energy Act (2008 Farm Act) that expand support for the organic
sector (see 2008 Farm Act Provisions).
Also, many USDA agencies have started or expanded programs and
pilot projects to help organic producers with production and
marketing problems and risks.
Fifty-nine organic certification organizations, including 17
State programs and 3 county programs in California, conducted
third-party certification of organic production and handling in
2008. USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service implements national
legislation and implemented rules in October 2002 that require all
except the smallest organic growers (less than $5,000 in sales) be
certified by a State or private agency accredited under USDA's
national organic standards.
Organic farming systems rely on practices such as cultural and
biological pest management, and virtually prohibit synthetic
chemicals in crop production and antibiotics or hormones in
livestock production. For example, organic farmers provide habitat
for predators and parasites of crop pests, rotate crops to maintain
soil fertility, and cycle animal and green manures as fertilizer.
Organic livestock growers try to accommodate an animal's natural
nutritional and behavioral requirements.
Overall, certified organic cropland and pasture accounted for
about 0.6 percent of U.S. total farmland in 2008. Only a small
percentage of the top U.S. field crops-corn (0.2 percent), soybeans
(0.2 percent), and wheat (0.7 percent)-were grown under certified
organic farming systems. On the other hand, organic carrots (13
percent of U.S. carrot acreage), organic lettuce (8 percent),
organic apples (5 percent) and other fruit and vegetable crops were
more commonly organic grown in 2008. Markets for organic
vegetables, fruits, and herbs have been developing for decades in
the United States, and fresh produce is still the top-selling
organic category in retail sales. Organic livestock was beginning
to catch up with produce in 2008, with 2.7 percent of U.S. dairy
cows and 1.5 percent of the layer hens managed under certified