Demand for organic products on the rise

WASHINGTON — Organic is no longer a niche market. This sentiment was expressed by several organic industry stakeholders at the recent annual United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Outlook Forum.

One such stakeholder, Ryan Koory, vice president of economics at Mercaris, a data mining and trading platform company for the organic industry, told the Organic Outlook session of the forum that organic food sales have grown 9% annually since 2009 compared to a year-on-year growth rate of only 3% for conventional food sales during the same period. Koory also noted that in 2020, many organic food categories grew by around 11% while organic meat, poultry and fish grew by nearly 25%. And, despite limited access to produce, skyrocketing inflation, and the consensus that organic foods are typically priced 10-30% higher than mass-produced conventional foods, consumer demand for options biological remains positive.

Consumer demand for organic products, Mr. Koory said, is driven by many factors.

“Today’s consumer is looking for products that provide more than just nutrition,” he said. “They’re looking for things that have other benefits, whether biological or social. Organic ticks a lot of those boxes.

Mr. Koory also commented on the growing strength of organic acreage. From 2020 to 2021, data collected by Mercaris showed that the area of ​​the United States devoted to organic field crops increased by 7.1%, or approximately 3.6 million acres, thanks to the expansion of oilseeds and legumes. Soybean production is expected to have a record year with harvests projected at 9.4 million busses, Koory said. Corn, the largest and most established crop in the organic industry, had the weakest year-over-year growth last season. Mr. Koory does not expect the corn crop to increase much as the soybean market is expected to siphon off acres to meet growing demand. Additionally, Koory mentioned that conventional corn farmers have now started using chicken manure, a fertilizer commonly used by organic corn farmers, making it less available and more expensive to obtain.

Although it may not have the most expansion, organic corn is, for the most part, self-sufficient domestically. However, other organic crops depend on imports to meet US demand, particularly the bull market for soybeans. But finding countries that meet USDA’s National Organic Program standards, and given current events in Eastern Europe, accessing organic produce from overseas is becoming more difficult.

India, for example, supplied 38% of US organic soybean meal in 2019-20, according to Mercaris. On March 31, 2021, the Organic Soybean Processors of America filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission alleging that the Indian government was selling organic soybean meal at less than fair value. The United States has gone from importing the equivalent of 15.5 million buses of soybean meal to just 1.5 million buses, Koory said.

Countries along the Black Sea region, including Ukraine, were also export partners for organic crops, including soybeans, but the ongoing war in that region has complicated matters.

“There’s a big difference between a short-term hurricane and a long-term war,” said Jennifer Tucker, deputy administrator of the USDA’s National Organic Program.

About 1.1 million acres of organic field crops are present in Ukraine, and the inability to access these crops would be a significant loss to the global organic market, Ms Tucker said.

The opportunity is ripe for American farmers to meet the growing demand for organic produce, but transitioning from conventional to organic farming is a complex process. Amy Bruch, owner and operator of Cyclone Farm, Inc., said the process includes a 36-month waiting period from the last synthetic fertilizer/pesticide application, which can consequently reduce the production of a farmer. Additionally, there are standards and practices established and enforced by the USDA National Organic Program that must be followed in order for products to carry the USDA Certified Organic label.

Managing pests on organic farms is one of the most difficult tasks and requires a holistic approach, said Gabriel Hughes, risk manager and entomologist with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the USDA.

“Organic farmers need to be creative in locating, identifying, isolating and reducing pest damage, instead of simply preventively and continuously spraying large areas of chemicals before problems even arise,” said said Mr. Hughes.

“Organic farming isn’t about deploying one or two practices on your farm, it’s a whole systems approach,” Ms. Bruch said, adding that it’s an approach that has found firm footing in the foundations of consumerism. American.