Organic survey delves into production, marketing practices

In addition to asking about the number of farms, acreage and sales, USDA’s 2019 Organic Survey also queried farmers about their production and marketing practices, challenges and expenses.

One thing that’s always of interest is how organic commodities are marketed, said Virginia Harris, a survey statistician with National Agricultural Statistics Service.

That could be direct to consumer through such things as farmers markets, farm stands and community supported agriculture, she said during a webinar hosted by the Organic Trade Association.

About 3,000 farms sold direct to consumers in 2019. That was 18% of all organic farms, and they sold about $300 million in organic products. Those direct to consumer sales were highest in the Western U.S., the Northeast and Southeast, she said.

More than 3,000 farms sold direct to retail markets or institutions, with sales of more than $2 billion. More than 1,000 farms sold $727 million of value-added organic products such as wine, jam and cheese.

The survey also collected data on production practices, primarily related to land use, she said.

“The most common organic production practice reported was using buffer strips or border rows to isolate organic from convention crops,” she said.

Of the 16,585 certified organic farms in 2019, almost 11,000 used buffer strips or border rows.

Almost 9,000 organic farms applied animal manure to organic land, and about 8,000 used water-management practices.

A little more than 7,500 farms planted green manures, cover crops that are plowed under to increase soil fertility. About 6,000 used no-till or minimum-till, which can reduce soil erosion. And about 5,700 produced or used organic mulch or compost, she said.

The survey also asked farmers to report economic losses due to the unintentional presence of genetically modified organisms or unapproved pesticides. Relatively few reported those losses, only 125 related to GMOs and 142 related to pesticides.

The survey also polled farmers on some expenses. Farmers reported paying their organic certifiers about $47 million in 2019.

The two largest expenses were for certified organic feed at almost $2 billion and labor at nearly $1.6 billion.

The survey also asked about major challenges.

“The most common challenge reported by the farms was regulatory in nature. One-half of farms said that this was the major production challenge for their farming operation,” she said.