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Report: US organic acres set record

American consumers are increasingly interested in organic food. So it should be no surprise that organic commodity farmers will harvest a record 3.1 million acres of U.S. land certified for organic field crop production this year, 7% more than a year ago, according to a new report.

Total organic acres, which includes pasture and rangeland, now stands at 8.3 million acres, according to the report from Mercaris. The Silver Spring, Md.-based organization provides market data and a trading platform for organic and non-GMO markets.

Organic field crop acreage increased nationwide, with the High Plains and western U.S. seeing the biggest increase, the report said.

California leads the nation in organic crop acres. Montana ranks second. North Dakota and Minnesota also rank relatively high.

Other growth for the organic industry included a 3% increase in 2019 in the number of U.S. farm operations that are certified compliant with the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Program standards. The number now stands at 18,155.

Farmers who become certified compliant do so for many reasons, Ryan Koory, director of economics at Mercaris, told Agweek.

One of the biggest incentives is the premium, or higher price, that organic farmers often receive for their product, he said.

The premiums can be particularly attractive when conventional crop prices are poor, as they are now, or when a farmer has relatively few acres and consequently needs higher per-acre profit.

Wheat, corn and soybeans, in that order, are the three biggest-acreage organic crops, together accounting for about 36 percent of U.S. organic field crop acres, Koory said.

Wheat is popular among organic producers for its rotational benefits, while organic corn and soybeans can fetch attractive premiums, he said.

Organic farmers, particularly ones who raise corn and soybeans, often faced weather-related challenges this growing season, Koory said.

"However, the industry overall remains on a robust growth trend, and with better weather in 2020, the industry will likely see even more growth in the year to come," Koory said.

Historically, the process of becoming certified compliant with USDA's national organic program has been seen by many as complicated and filled with paperwork.

"It's necessary," Koory said of the process to become certified compliant.

Even so, the process is becoming easier, in part because more information is available through the Extension Service and other organizations, he said.

More information on USDA's National Organic Program standards: https://www.ams.usda.gov/grades-standards/organic-standards.

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