USDA: Certified organic producers on the rise |

USDA: Certified organic producers on the rise

The number of organic producers certified by the Agriculture Department increased by 763 last year to 18,513 farms and businesses, an increase of 4.2 percent since 2012, the Agriculture Department said Thursday.

The number of organic businesses has grown 245 percent since 2002, USDA added.

“Consumer demand for organic products has grown exponentially over the past decade. With retail sales valued at $35 billion last year, the organic industry represents a tremendous economic opportunity for farmers, ranchers and rural communities,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“New support in the 2014 farm bill will enhance USDA’s efforts to help producers and small business tap into this market and support organic agriculture as it continues to grow and thrive.”

Vilsack noted that the Obama administration has signed organic trade agreements with Canada, the European Union and Japan and wants to continue to help the organic industry grow. He noted that requests for organic agriculture research proposals are due by May 8.

The secretary noted that the 2014 farm bill contains the following provisions to promote organic businesses:

• $20 million a year for dedicated organic research, agricultural extension programs, and education. The Cooperative Extension System is a nationwide, non-credit educational network.

“Every U.S. state and territory has a state office at its land-grant university and a network of local or regional offices staffed by experts that provide useful, practical, and research-based information,” USDA said.

• $5 million to fund data collection on organic agriculture that will give policymakers, organic farmers, and organic businesses data needed to make sound policy, business, and marketing decisions.

• Expanded options for organic crop insurance to protect farmers.

• Expanded exemptions for organic producers who are paying into commodity “check off” programs, and authority for USDA to consider an application for the organic sector to establish its own check off.

• Improved enforcement authority for the National Organic Program to conduct investigations.

• $5 million for a technology upgrade of the National Organic Program to provide up-to-date information about certified organic operations across the supply chain

• $11.5 million annually for certification cost-share assistance, which reimburses the costs of annual certification for organic farmers and livestock producers by covering 75 percent of certification costs, up to $750 per year. F

–The Hagstrom Report