news organic market no longer niche production up 70 percent in virginia
Virginia

Organic market no longer niche, production up 70 percent in Virginia

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Virginia’s organic production has increased nearly 70 percent since 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2021 Organic Survey results.

The recently released survey questioned all known USDA-certified organic operations in the U.S. to collect data and help determine the economic impact of certified organic production at national and state levels.

The survey found that in 2021 the total value of certified organic agricultural products sold in Virginia was more than $106.8 million. That’s an increase of about 70 percent from the 2019 survey, which found certified organic producers sold products valued at more than $62 million.

In Lunenburg County, organic soybean and produce farmer Richard Hite wasn’t surprised about the survey numbers.

“I’ve seen the demand,” said Hite, who also serves as Lunenburg County Farm Bureau president. “I’ve doubled my production in three years and diversified the different crops I’m growing.

“It used to be a niche,” he said. “The organic market seems to be becoming more mainstream … in grocery stores you’re seeing the amount of organic produce on the shelf increase, and sections designated for organic.”

Of the $106.8 million sold in 2021, crop sales accounted for $36.3 million, and $70.5 million included sales of livestock and poultry products.

  • Broiler chickens led the state’s organic sales, totaling $60.4 million, or about 57 percent of all sales.
  • Tobacco followed with $10.8 million, then milk and eggs with $4.8 million and $4.2 million, respectively.
  • Soybeans rounded out the top five certified-organic sales with $2.9 million.

There were 166 USDA-certified organic farms in 2021, comprising 22,291 acres of land. Eighty-four percent, or 18,778 acres, is cropland, and 3,513 is in pasture or rangeland.

While raising certified organic requires more paperwork, inspections and expenses than conventional farming, it’s proven to be a worthwhile tradeoff for farmers like Hite.

“The organic produce is a higher price in the store,” Hite explained. “It’s an opportunity for a higher profit margin even though the yields are not as good as conventional (farming).”

While Virginia’s organic production increased, states like California, Washington and Pennsylvania led the nation for top organic sales.

Total certified organic sales in the nation were $11.2 billion, a 13 percent increase from the 2019 survey. Of that, 54 percent was for crops and 46 percent was for sales of livestock, poultry and related products.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.