Virginia, nation seeing increase in organic farming and sales

virginia-newMore than 28,000 acres of Virginia farmland were used for organic production in 2014. The U.S. Department of Agriculture released findings of its most recent survey of organic farms on Sept. 17. The survey found Virginia had 167 organic farms—139 USDA-certified and 28 exempt from certification requirements—that accounted for 28,412 acres of production last year. They produced $41.3 million in organic products.

Eighty-one percent of that total was attributed to crop production. Another 5 percent was from livestock and poultry, and 14 percent came from sales of livestock and poultry products such as milk and eggs.

On the national level, the survey found 14,093 organic farms that sold $5.5 billion in organic products last year—an increase of 72 percent since 2008.

“It’s encouraging, given that retail food prices have increased across the board,” said Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “We, as consumers, are fortunate to have numerous options when making our food purchases.”

The industry shows potential for further growth. Thirty-nine percent of organic farmers surveyed said they intend to increase their organic production over the next five years, and nearly 700 farms with no current organic operations are transitioning into organic production.

The top five commodities in organic sales last year were milk, $1.08 billion; eggs, $420 million; broiler chickens, $372 million; lettuce, $264 million; and apples, $250 million.

The first point of sale for 80 percent of all U.S. organic products was less than 500 miles from the farm, compared to 74 percent in 2008. Forty-six percent were sold within 100 miles; 34 percent were sold within 101 to 499 miles; 18 percent were sold 500 or more miles from the farm; and 2 percent were sold internationally.

“Consumers in this niche sector not only want organic produce, but also want it to have been produced locally,” Banks noted. “However, the data illustrates there are opportunities for both distant and local organic farms.”

Seventy-eight percent of U.S. organic farm sales were to wholesale markets such as buyers for supermarkets, processors, distributors, packers and cooperatives.

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