(Dec. 21) The release of a new U.S. Department of Agriculture study on expanding organic crop acreage highlights the need for more government support for organic producers in the 2007 farm bill, according to officials from the Greenfield, Mass.-based Organic Trade Association.

“Certainly the farm bill is the OTA’s priority right now,” said Barbara Haumann, spokeswoman for the association on Dec. 19.

“It’s a bill that only comes up every four or five years, and this is the time to move to help more growers go organic.”

The USDA’s Economic Research Service reported in mid-December that certified U.S. organic cropland and pasture rose from about 3 million acres in 2004 to 4 million acres in 2005. In 1995, total certified organic area was just 914,000 acres. Still, organic crop area accounted for just 0.5% of U.S. total farmland in 2005. Only a small percentage — from 0.2% to 0.5% — of corn, wheat and soybeans were grown under certified organic farming systems.

However, the proportion of organic acreage was substantially higher for most fruits and vegetables. The USDA said organic carrots accounted for 6% of total U.S. carrot area. Organic lettuce had a 4% share of total area and organic apples had a 3% slice of the total area. The USDA said fresh produce is still the top-selling organic category in retail sales.

The USDA said organic vegetable acreage was 97,930 acres in 2005, up from 79,522 in 2004.

Meanwhile, organic fruit acreage, including nuts was 97,164 acres in 2005, up from 80,707 acres in 2004.

MORE GROWTH AHEAD

In a position paper the association recently released, the OTA noted that U.S. sales of organic food and fiber constitute the fastest growing segment of U.S. agriculture. The OTA said double-digit growth in consumer sales is expected to continue for the life of the next farm bill.

The paper said that organic food consumption accounts for 2.5% of the food market and studies indicate sales in the organic segment will grow steadily in the next few years.

However, the association noted that shortfalls in organic production resulted in increasing imports, reporting that about 10% of organic food sold in the U.S. is now imported.

The OTA is working to increase conversion of growers from convention to organic production.

In a news release, the OTA called for “integrated and coordinated” programs that would lead to proportional support and parity with conventional crops.

The OTA tagged four objectives in the next farm bill:

  • Foster transition to organic agriculture and trade;


  • Eliminate hurdles to organic agriculture and trade;


  • Initiate and fund organic agriculture and economic research and;


  • Maintain and enhance current agency programs.