The organic agriculture industry is growing at a record pace as more than 25,000 certified organic operations in 120 countries register with the USDA Ag Marketing Service – a trend USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack sees continuing under new programs offered in the 2014 Farm Bill.
"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," Vilsack said Thursday.
"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," he said.
In 2013, an additional 763 producers became certified organic – an increase of 4.2% from 2012.
According to USDA, the industry now encompasses a record-breaking 18,513 certified organic farms and businesses in the United States alone, representing a 245% increase since 2002. The 2013 list of certified USDA organic operations shows an increased rate of domestic growth within the industry, resuming previous trends.
Trade agreements on organic products with Canada, the European Union and Japan allow growth, while trading partners remain eager to establish organic equivalency arrangements with the U.S., USDA said.
New grants, assistance
USDA is also helping organic stakeholders access programs that support conservation, provide access to loans and grants, fund organic research and education, and mitigate pest emergencies, the agency said.
Related: U.S., Japan Streamline Organic Trade
Funds are also currently available for research projects under the National Institute of Food and Agriculture's Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative to solve agricultural issues relative to the organic industry.
The program also funds research projects to enhance the ability of organic producers and processors to grow and market their products, USDA said. Proposals for funding are due by May 8, 2014.
Farm bill offerings
Vilsack highlighted farm bill programs centered on the organic industry, including:
• $20 million annually for dedicated organic research, agricultural extension programs, and education
• $5 million to fund data collection on organic agriculture that will give policymakers, farmers and businesses better information to make business, policy and marketing decisions
• Expanded options for organic crop insurance
• Expanded exemptions for organic producers who are paying into commodity "checkoff" programs, and authority for USDA to consider an application for the organic sector to establish its own checkoff
• Improved enforcement authority for the National Organic Program to conduct investigations
• $5 million for a technology upgrade of the National Organic Program to provide information about certified organic operations across the supply chain; and
• $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% of certification costs, up to $750 per year