Organic food sales and organic acreage are rebounding from recession declines, showing positive growth in the sector overall, according to an October report from the USDA Economic Research Service.
Consumer demand for organics has grown continuously since USDA established national organic production standards in 2002, even as a recession decline between 2007-2009 threatened to stagnate the sector's growth.
USDA said while consumers "economized on their food purchases" during that time period, and farmers chose to take on fewer organic acres, organic food sales have now returned to a growth pattern.
According to ERS, industry analysts have estimated that organic food sales totaled about $28 billion in 2012 – 4% of total at home food sales, and an 11% increase from the year before.
While USDA does not keep agency-vetted figures on organic food sales, ERS says organic produce and dairy are the top two food categories, totaling 43% and 15%, respectively, of organic food sales last year.
Sales of non-food products containing organic ingredients, such as laundry soap, aloe vera and others, totaled another $2.2 billion in sales in 2011, according to the Organic Trade Association.
In addition to rebounding organic food sales, farmers responded by adding more acres of certified organic cropland in 2011.
In 2011, the U.S. had 3.1 million acres of certified organic cropland and 2.3 million acres of certified organic pasture and rangeland. As noted, certified cropland and pasture dipped between 2008 and 2010, but has more than recovered in the years following.
ERS notes, however, that cropland levels may be poor indicators of the value of the organic food produced because the most common adopters of organic management systems – fruit and vegetable farms -- do not typically require as much land.
For example, the report says, fruits and vegetables accounted for an estimated 43% of U.S. organic food sales in 2011 but only 16% of certified organic cropland.
Overall, certified organic cropland made up roughly 0.7% of U.S. cropland in 2011. Only a small percentage of the top U.S. field crops—corn (0.3%), soybeans (0.2%), and wheat (0.6%)—were grown under certified organic farming systems, the report says.
Additionally, the report argues that markets for organic vegetables, fruits, and herbs have been developing for decades. As a result, the distribution of certified organic cropland used to raise specific commodities differs substantially from the share of total cropland for these commodities in the conventional sector.
Organic trade is also holding steady, and the competition for major consumer markets in developed countries is increasing. Among all organic product imports, ERS says soybeans showed the biggest jump in value from 2011 to 2012, more than doubling to $90.2 million, and imports of organic rice, wheat, and other U.S. staple crops also grew.
For more data on U.S. organics, visit the ERS webpage on organic production.