While searching for some data, I found the latest release of USDA’s Organic Production Survey. The new data – for 2011 – is the second year of NASS’s targeting organic producers in the United States. I feel a bit sheepish for not having seen it until today (it was released in October!).
I crunched a few numbers to get a sense of how the organic farming sector has changed over the past three years. Of course, there are a few survey changes that agencies always do (and always annoy the user). I noted two big changes between 2008 and 2011: one, the 2011 data only covers certified organic farms, while the 2008 data covers exempt and certified farms (recall that farms that follow the standards set by the NOP but have sales below $5,000 in a year are exempt from the certification requirement). This change is a problem because the book I have for the 2008 survey seems to only report the number of farms and total sales for certified and exempt farms; the 2011 data is just for certified. Thus, we can’t track the change in the number of farms certified and their sales (well, people with access to the individual data can, but we can’t!). NASS did report the number of certified farms and sales by category (fruits, eg) for both years though, so we can do some digging.
The second change is one for the best – in 2008, the total for the field crop category wasn’t reported; instead, NASS reported farms and sales by each product. I have added the numbers for 2008 to see if I can compare to the 2011 data, and they don’t make sense (at least the number of farms doesn’t), so we can’t view that shift either. I remember being really cranky in 2009 when I was fiddling with field crop data, and had to enter tons of numbers in my spreadsheet.
So here is a quick comparison between 2008 and 2011:
|farms with sales||8,516||3,532|
|fruit, exc berries||2272||411||1,664||485|
|hogs & pigs||139||4||87||5|
|sheep & lamb||72||0.817||32||1|
* millions of dollars
Note: farms are reported in numbers, sales in dollars (millions)
Sources: National Agricultural Statistical Service, USDA; Organic Production Survey (2008) and Organic Production Survey (2011).
The one sweeping generalization that I quickly reached is that the number of certified farms with sales declined between 2008 and 2011 for most, but not all of the commodity categories. At the same time, the value of sales increased for most categories, even for those with a decline in the number of farms. Several possible explanations come to mind: (1) farms exited the organic industry after 2008 because of the recession; (2) farms grew larger in terms of acres, which I can check (but haven’t yet); (3) the value of farm sales increased because prices farmers were paid increased, or because they were more productive, or a combination.
I also noted the growth in the value of turkey sales – perhaps this is related to the new trend of heritage turkeys? In any case, it seems like a good, money-making opportunity for farmers.
About 1/2 of the value of farm sales (47 percent) is for vegetables, fruits and berries.
The number of organic farms reported by USDA from the survey is less than the nearly 13K certified farms in 2008 reported by ERS. Still, I can’t imagine that 3,000 farms exited the sector, so it would be interesting to see why these large differences still exist.