Oregon among US leaders in organic agriculture
By Oregon Agriculture Dept.
Oregon’s reputation as one of the nation’s leaders in organic agriculture is backed up by new statistics that show continued growth in organic farm production and sales. Coincidentally, September is National Organic Harvest Month and the new figures cap off Organically Grown in Oregon Week as proclaimed by Governor Kate Brown.
“Organic agriculture is right at home in Oregon,” says Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba. “The same great growing conditions and wonderful diversity of products that serve all of Oregon agriculture benefit our organic producers as well.”
The governor’s proclamation supports the notion that organic agriculture is alive and well, also pointing out that Oregon passed the nation’s first organic legislation in 1973 and revised the Oregon Organic Foods Law in 1989, which served as the model for the current national organic standards.
USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) has just released results of a nationwide organic agriculture survey, which is done every five years. It shows Oregon having 525 certified organic farms, ranking eighth in the nation. Oregon also has 204,166 acres in organic production, ranking fifth. Oregon is fourth in the nation in sales of organic agricultural products at more than $237 million. While the number of Oregon organic farms is down from the previous census, the acreage has increased 93 percent and sales have jumped 52 percent. That is still less than 5 percent of Oregon’s total agricultural cash receipts, but the number has been rapidly growing over the past decade.
“Oregon has always been an innovator and leader in organic agriculture,” says Lindsay Eng, Director of ODA’s Market Access and Certification programs. “We see strong growth in the organic sector and some bounce back in some areas where organic production has stagnated nationwide. That includes organic livestock production in general and, specifically, more interest and growth in organic dairies in Oregon.”
The NASS survey shows about $127 million in sales of organic crops grown in Oregon, and nearly $92 million in sales of organic livestock and poultry products.
Whereas in the past, perhaps only a few selected crops in Oregon’s diverse array were organically produced, today dozens of commodities are being grown organically as well as through conventional practices. High value crops such as hazelnuts are particularly showing large scale organic production.
Nearly all of Oregon’s top 20 agricultural commodities are doing at least some organic production. By sales, the top commodities include milk at nearly $92 million, potatoes at about $17 million, hay at $17 million, wine grapes at nearly $9 million, sweet corn at $6 million, blueberries at $2.5 million, pears at $1.6 million, apples at $1.6 million, and beef cows at $1.6 million.
Oregon’s food processing sector is also showing increased interest in using organically grown ingredients, with several companies dedicating production lines to both conventional and organic.
Consumer interest goes hand in hand with the increased organic production and availability.
“We have a lot more restaurants and retail stores now that focus on the organic sector,” says Eng. “I would say, per capita, the percentage of Oregon consumers who have incorporated organic products into their diet and into their daily buying habits is higher than other parts of the country.”
More demand has driven more production which, in turn, seems to fuel even more demand.
“More people see organic agriculture being incorporated into all of agriculture and offered not just in the natural food section of their local grocery store,” says Eng. “They don’t have to go to a different or special store. We see a lot of our regional retailers incorporating organic products throughout the store. Shoppers don’t have to seek it out, it’s a lot more accessible than it once was.”
The US is now the world’s largest organic market with retail sales approaching $27 billion. Oregon is doing its part to contribute to domestic sales, but the state’s trade partners are also increasingly interested in organic products. Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan look especially to import Oregon organic foods.
An upswing in organic certification is also an indicator of growth. Oregon Tilth continues to provide a majority of the state’s organic certification. But in response to industry demand in 2009, ODA became an accredited certifying agent for the National Organic Program (NOP). Like Oregon Tilth and others, ODA inspectors audit organic production and handling operations to certify they meet USDA standards. Currently, ODA has 95 certification clients, a 17 percent increase over the past two years, and has certified about 25,000 acres in organic production this year.
Laura Masterson, a member of the State Board of Agriculture, is an organic grower who operates the 47th Avenue Farm in Southeast Portland. She sees environmental benefits of organic or sustainable production.
ashli_jeremy_mueller“Many small farms have chosen to be certified organic or self identify as sustainable, which helps to protect natural resources if managed well,” says Masterson.
Since the diversity of Oregon agriculture includes growing methods and practices, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a potential for conflict between organic and conventional production. That has generally not been the case in Oregon, where coexistence is a key concept.
“Our organic farmers and our conventional farmers have been working together for so long,” says ODA’s Eng. “We’ve had our organic standards in place for many years, even before the national standard came around. Growers on both sides have learned to get along and work well together. In fact, a lot of conventional producers are also growing organic and see it as a way to get extra value for what they produce.”
The trend line for organic production and sales is sharply pointing up and, in Oregon, organic is definitely a part of the fabric and future of the state’s agriculture industry.
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