'Organic' evolves into a $29 billion US industry

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON – Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stressed the importance of organic farming during a presentation at the Organic Trade Association's (OTA's) 2011 Policy Conference and Hill Visit Days in Washington on April 6.

"Organic producers are very entrepreneurial in nature,” Vilsack said. “They're in a position to create value-added products that provide a wealth of opportunities in rural America.”

Organized by OTA and supported by the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) under the theme "Advance Organic Together," the conference is focusing on the value of organic agriculture in providing jobs, supporting rural livelihoods and advancing an entrepreneurial spirit.

According to OTA's 2011 Organic Industry Survey, the organic industry has grown from $3.6 billion in 1997 to $29 billion in 2010. Despite the US's worst economic downturn in 80 years, the organic industry has come out of the recession hiring employees, adding farms, and increasing revenue.

Survey findings include:The organic sector grew by 8% in 2010, dramatically outpacing the food industry as a whole, which grew at less than 1% last year.

  • The organic industry supports 14,540 organic farms and ranches throughout the US. A total of 4.1 million acres of land are currently in organic management, and there are organic farms in all 50 states.
  • Since 78% of organic farms report planning to maintain or increase organic production levels over the next five years, the organic sector will continue to play a contributing role in revitalizing America's rural economy through diversity in agriculture.
  • Forty percent of organic operations added jobs in 2010, 96% of organic operations are planning to maintain or increase employment levels in 2011 and 46% of them plan to increase employment levels three times the rate of businesses as whole.

"The USDA is creating financial assistance for organic because we recognize organic as a part of the strategy to rebuild rural America," Vilsack said. "A lot of folks in rural America need help. One very good strategy is organic."

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