It’s hard to believe, but we are already flying past the middle of 2014. For organic, it hasn’t been an aimless trajectory. It’s been an auspicious year so far for organic agriculture and organic products, with several wins in the Farm Bill and from the USDA. The Organic Associations’ 2014 Industry Survey showed that organic grew to an astounding $35.1 Billion and future growth is likely to keep pace or exceed the growth rate in 2014. Let’s take a midyear pause and look at how the organic industry is shaping up and where the challenges lie on this fantastic organic journey.
The hunger for organic products continues to mount as more and more consumers make the choice for cleaner and tastier food. This appetite for organic food often begins with a concern for health and well-being and ends up continuing with a preference for taste and flavor. The Organic Trade Associations’ recently published 2014 Organic Industry Survey displays this trend in one of its findings that “Eight out of ten American families have bought organic products one or more times in the last two years.” And that: “Children’s health is a key driving force in parents’ decision to buy organic. Ninety percent of households surveyed said they choose organic food for their kids at least “sometimes”, and for moms and dads who are buying baby food, more than a third of them say they ALWAYS buy the organic baby food.” Consumers make their way down the organic pilgrimage for the children and often return for their own taste buds. For many, organic food just tastes better, fresher, crisper and more vibrantly filled with wholesome flavor. Thus they become repeat organic purchasers.
In 2013 the growth rate for all organic products was an astounding 11.5%. When you take a look closer at the survey it shows that the fruit and vegetable category continues to pave the way with $11.6 billion in sales, up 15% in 2013. This means that 10% of all the fruits and vegetables sold in the United States are now organic! It’s the tangy, sweet, juicy moist richness of organic fruits and vegetables that keeps the consumer hungering for more.
The demand for organic continues to boom and the accessibility to organic products is increasing across the US. This meteoric journey continues despite a myriad of challenges related to supply and funding. Farmland in the United States is not being converted to organic at the pace needed to meet the growing demand for organic. The price of farmland has increased so that it is difficult for young emerging farmers to purchase and convert acreage to organic production. As a result, supplies of organic feed and organic grain have been in short supply and very costly. This could hinder growth in the organic dairy, meat and cereal aisles. Consumers want these products but the supplies may not be available or become too costly to purchase on a regular basis.
According to the newly released 2012 Ag Census, there were 16,525 farms classified as organic, which is up from last year but still only 0.7 percent of all farms in the U.S. Additionally, the census revealed that our farmers are getting older. The average age of farmers in 2012 was 58.3 years of age, up from 57.1 just five years ago. Our farming population is getting older and is less likely to have children who want to continue in the field. If organic supply is going to keep up with the burgeoning demand we need to attract and educate new farmers to grow more organic crops. We need to help them convert farmland into organic acreage.
The 2014 Farm Bill does provide some relief for the organic journey. There is money allocated for helping to offset the cost of getting certified, available in each state under the Organic Cost Share Program. There is now funding to collect data on organic prices to help producers choose what to grow and when. Additionally the USDA has committed $19M to the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program with a competitive grant program which organic producers can take part in.
Despite frequent attacks in the media, confidence in the USDA seal continues to grow. Sales of organic products will flourish because, as the OTA survey shows, “Price is less of an issue for folks deciding whether or not to buy organic… Parents increasingly recognize the value of organic, and are willing to dig a little deeper into their wallets to buy healthy organic for their kids.”
Value, quality, taste and local are all drivers for organic consumers to reach out and savor the nectar of the organic experience. If the past has anything to tell us, the organic odyssey is only just beginning.
If you interested in more from the OTA 2014 survey which has current sales figures, market opportunities and challenges along with supply constraints, the report is available for purchase and is well worth the price. For more information, contact Angela Jagiello, or visit www.ota.com.