In 2014, the U.S. retail market for organic products was valued at over $39 billion, and it continues to grow according to data reported by the Organic Trade Association. Over the past six years, USDA has strengthened programs that support organic operations, helping to create jobs and opportunities in rural communities while meeting increasing consumer demand for organic products.
Organic food is one of the fastest growing segments of American agriculture and USDA is working to create even more opportunities for organic operations. In the United States, there are more than 21,700 certified organic operations, representing a nearly 300% increase since 2002. Worldwide, the USDA organic seal has become a leading global standard, with more than 31,000 certified organic operations in over 120 countries.
USDA has resources to grow opportunities for organic producers both domestically and abroad:
- USDA's online one-stop shop at www.usda.gov/organic improves access to information on organic technical assistance and financial resources.
- USDA's Market News provides free market and pricing information for about 250 organic products. USDA continues to expand organic reporting.
- USDA's Organic Certification Cost Share Programs reimburses up to 75 percent of the certification cost for organic operations, not to exceed $750 per certification scope for crops, livestock, wild crops and processed products. In 2015, USDA made more than $11.5 million available to assist organic operations with their certification costs.
Expanding Foreign Markets for U.S. Products
Equivalence arrangements provide U.S. organic producers and handlers with access to a growing global organic market. By allowing organic products certified in one country to be sold as organic in each participating market, they reduce the cost of duplicative certifications, fees and inspections. In the past six years, USDA has established equivalence arrangements with Canada, the European Union, Japan, Korea and Switzerland, providing U.S. organic farmers and businesses with streamlined access to international organic markets valued at over $35 billion. The results include:
- Nearly $2 billion in organic products exported to Canada each year.
- The European Union is the second largest organic market in the world after the U.S.
- Exports to Japan are currently estimated at $80 million and are expected to reach at least $250 million within ten years.
- Exports of organic processed products to Korea are currently estimated at $35 million annually.
- In July 2015, USDA established an equivalence arrangement with Switzerland.
Ensuring Consumer Confidence
- Protecting the integrity of the USDA Organic Seal
USDA reviews every complaint received for potential violations of the USDA organic regulations. In Fiscal Year 2015, USDA reviewed 390 allegations and levied more than $1.8 million in civil penalties to businesses that knowingly violating organic rules.
USDA also conducts audits of foreign organic certifiers. In 2015, USDA conducted audits in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, China, Netherlands, Italy, Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Bolivia. In 2016, USDA intends to audit approximately 27 domestic and international organic operations.
- Maintaining transparency and encouraging participation
The Organic Integrity Database, funded through the 2014 Farm Bill, enables accredited certifiers to report new organic operations and update information about existing operations at any time. This database speeds the public availability of data from certifiers to aid in fraud detection, market research, and the development of supply chains.
USDA also publishes research on the organic market, shares data from the 2014 Organic Producer Survey, and demonstrates profitable costs and returns from organic grain production. The department has also facilitated bi-annual public meetings of the National Organic Standards Board and reviewed hundreds of public comments related to the development of the organic standards.
- Continuing improvement
USDA is constantly developing and clarifying organic standards, strengthening organic integrity, and increasing consistency across the industry. Since 2009, the department has worked with stakeholders to update the National List Sunset 2013 Final Rule, Origin of Livestock Proposed Rule, Final Guidance on Natural Resource and Biodiversity Conservation, renewal of 2015 sunset materials, and rules related to substances included on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.
Increasing Opportunities for Organic Producers
Last year, USDA supported Sound and Sensible projects from 14 groups that worked with hundreds of farmers and livestock handlers nationwide. USDA is now sharing the results of these projects, including an array of valuable tools and resources templates, decision-making tools, trainings, guides, tip sheets, and videos with the entire organic community at the Sound and Sensible webpage. The USDA Sound and Sensible approach makes organic certification more accessible, attainable, and affordable. This initiative includes identifying and removing barriers to certification, streamlining the certification process, focusing on enforcement, and working with farmers and processors to correct small issues before they become larger ones.
USDA's updated Organic Literacy Initiative helps USDA employees better understand and serve organic operators through training and outreach. More than 30,000 USDA employees have completed the organic training courses, which are also available to organic stakeholders and consumers at the Agricultural Market Services Organic Certification Website.
USDA has invested nearly $261 million over the past seven years in research to improve the productivity and success of organic agriculture, including seed-breeding.
Improving Organic Crop Insurance Options and Risk Management Tools
- Crop Insurance
The Whole-Farm Revenue Protection insurance policy became available to producers in 2016. This policy allows producers to insure between 50 to 85 percent of their whole farm revenue. While the policy is available for all farms, it was specifically developed for diversified farms that tend to sell to direct, local or regional, and farm-identity preserved markets, such as organic. Organic producers meeting the requirements of the National Organic Program may use their organic prices to value their commodities under this Federal crop insurance policy.
In 2014, USDA eliminated the historical 5% surcharge on organic policy premiums for all crops, added more crops with organic prices for losses, and added a contract pricing option.
In 2011, for the first time ever, USDA began offering crop insurance for organic producers based on organic market prices. In 2016, USDA will offer nearly 50 organic price elections.
- Disaster Assistance
The Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) now allows separate market prices to be established for organic crops. NAP provides financial assistance to producers of non-insurable crops to protect against natural disasters that result in lower yields, crop losses, or prevent planting. This change will better reflect the different prices that producers receive based on farming practices (conventional or organic) and sales to different markets (wholesale, direct sales to consumers at farm stands or farmer's markets, etc.).
- Transition Assistance
USDA helps organic farmers address natural resource concerns and provides technical assistance to producers who are transitioning to organic production through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program Organic Initiative, working with more than 6,800 farms and providing more than $115 million in assistance since 2009. USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service also developed the National Organic Farming Handbook, hosted webinars, and streamlined paperwork requirements for organic producers.