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Organic Agriculture

The retail market for organic products is valued at $39.1 billion and growing. Many farmers and ranchers receive premium prices for organic products. Over the past six years, USDA has strengthened programs that support organic producers as they grow, thrive and respond to increasing consumer demand for organic products.

The USDA organic seal has become a leading global standard. In the United States, there are now 19,474 certified USDA organic operations, representing nearly an over 250% increase since 2002. In 2013 alone, USDA helped an additional 763 producers and handlers become certified organic, an increase of 4.2%. Worldwide, there are more than 25,000 certified organic operations in more than 120 different countries.

Growing New Markets for Organic Products & Ensuring Consumer Confidence

  • Expanded markets for American organic products abroad. Equivalence arrangements are important for small and mid-sized operations that want to export products but cannot afford the time and money necessary for duplicative certifications, fees, and inspections. They allow organic products certified in one country to be sold as organic in each respective market.
    1. In July 2014, USDA executed an equivalence arrangement with Korea for processed products. Exports of organic processed products from the U.S. to Korea are currently estimated at $35 million annually.
    2. In January 2014, USDA implemented an equivalence arrangement with Japan, opening up an emerging Asian organic market for U.S. farmers and processors. U.S. organic exports to Japan are currently estimated at $80 million, and are expected to reach at least $250 million within ten years as a result of this arrangement.
    3. In February 2012, USDA established a similar equivalence arrangement with the European Union, the second largest organic market in the world after the United States.
    4. In 2009, USDA signed an organic equivalence arrangement with Canada. The United States exports nearly $2 billion in organic products to Canada each year.
  • Protected the integrity of the USDA organic brand by conducting audits of foreign organic certifiers in Mexico, Brazil, Costa Rica, Germany, Canada, China, Netherlands, Italy, Turkey, Argentina, and Bolivia. In 2015, USDA intends to audit approximately 33 domestic and international organic operations.
  • Began the process of building a modernized database to replace the existing once-a-year posting of certified organic operations, thanks to funding from the 2014 Farm Bill. The Organic Integrity Database will assist in deterring fraud by providing access to accurate information about certified organic operations in real time, enabling market research and supply chain connections, and supporting international trading partner data needs.
  • Investigated 285 complaints alleging violations of the USDA organic regulations in Fiscal Year 2014, nearly a 10% increase over the prior year. USDA also publicized 13 fraudulent organic certificates and levied nine civil penalties for $81,500 via settlement agreements for willful violations of the Organic Food Production Act. Additionally, USDA prevailed in an April 2014 administrative hearing against a certified operation that violated the USDA organic regulations and issued its first subpoena under new Farm Bill authority.

Strengthening Support for Organic Producers

  • Made organic certification more accessible, attainable, and affordable for all operations by implementing a Sound and Sensible approach to organic certification, which includes identifying and removing barriers to certification, streamlining the certification process, focusing enforcement, and working with farmers and processors to correct small issues before they become larger ones. In 2014, USDA awarded project contracts to 13 organizations that will advance the Sound and Sensible.
  • Launched the Organic Literacy Initiative, a training and outreach program to help USDA employees better understand and serve organic operators. By spring of 2014, over 30,000 USDA employees had taken the "Organic 101" course and nearly 23,000 had taken the "201" course.
  • Initiated new and expanded efforts to connect organic farmers and businesses with the resources they need to advance the growth of the organic sector domestically and abroad.
    1. To help producers access information on organic programs and find technical and financial resources, USDA established an online one-stop shop at www.usda.gov/organic.
    2. Market and pricing information is available free of charge for approximately 250 organic products through USDA's Market News. USDA plans to expand its offerings in the future.
    3. USDA's Organic Certification Cost Share Programs reimburse the certification cost for organic operations; not to exceed $750 per certification scope for crops, livestock, wild crops and processed products. In Fiscal Year 2015, more than $11.5 million will be made available to financially assist organic operations with their certification costs.
  • Supported internal and university researchers through nearly $220 million over the past six years in funding to improve the productivity and success of organic agriculture, including a number of successful seed-breeding projects.
  • Taken steps to provide effective insurance coverage for organic crops and better risk management tools for organic producers.
    1. Beginning in the 2015 crop year, the Whole-Farm Revenue Protection insurance policy will be available to producers. This policy allows producers to insure between 50 to 85 percent of their whole farm revenue. The policy is available for all farms but was specifically developed for farms that tend to sell to direct, local or regional, and farm-identity preserved markets, as well as organic farms. Organic producers meeting the requirements of the National Organic Plan may use their organic prices to value their commodities under this Federal crop insurance policy.
    2. 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.
    3. In 2011, for the first time ever, USDA began offering crop insurance for organic producers that reflects organic market prices. In 2015, USDA will offer nearly 30 organic price elections.
  • Published a rule in the Federal Register in December 2014 that will allow separate average market prices to be established for organic crops for the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP). This will better reflect the different prices 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.) for NAP, which provides financial assistance to producers of noninsurable crops to protect against natural disasters that result in lower yields or crop losses, or prevents crop planting.
  • Worked with farmers to address natural resource concerns in their existing organic systems and helped producers transitioning their operations to organic production by providing more than 6,000 farms with $106 million in assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program Organic Initiative since 2009.
  • Published draft guidance on Natural Resources and Biodiversity Conservation for Organic Producers. This guidance provides: examples of production practices that support conservation principles for organic certification; promotes uniform inspection and review of conservation practices; and streamlines paperwork by allowing organic producers to substitute a conservation plan developed for an NRCS program for the natural resources portion of an organic system plan.