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Event Recap: The USDA’s Annual Organic Outlook Forum

by Jen Rojas |

In this Blog: 

  • The Organic Outlook Forum provided an overview of market trends, the importance of advancing research, and policies that will strengthen the “Organic” seal
  • Organic market projected to increase in 2022 with the 9 percent increase of general food prices
  • Organic yield research demonstrates that organic systems are not inherently low-yielding and signifies lack of advanced research 
  • Policy recommendations to advance organic research and education programs 
  • Public and private sector solutions will help strengthen the “Organic” seal and keep up with most Americans demands for greater government oversight

    USDA’s annual Agricultural Outlook Forum included an Organic Outlook panel, facilitated by Jennifer Tucker, deputy administrator for the National Organic Program (NOP), and featuring key leaders in the organic industry. The purpose of the Organic Outlook Forum was to provide an overview of trends and recent development in organic production and consumption. Panelist discussed overall consumer demand and supply trends in the United States, the importance of advancing organic research, and programs that will strengthen the USDA “Organic” seal. Over 50 people attended the forum in person at the Gateway Marriott in Crystal City, Virginia, and virtually throughout the nation. 

    During Sharon Skorbiansky’s  presentation, Research Economist at the USDA-ERS, she discussed data on domestic and imported retail sales, supply and total trade in the Unites States, and policy developments in organic agriculture. Retail organic sales maintain a compound increase rate since 2012, which occurs at an average rate of seven percent each year. Fruits and vegetables held 40 percent of the market in 2021 at $21 billion; that category is expected to grow with the 9 percent increase of general food prices from 2022. Skorbiansky notes that in 2021 there was an overall increase in certified organic farms in the United States, while in 2022 organic cropland will increase by 5 percent. 

    The breakdown per states indicates that there is organic growth in Midwestern states like Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio. Skorbiansky highlighted the $300 million Organic Transition Initiative, which is comprised of the Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP), Pinpointed Organic Market Development, Transition and Organic Grower Assistance Program (TOGA), and the New Organic Management Program. Although each program is different, they will all help farmers overcome barriers to getting certified, such as a lack of infrastructure or information on organic farming in different parts of the country. 

CCOF is excited to be involved in these national initiatives as a leader in the TOPP. Learn more about our efforts on our website

    Dr. Houston Wilson, director at the Organic Agriculture Institute (OAI) at the University of California (UC), presented information on the science behind organic; he outlined environmental benefits of organic farming, research on organic yields, knowledge gaps in organic compared to conventional farming, and his recommendations on propelling research forward. 

    One of the highlights of his presentation noted studies that measured organic crop yields in comparison to conventional farming. Although organic resulted in lower yields, the gap between conventional decreased when farmers redesigned in their systems. Crop rotations, cover crops, or decreased biological control lessen the yield gaps in organic. Wilson concludes that organic productions can yield relative to conventional, and organic systems are not necessarily inherently low-yielding. More research is necessary

    Wilson recommends research and policy plans (like the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative) that advance the overall understanding of organic so it can reach the same level of knowledge developed in conventional farming. His suggestions include research tailored to unique ecological conditions, diversified farming (like crop rotations), crops and animals bred for the organic context, and more appropriate technology for organic systems. Overall, Wilson has determined that organic farming will need more support at the local and federal level, which is why his efforts at UC are focused on pressing the state of California to expand state-level resources that can fund student training opportunities and research. 

    Lastly, Tom Chapman, CEO of Organic Trade Association (OTA), focused on the importance of protecting the USDA “Organic” seal from fraud and maintaining its integrity through the new Strengthening Organic Enforcement Rule (SOE), private sector solutions, and future actions. Chapman noted that because the organic industry has grown from a $6 billion industry to $68 billion industry, there is more room for fraud to occur since supply chains have become more extensive. 

    There are 14 new parts put in place by the SOE rule, including requiring certification of entities that are not touching or transforming products, requiring businesses to have fraud plans, and requiring transporters to obtain an import certificate. These will undoubtedly strengthen the supply chain. On the private side, OTA has also launched an Organic Fraud Prevention Solution that will equip business with guides, tools, and training to help mitigate risk and ensure truly organic food. Lastly, Chapman agrees that the farm bill should increase funding for NOP and data initiatives, strengthen NOP’s authority, and update the organic standards at least every five years.  

    In a survey published by OTA, 89 percent of Americans agreed that the USDA should review and update organic standards periodically. On a similar note, 87 percent of Americans expect standards to be updated to reflect evolving understanding about soil, climate, toxicology, animal welfare, and more. Most Americans agree with these SOE-type enforcements and overall government oversight of the organic industry. Policies like these will hopefully continue to strengthen consumers trust in the “Organic” seal. 

    The organic industry may have a long way to go to reach the same level of advancements compared to conventional food systems; however, the Organic Outlook Forum ended on a positive note. The panelists were hopeful that NOP’s new approach in updating standards and large investments in organic research will propel the industry forward and create new opportunities. 

The entire Agricultural Outlook Forum is available online for all those who were not able to attend! 

To access the full Organic Outlook Forum presentation and transcripts, follow this link: Click the green “Register Now For On Demand” button, then fill out the required information when prompted.