Trends in Organic Agriculture

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I love ag trade shows in a big way.  Lately I’ve been following the happenings at Expo West, a big natural products fair that just wrapped up in California.  One of the hot topics this year was something called “Regenerative Organic.”   What’s that, you say? Well, the exact terms and standards haven’t been set yet. But it’s being championed by major brands like Patagonia. (Yes, the clothing company—they buy a lot of organic cotton, among other things.)  The idea is that this certification “requires USDA Organic (or equivalent) certification, as well as demonstration of additional practices that go beyond organic standards, particularly in the areas of soil health and land management, animal welfare, and farmer and worker fairness.”

Joe Janzen provided some background on the value of organic production and acreage growth last year.  In summary, organic acreage in the US hasn’t been increasing as quickly as demand for organic products.  Organic certification requires a three year transitional period. During that time, often more costly organic practices must be followed but production isn’t technically organic. That means farmers can’t receive organic price premiums.  The transitional period serves as a barrier to organic conversion to many farmers.  In response to that barrier, other brands such as Kashi have created a transitional organic certification.

So why add additional requirements when organic acreage is already low?

Some organic producers are probably already undertaking many of the Regenerative Organic practices.  This additional certification could help them capture an additional price premium for doing so.  And, the great interest in Regenerative Organic at Expo West belies a consumer interest in products that don’t just feed, clothe, or wash but are also perceived as serving loftier goals such as combating climate change.

What does this have to do with Montana?

Well, Montana is a major player in certain areas of organic production in the U.S.  According to the 2016 Certified Organic Survey, Montana was number three in organic field crop acreage, following Wisconsin and New York.

Other Montana organic stats: 

  • #1 producer of organic lentils (also #1 producer of lentils in general)
  • #1 reporting producer of organic chickpeas (several other states don’t reveal acreage or production)
  • #1 reporting producer of organic dry peas
  • #1 reporting producer of organic safflower
  • #1 producer (by far) of organic wheat at over 92 thousand acres, and over 2.2 million bushels of production

And, who knew?

  • Two Montana farms produce organic popcorn.
  • Montana is one of two states producing organic mint oil.

And really unsurprisingly,

  • My home state of Vermont is number one for organic maple syrup production. Sugaring season is on now, and I’m following that very closely!

(Photo by Tim Psych is licensed under CC BY 4.0)

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About Author

Kate Binzen Fuller is an assistant professor and extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics at Montana State University. She holds an M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis. Her extension and research program focuses on the economics of farm management decisions, including USDA programs and policies, pests and diseases responses, and issues surrounding leasing and land values. Kate’s extension program takes her on the road often, resulting in a rapidly expanding knowledge and appreciation for Montana’s interstates, highways, and (especially) gravel roads.

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