The USDA today announced that the number of certified organic operations in the US reached 24,650 at the end of 2016, a 13 percent jump from the end of 2015.
The number of certified operations has increased since data collection began in 2002, and the latest jump marks the highest growth rate since 2008 (see chart below).
The milestone comes as consumer demands shift in favor of organic and non-GMO products, which has drawn farmers, major food companies and private equity investors to the organic market.
Increasing consumer demand for organic and non-GMO led to a sharp rise in organic grain imports into the US in 2016, though domestic production of organic corn and soybeans remains well short of demand, “prompting food manufacturers to explore new incentives for US growers,” according to a separate report from CoBank released earlier this year.
In one example from corporate America, Old El Paso and Cheerios owner General Mills has stated its intention to double the acreage from which it sources its organic ingredients by 2019 and expects sales from natural and organic products to reach $1 billion by 2019.
In private equity, recent investments into organic food producers included Boulder, Colorado-based Sunrise Strategic Partners’ minority investment into Pure Growth Organic, a producer of a portfolio of organic snacks; and ACAP’s $3.7 million investment organic quinoa-based baby food and toddler snacks company NurturMe.
Organic certification is a voluntary standard managed through a public-private partnership, with the USDA accrediting and overseeing approximately 80 businesses and state governments that directly certify organic farms and businesses.
The USDA noted that it provides a number of educational resources to help organic producers access the growing organic market, including interactive videos that help farmers understand how to achieve and maintain organic certification.
The complete list of certified organic farms and businesses is available through the Organic Integrity Database.