The US has eleven agricultural zones, including artic, sub-tropical, tropical, desert and temperate conditions, and providing the country with a wide variety of agricultural products such as fruits, nuts, grains, seeds, cotton, vegetables, poultry, and livestock. There are just over 2 million farms on almost 400 million ha of land. The amount of farmland has been decreasing due to population growth and urban expansion. 51% of US farms have less than 40 ha; the average farm size is about 180 ha. Slightly more than half of the farmers are full-time operators, and almost 90% of the farms are owned and operated by individuals and families.
The top five agricultural products are cattle and calves, dairy products, broilers (chicken), maize, and soybeans. The total market value of agricultural products is about 1% of GDP. The US is both the leading exporter and leading importer of farm products. Exports of bulk commodities have been declining in the past 10 years, while livestock, horticultural products, and processed food products are capturing a larger share of the export market. Exports represent 22% of the total volume of US agricultural products, with a market value of US$62 billion.
Farmers in 49 states dedicated some 0.9 million ha of cropland and pasture to organic production in 2003, accounting for 0.1% of US pastureland and 0.4% of US cropland. Overall, certified organic cropland and pasture accounted for about 0.2% of total farmland in 2003. Only a small percentage of the top US field crops was grown under certified organic farming systems. On the other hand, fruit and vegetable crops were more commonly grown organically in 2003. Markets for organic vegetables, fruits, and herbs have been developing for decades in the US, and fresh produce is still the top-selling organic category in retail sales.
Today there is no one predominant characteristic of organic farms or their markets. The variety of crops that are grown organically in the US reflects the conventional agriculture sector. Organic livestock production is expanding rapidly in beef and dairy cow operations, and milk cows account for over half of certified animals. The US imports eight times as much organic products as it exports. Organic meat (beef, pork, lamb) and poultry (chicken, turkey) represent the smallest segment of organic production and sales.
The size and scale of organic farms also reflects the conventional agriculture sector in the US ľ from farms with less than 1 ha of land to those with thousands of ha. The majority of organic farms would be classified as small (less than 4 ha) to medium size (less than 200 ha). Organic farm products are sold in a multitude of markets: direct to customers; farmers markets; direct to retail; wholesale; contracts for processing; and export.
Organic farmers on average are younger than the national average (over 50 years). There also is a greater proportion of women in organic farming than in farming as a whole, and the average educational level of organic farmers is higher than the average for all US farmers.
(Author: Katherine DiMatteo)
Further reading on Early Organic Sector Development In the US:
Case Study Overview
Organic Agricultural Conditions
Early Organic Agricultural Development
Organic Market Development
Regulatory Framework and Policy
Supporting Structures and Lessons Learned
(Adapted From IFOAM, Building Sustainable Organic Sectors)
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