Organic Food Trends Profile

Organic agriculture, a worldwide growth industry, can be a profitable, sustainable business for agricultural producers interested in going through the certification process necessary to enter this market. Organics have continued to expand during the last few years, and industry experts are forecasting steady growth of 6 percent or higher (OTA 2018).

USDA adopted national standards for organics in October 2002. The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) regulates all organic agriculture in the United States.


According to the 2016 Certified Organic Survey (NASS 2017), the United States has 5 million acres used for organic production. Of that amount, 2.7 million acres were planted to organic crops and 2.3 million acres were organic pasture or rangeland.

While there were organic farms or ranches in all 50 states, 38 percent of all organic commodity sales came from California's 2,713 farms. Other states with large numbers of certified and exempt organic acres were Alaska, Montana, New York, Wisconsin, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, Texas and Vermont.

Transitioning to Organics

Organic agriculture has attracted conventional producers, who make the transition due mainly to the price premiums in the market. While transitioning to organics can be confusing, many resources are now available to help producers make the change.

The USDA maintains a list of accredited certifying agents (ACAs), with 80 U.S.-based ACAs as of 2018. Individuals wishing to transition to organic should verify that the agency they select is an approved certifier. Certifiers should be contacted early and often for assistance in complying with their individual requirements and procedures. Markets should be identified, and only certified organic processors and handlers used for organic certification compliance.


The total value of farm-level organic sales reached $7.6 billion in 2016, up from $6.2 billion in 2015. Organic crops accounted for $4.2 billion in sales and organic livestock, poultry and their products accounted for $3.4 billion. California led the nation in organic sales, with 36 percent, or $2.8 billion, of all U.S. sales.

Milk and eggs were the top two certified commodities sold. Milk, valued at $1.4 billion, was up 18 percent from 2015 and eggs, at $816 million, increased 11 percent. Broiler chickens ranked third, with sales of $750 million. Among crops, the top selling commodities were apples, lettuce and strawberries. Statistical source.

A study conducted by the Organic Trade Association (OTA) surveyed manufacturers, distributors and retailers about the organic industry. The survey indicated that U.S. sales of organic products, both food and and non-food, have grown to $49.4 billion in 2017, increasing 6.4 percent in the last year. Organic food sales alone rose 6.4 percent, totaling $45.2 billion. Organic non-food sales rose 7.4 percent, totaling nearly $4.2 billion.

Exports and Imports

In January 2011, the Commerce Department’s U.S. Census Bureau began creating agricultural product trade codes for exported and imported organic products. As of 2016, the number of trade codes for exported organic products totaled 33 and the number of trade codes for imported organic products totaled 35. Most of the trade codes for organic exports are for fresh fruits or vegetables, while most of the organic import codes are for coffee, olive oil, tea and wine.

In 2017, the U.S. Census Bureau analyzed data available for 2016 showed that the 33 commodities being tracked at that time accounted for more than $548 million in export sales. Top exports were apples, grapes and lettuce.

International Sales

Canada and Mexico accounted for 70 percent of the value of tracked U.S. organic exports in 2016. Top imports were bananas, coffee and olive oil, as well as corn and beans for the increasing demand for organic livestock feed.


2016 Certified Organic Survey, National Ag Statistics Service (NASS), USDA, 2017.

Accredited Certifying Agents (ACAs), Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), USDA.

Emerging Issues in the U.S. Organic Industry, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA, 2009.

Growth Patterns in the U.S. Organic Industry, Amber Waves, ERS, USDA, October 2013.

National Organic Program, AMS, USDA.

The North American Market for Organic Food and Drink, Organic Monitor, 2010.

Organic Agriculture: 2007 (United States), 2007 Census of Agriculture, NASS, USDA, 2009.

Organic Market Report, Soil Association, United Kingdom (UK), 2012 - This report is the definitive guide to organic trade in the UK.

Organic Production, ERS, USDA.

Organic Trade Association.