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California leads nation in organic farming
Drake's Greens
Microgreens grown solely with water, organic soil and ocean-based fertilizer, have become wildly popular with customers of Turlock’s Drake’s Greens (Photo contributed).

U.S. farms sold more than $11 billion worth of certified organic commodities in 2021, an increase of 13 percent over the 2019 total of $9.9 billion, according to numbers released by the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

And nowhere was that more evident than in California.

With $3.6 billion in certified organic commodity sales, California continued to lead the nation, accounting for 32 percent of the nation’s total.

Washington ($1.14 billion), Pennsylvania ($1.09 billion), Texas ($572 million), and Oregon ($386 million) rounded out the top five states for overall organic sales.

Organic production encompasses a wide range of commodities. Of the total 2021 sales, $6.1 billion came from crops, $2.9 billion from livestock and poultry products (primarily milk and eggs), and $2.2 billion from livestock and poultry.

Between 2019 and 2021, the number of certified organic farms with organic production in the country increased 5 percent to 17,445, and the number of certified acres decreased 11 percent to 4.9 million.

Sedric and Michelle Drake of Turlock founded Drake’s Greens in 2020. Their microgreens, grown solely with water, organic soil and ocean-based fertilizer, have become wildly popular. They are currently in the process of becoming a certified organic grower.

“We’ve experienced more people asking about our practices and how we grow,” said Michelle Drake, alluding to the growing popularity of organic products. “We grow organic, we just don’t have the certified designation yet. We’re in the process right now of becoming certified. We’ve definitely felt the push to begin the process to obtain that designation on our label.”

Certified organic cropland increased 3 percent to 3.6 million acres while certified organic pastureland declined 36 percent to 1.3 million acres. 

Again, California led the way — in both number of farms and acres, with 3,061 certified farms and 813,710 acres.

The Golden State accounted for 17 percent of total U.S. certified organic land. Only three other states had more than 1,000 certified organic farms: Wisconsin (1,455), New York (1,407) and Pennsylvania (1,125). 

Ten states accounted for roughly three-fourths (73 percent) of 2021 sales.

The top sectors and commodities in value of sales for 2021 were:

* Livestock and poultry — $2.9 billion, up 15 percent (milk topped this category at $1.6 billion, up 3 percent)

* Vegetables — $1.9 billion, down 8 percent (lettuce was the biggest drag on this category, falling 31 percent to $276 million)

* Fruits, tree nuts, berries — $2.2 billion, up 9 percent (apples topped this category, rising 32 percent to $629 million)

* Livestock and poultry — $2.2 billion, up 32 percent (boiler chickens, at $1.5 billion, rose 32 percent)

* Field crops — $1.5 billion, up 27 percent (corn for grain rose 53 percent to $424 million).

A growing awareness of the adverse effects of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, and other substances in conventional farming is contributing to the shift toward organic farming. Between 2014 and 2020, California farmland in organic production increased 22 percent, from 1,796,080 acres to 2,186,551 acres, according to California Department of Food and Agriculture.

California currently has an estimated 7.35 million acres of irrigated cropland, of which, 460,000 acres — roughly 6 percent — is certified as organic.