According to the USDA National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), organic agriculture is "an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain, or enhance ecological harmony. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people."
The term "certified organic" is governed by uniform standards of production and processing that can be verified by independent state or private organizations accredited by the USDA.
In general, crop produce or products that qualify as organic must be
- free from genetic modification,
- grown without conventional fertilizers and pesticides, and
- processed without food additives or ionizing radiation.
In addition to these requirements, organic animals also must be raised without growth hormones and antibiotics.
According to the 2008 Organic Production Survey (NASS 2010), the United States has 4.1 million acres used for organic production. Of that amount, 1.6 million acres were planted to organic crops and 1.8 million acres were organic pasture or rangeland. Figures for the previous year, reported in the Organic Agriculture: 2007 (NASS 2009), stated that the nation had 2.6 million acres used for organic production.
The number of certified organic farms, ranches and processing facilities in 2011 totaled 17,281, a 240 percent increase since 2002 (NOP 2012). While there were organic farms or ranches in all 50 states, nearly 20 percent, or more than 2,500 of the operations, were in California. Other states with large numbers of certified and exempt organic operations were Wisconsin (1,124), New York (842) and Washington (737). (NASS 2011)
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.