Oct 26, 2020
Califonia organic sales at farm gate top $3B
University of California

Organic farming continues to expand in California and now includes more than 360 commodities, according to a new University of California report.

University of CaliforniaThe number of organic growers, acreage and farm gate sales revenue is reported by commodity, county, region and statewide in the new “Statistical Review of California Organic Agriculture, 2013-2016.”

The data are collected from farms that register as organic with the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

“This report highlights the incredible diversity and abundance of organic crops being grown across so many different geographic regions in the state, which reflects California’s leading role in this production sector,” said Houston Wilson, director of the new UC Organic Agriculture Institute. 

Dairies continue to lead by value of organic production, noted Rachael Goodhue, UC Davis professor of agricultural and resource economics and coauthor of the report.

The number of organic growers in California jumped from 2,089 in 2013 to 3,108 in 2016. The top 10 organic commodities for sales value in 2016 were cow milk, strawberries, carrots, winegrapes, table grapes, sweet potatoes, almonds, raspberries, salad mix and chicken eggs.

“This review is critical to understand the changes in the fast-growing organic agriculture sector in the state where more than 50% of the nation’s organic vegetables and fruits are produced,” said Joji Muramoto, UC Cooperative Extension organic production specialist at UC Santa Cruz and coauthor of the report. “It provides statistics of all organic commodities produced across the state as well as at county level. This is the primary reference to learn about the size, diversity, and trends of organic agriculture in the state.”

In 2016, California organic sales were $3.1 billion with an average of $1 million in sales per farm, but revenue varied widely among farms. For example, San Diego County had the most organic growers (313) in 2016, but Kern County’s 47 organic farmers earned the most in total organic sales: $381 million on 49,727 acres, excluding pasture and rangeland, according to Muramoto. 

“The average gross income of organic farms increased 14-fold from 1994 to 2016, reaching $1 million in 2016,” Muramoto said. “However, 77% of growers received less than $500,000 per year and 22% of growers who made $500,000 or more per year received 94% of the total gross sales, showing the income concentration among organic growers in the state.”

The statistical review of California’s organic agriculture had been published since 1998 by the late Karen Klonsky, UC Cooperative Extension specialist, and her team after statistics for organic agriculture became available in 1992 as a result of the California Organic Food Act.

The last report published by Klonsky, who passed away in 2018, covered 2009-2012. All previous organic agriculture statistics reports can be accessed at https://aic.ucdavis.edu/research1/organic.html.

“This report of organic data continues the series of studies initiated by Karen Klonsky many years ago. It contains vital summary information for industry and policymakers as well as researchers,” said Goodhue. 

Since the data collection began in 1994, the number of organic growers in California has increased 2.8-fold to 3,109 and the farm-level sales 40-fold to $3.1 billion in 2016. 

“Accurate annual data on California organic crop production, acreage and value is critical to understanding the scale and scope of this growing agricultural sector,” said Wilson. “As the UC Organic Agriculture Institute begins to develop research and extension programs, it is important that we have a reliable way to assess the extent and geography of organic production as well as track changes over time.” 

Muramoto, who became the UC Cooperative Extension organic production specialist in 2019, collaborated with Goodhue, Daniel Sumner, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center and UC Davis professor of agricultural and resource economics; and UC Davis graduate student Hanlin Wei to produce the latest statistical review of California’s organic agriculture.

More recent years are not included because the data collected by CDFA changed in 2017 and again in 2019 so they are not comparable to the data in this report. 

Above, Joji Muramoto is the first Cooperative Extension specialist dedicated to organic agriculture. Photo: Carolyn Lagattuta

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