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UW finds strategies to increase number of organic grain farms in Wisconsin

March 5, 2015

While the $35 billion U.S. organic industry continues to expand at a brisk pace, organic grain production is not keeping up with the growing demand for organic livestock feed and value-added food products, according to a new report on Wisconsin organic agriculture.

“Although organic grain premiums are strong, significant barriers prevent the transition of farmers and acreage to fill the need for more organic grain,” says Erin Silva, a report author and assistant professor of plant pathology at UW–Madison. “The three-year-long transition from conventional to organic production, when farmers pay the extra costs of organic management without receiving premium prices, is one example of a barrier that might deter a grain farmer from switching to organic production.”

“Organic Agriculture in Wisconsin: 2015 Status Report” highlights possible strategies to increase the number of farms and acres producing organic grain in our state. Examples of these strategies, gleaned through interviews with organic business owners, include education and technical support; programs and policies that reduce risk during the three-year transition to organic farming; and pooling products, information and resources through farmer networks.

Photo: Erin Silva

Erin Silva

In Wisconsin, there is high demand for organic livestock feed because the state leads the nation in organic dairy and beef production. Nearly three out of four organic farms in Wisconsin market livestock and poultry, compared to about half of all organic farms nationwide.

Other observations from the report include:

  • Wisconsin continues to rank second in the U.S. for the total number of organic farms, behind only California. There were approximately 1,250 certified organic farms in Wisconsin in 2013, which represents 77 percent growth since 2005.
  • Wisconsin is also second in the nation for the number of farms in transition to organic production, which indicates continued growth in this industry.
  • Wisconsin ranks fourth in the U.S. for organic vegetable and melon farms, and second for organic oilseed and grain farms.
  • Wisconsin ranks fourth in the nation for organic product sales, valued at $122 million. About one-third of Wisconsin’s organic farms are tapping into the market for local food through direct sales to individuals.
  • Nationally, organic farmers are more likely to be young and female than the general farmer population. Wisconsin’s organic farmers mirror one part of this trend. Nearly a quarter of the state’s organic farmers are beginning farmers, having operated a farm for fewer than 10 years. Women farmers, however, are underrepresented on organic farms, as they are across all types of farming operations in Wisconsin.

“Organic Agriculture in Wisconsin: 2015 Status Report” is prepared by the UW–Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. 

—Cris Carusi

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