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Organic forages are a growth market

Progressive Forage Editor Dave Natzke Published on 31 December 2020

Organic forages remain a growth market, based on national survey data from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

The agency’s 2019 Certified Organic Survey collected information on the number of operations harvesting and selling organic forages, acreage harvested, quantity produced and sold, and value of sales.

A couple of trends emerge when comparing 2019 survey results from the previous survey in 2016: All categories of organic forage production and marketing increased, and a greater percentage of organic forages were sold.

The 2019 USDA survey was conducted among all known U.S. farms with certified organic production, as well as those transitioning into organic production. Producers must meet the standards set out by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s National Organic Program (NOP) and be certified compliant by an approved agent of the program.

Following is a summary of major organic forage categories, including U.S. totals and a list of leading states. When reporting the results, the USDA withholds state data that may disclose information about the operations of an individual farm or business.

National, state data 

All dry hay

According to USDA data, 5,040 farms harvested about 1.8 million tons of organic all dry hay from 490,187 acres in 2019. All were up about 25% from 2016. Of those farms, 3,068 farms reported sales of more than 1.2 million tons, with a total value of almost $192 million. Sales volume was up 73% from 2016, while the value of those sales was up 48%. The percentage of organic dry hay harvested in 2019 that was sold increased to 68%, up from 49% in 2016.

Wisconsin led all states in the number of farms harvesting organic dry hay at 741 and those selling organic dry hay at 344. Although it had only 158 farms harvesting organic dry hay, Idaho led all states for harvested volume at 190,836 tons and tons sold at 163,344. California was the national leader in terms of value at $28.6 million.

Alfalfa and alfalfa mixture dry hay

When looking at alfalfa/alfalfa mixture dry hay, 2,909 farms harvested 1.2 million tons from about 353,500 acres in 2019; all categories were up about 20% from the previous survey. Of farms harvesting alfalfa dry hay, 1,879 reported sales of about 926,650 tons, with a total value of nearly $154.5 million. Sales volume was up 69% from 2016, while the value of those sales was up 45%. The percentage of organic alfalfa and alfalfa mixture hay harvested in 2019 sold increased to 78%, up from 55% in 2016.

Wisconsin also led all states in the number of farms harvesting organic alfalfa and alfalfa mixture hay at 505 and those selling the crop at 244.

Idaho was the leader in alfalfa/alfalfa mixture dry hay harvested area, at almost 67,000 acres, more than double the area harvested in Oregon. Idaho also led all states in harvest and sales volume; California was the top state for organic alfalfa and alfalfa mixture sales value.

Other dry hay

For other dry hay, 2,590 farms harvested more than 603,550 tons from nearly 260,000 acres in 2019. Farms and tonnage harvested were up nearly 40% from 2016. Of those farms, 1,473 reported sales of about 283,880 tons, with a total value of more than $37.5 million. The number of farms selling other organic hay and volume of hay sold was up about 75% from 2016, while the value of sales was up 61%. The percentage of other organic hay harvested in 2019 that was sold increased to 47%, up from 35% in 2016.

New York retained its crown among all states for the number of farms harvesting and selling other organic dry hay, as well as maintaining leadership for acreage, volume and value.

Haylage and greenchop

Beyond dry hay, growth in organic haylage and greenchop production and sales was even greater on a percentage basis. In 2019, 2,250 farms harvested almost 1.4 million tons of all haylage/greenchop from 261,000 acres. Of those, 857 farms reported sales of 413,800 tons, valued at more than $47 million. While farms and acreage were up about 50% from 2016, the number of farms selling organic haylage, as well as the value of sales, were up nearly 110% from the previous survey. The percentage of organic haylage harvested in 2019 that was sold increased to 30%, up slightly from 27% in 2016.

New York and Wisconsin led all states in the number of farms harvesting and selling organic haylage and greenchop, with New York leading all for acres, tonnage harvested and sold and value of those sales.

Total U.S. alfalfa/alfalfa mixture haylage and greenchop area was estimated at 110,951 acres on 1,241 farms, with a total harvest of 610,000 tons. Acreage was up 74% from 2016; tonnage harvested was up more than 80%. About 438 farms reported sales of 164,650 tons, valued at nearly $21.5 million. Farms selling organic alfalfa haylage and value of sales were up 112% from 2016. The percentage of organic alfalfa haylage harvested in 2019 that was sold increased to 27%, up slightly from 25% in 2016.

Organic forage production change

Wisconsin topped all states and categories for alfalfa/alfalfa mixture haylage and greenchop, with New York the leader in sales volume and Oregon topping the list for sales value.

In 2019, 1,208 farms harvested other haylage/greenchop from 150,000 acres, yielding more than 753,000 tons. Acreage was up 43% from 2016. About 467 farms reported sales of almost 250,000 tons, valued at $25.6 million. Farm numbers and crop value were up about 110% from the previous survey. The percentage of other organic haylage harvested in 2019 that was sold increased to 33%, up slightly from 28% in 2016.

As with other dry hay, New York topped all states and categories for other haylage and greenchop production and sales.

Sorghum silage and greenchop

There were 266 farms harvesting organic sorghum silage/greenchop in 2019, with total harvested area estimated at almost 10,000 acres and volume of 97,389 tons. While the number of farms harvesting organic sorghum for silage or greenchop more than doubled from 2016, acreage and tonnage rose marginally, up 21% and 13%, respectively.

The 2019 cropping year – with an extremely high number of prevent plant acres – may have influenced sorghum silage production and sales; the crop is often viewed as an emergency forage, especially in dairy states. Wisconsin led all states in the number of farms, acreage and volume harvested, with New York and Iowa leading the sales categories.

Seventy farms reported sales of 21,276 tons, with a value of $976,400. The volume of sorghum sold was up nearly 360% from the previous survey. The percentage of organic sorghum silage harvested in 2019 that was sold increased to 22%, up from just 5% in 2016.

Corn silage and greenchop

U.S. organic corn silage harvested area was estimated at 54,683 acres on 1,466 farms, with a total harvest of nearly 931,000 tons. Farms and tonnage were up about 30% from 2016. Sales were reported from 340 farms, with about 284,400 tons valued at $18.5 million. Sales volume and value were up more than 210% from 2016. The percentage of organic corn silage harvested in 2019 that was sold increased to 31%, up from 13% in 2016.

On the production side, Wisconsin had the most farms, acreage and tonnage for corn silage, while New York and Iowa were sales leaders.

Additional survey results as well as the results of previous NASS organic surveys are available online.  end mark

Dave Natzke
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