Organic farming is on the rise across the country, recent data shows. According to the latest report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a growing number of farms in the U.S. are getting their farms certified organic.
The USDA found that the number of organic farms in the U.S. has increased by 56% between 2011 and 2016. California comes in first for the most organic farms, and New York comes in second with over 1,000 farms.
The rise in organic farming coincides with Americans’ growing desire for organic food over the last few decades, and companies are feeling the pressure to provide effective customer service. Retail sales of organic foods have increased significantly over the last 20 years, reaching $43 billion in 2015.
Federal spending on organic agriculture has also helped boost the rise in organic farming. The 2014 Farm Act assisted organic producers with the cost of an organic certification. Congress also recently passed a $867 billion farm bill to fund organic farming research.
For a farm to be certified organic, the food needs to be produced without the use of conventional pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, sewage-based fertilizers, herbicides, genetic engineering, antibiotics, growth hormones, or irradiation.
Certified organic farms must also adhere to animal welfare and health standards. They can’t treat land or soil of any kind (Texas alone has over 60 different kinds) with any prohibited substances for three years prior to harvest. They must also reach a threshold for gross annual organic sales.
Chicken is considered the number one protein consumed in the U.S., and four out of 10 U.S. adults (39%) say that most or some of the food they eat is organic. But 61% of Americans say none of their food is organic.
This is problematic considering a recent study confirms that Americans consume pesticides every time they eat non-organic food. Unfortunately, many organic foods are more expensive than non-organic foods, which is why people in higher-income families (48%) are more likely to eat organic than those who make less than $30,000 a year (33%).
But the choice to eat non-organic foods isn’t just economic. Americans are also divided on whether organic foods are actually better for one’s health. Approximately 51% of adults believe organic produce is neither better or worse than non-organic food while 45% say organic produce is better.
Americans are also split on whether food additives are bad. Up to 65% of U.S. adults believe food additives pose a serious health risk compared to 41% who believe they don’t.
But whether Americans choose to eat organic foods or not, organic farming is still making a positive impact on the environment. According to a recent study, up to 40% of insects including bees could go extinct in the next few decades, posing a major risk to nature as a whole. Organic farming can help to reduce the speed at which insects are dying out.
“Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,” said researchers. “The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic, to say the least.”