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A salute to organic agriculture in Oregon

Organically Grown in Oregon Week highlights an important and expanding ag sector

Courtesy Gaining Ground Farm<br><b>Picture of a field at Gaining Ground Farm, a 76-acre, organic-certified community-supported agriculture operation just outside Yamhill.</b>
Courtesy Gaining Ground Farm
Picture of a field at Gaining Ground Farm, a 76-acre, organic-certified community-supported agriculture operation just outside Yamhill.

Sep 17, 2013

By the Oregon Department of Agriculture

At one time, organic agriculture may have been considered by some to be a fringe sector of the industry with a narrowly-focused market base. That simply isn’t the case anymore as organic foods are a mainstream consumer item that continues to rise in popularity. Governor Kitzhaber has proclaimed September 15-21 to be Organically Grown in Oregon Week, another indicator that organic agriculture is something to celebrate.

“Organic agriculture is right at home in Oregon,” says Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba. “The same great growing conditions and wonderful diversity of products that serves all of Oregon agriculture benefit our organic producers as well.”

The governor’s proclamation supports the notion that organic agriculture is alive and well, noting that Oregon ranks fifth in the nation in the number of organic farms. The proclamation also points out that Oregon passed the nation’s first organic legislation in 1973 and revised the Oregon Organic Foods Law in 1989, which served as the model for the current national organic standards.

“Organic agriculture gives Oregon consumers a choice in the bounty of products they enjoy,” says ODA Marketing Director Gary Roth. “What I personally celebrate during this special week is the availability of organic products that just wasn’t there 20 years ago. We grow so many different crops in Oregon, and we have so many different organic crops to offer as well.”

According to a 2011 certified organic production survey conducted by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Oregon had 353 certified organic farms operating on 132,777 acres and producing sales of $233 million. That’s still less than 5 percent of Oregon’s total cash receipts for 2011, but a number that has sharply grown over the past decade.

It only takes a trip to a grocery store to see the evolution of organic foods.

“For many years, consumers couldn’t find organic products readily available in mainstream markets,” says Laura Barton, ODA trade manager. “You might have found them at a health food store or a specialized market niche. But now you will find that almost every single mainstream grocery store will have organic products either integrated with other foods or in a special section for organics.”

Nationally, total organic food sales jumped 10.2 percent in 2012, reaching the $29 billion mark, according to a survey by the Organic Trade Association. Specifically, US sales of organic fresh produce increased by more 13 percent last year to $9.7 billion. That same survey says organics account for 4.3 percent of total food sales, but the market share is bigger for organic fruits and vegetables, which accounts for one of every ten dollars spent by US consumers on fruits and vegetables.

On the global scene, sales of organic foods have grown 25 percent between 2008 and 2011, according to a British sustainable agriculture advocacy group. Europe and the US account for 90 percent of global sales but some of the sharpest increases are taking place in Asia, especially the more affluent countries of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

For Oregon, which relies heavily on the export market, the organic trend is something to watch.

“Interest in our primary export markets of Japan, Korea, and China is growing for organic products, but not quite at the level we’ve seen in the US in terms of the depth of products available and in demand,” says ODA Trade Manager Patrick Mayer. “Asian consumers are still trying to figure out what they are getting for the premium price they pay for organic foods. As far as organic products Oregon might provide as those markets grow, it’s the same as we see domestically– fresh fruits and vegetables are most likely to be in demand.”

Oregon has unique status in the organic world based on its history of early adoption of certification standards. It was the first to establish a statewide advocacy group– the Oregon Organic Coalition. Three years ago, Oregon Tilth, which provides a majority of the state’s organic certification, was joined by ODA in bringing together a number of agencies and organizations that each pledged their support by signing an organic agriculture letter of intent. The document set up an annual strategy meeting among partner organizations, and continues to encourage additional research and outreach, promote sharing of best practices, and generally gives support for organic agriculture on a national level.

In response to industry demand in 2009, ODA became an accredited certifying agent for the National Organic Program (NOP). Like Oregon Tilth and others, ODA inspectors audit organic production and handling operations to certify they meet USDA standards. Currently, ODA has 81 certification clients– an increase of 35 percent over 2012– and has certified more than 6,000 acres in organic production this year.

“These 81 clients are a mix of farmers and handlers,” says Lindsay Eng, certification development and programs manager for ODA. “We’ve seen specific growth in the organic specialty seed industry, seed cleaners and handlers, and fresh produce packers.”

Laura Masterson, a member of the State Board of Agriculture, is an organic grower who operates the 47th Avenue Farm in Southeast Portland. She sees environmental benefits of organic or sustainable production.

“Many small farms have chosen to be certified organic or self identify as sustainable, which helps to protect natural resources if managed well.”

Among the activities scheduled for Organically Grown in Oregon Week is the presentation by the Oregon Organic Coalition of its 2013 awards for excellence, which recognize organic farms, organic livestock operations, processors, wholesalers, and others who have made significant contributions. This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the special week.

A lot has happened over the past quarter century to put organic agriculture in Oregon’s spotlight.

For more information, contact Bruce Pokarney at (503) 986-4559.

For an audio version of this story, please go to



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