Production Animal Spotlight: Growth in Organic Led by Poultry Categories

Figure 1 – Growth Rates of Organic Livestock Headcount

Organic and non-GMO production animal heads have, for all categories except grass fed cattle, continued to grow at rapid rates year-over-year, for instance 36% from 2017-2018, compared to conventional production animal categories that typical grow at rates of 1 to 3% per annum. Data reported by the Organic and Non-GMO Report [1] tabulated the headcount for cattle, swine and poultry from 2015 through 2018 and was used to calculate the growth rates shown in Figure 1.

Top commodities

$ million
Milk 1,386
Eggs 816
Broiler Chickens 750
Apples 327
Lettuce 277
Strawberries 242
Cattle 233
Grapes 218
Tomatoes (in the open) 175
Corn for grain 164

Table 1 – 2016 Organic Sales of Top Commodities

The poultry segment and all sub-segments experienced explosive growth from 2015 through 2018 with broilers almost doubling in size in 2017 and 2018. Growth in the broiler category was historically limited by the availability of organic feed. An important domestic limitation for organic feed production has been the requirement that planted acres must be at least three years free from restricted pesticides and herbicides prior to being compliant with USDA Organic Certification. This three year delay creates a financial challenge when converting conventional acres to organic for smaller farmers. Another obstacle for producing Organic feed related to imported grains and oilseed has been source authenticity [2].

Grain and food authenticity will continue to be an ever present threat in the supply chain and only testing and well designed identity preservation systems can guarantee traceability and quality. In recent years, increased domestic production of organic and non-GMO grains and oilseeds combined with organic and non-GMO imports have enabled the broiler segment to grow rapidly.

To put the organic and non-GMO livestock growth rates into perspective, retail sales data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA NASS) 2016 Organic Survey is summarized in Table 1. Animal products accounted for 44% of the total $7.6 billion of organic product sales in 2016. As of December 2019, the USDA NASS began field work to update the Organic Survey data. The 2019 Organic Survey data will be made available in the fall of 2020. This data will be summarized in a subsequent newsletter when made pubically available.

Sources & Additional Resources:

  1. Organic feed demand to achieve double-digit growth again over 2018
  2. Washington Post: The labels said ‘organic.’ But these massive imports of corn and soybeans weren’t.
  3. 2016 Certified Organic Survey Highlights
  4. EnviroLogix News: Production Animal Spotlight – Chicken
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