Americans Are Devouring Organic Chickens As Farm Sales Surge
Americans have a seemingly insatiable hunger for organic chickens. That’s helping to drive growth in the booming specialty industry for farm products.
US producers sold $750 million of organic chickens last year, surging 78% from 2015, according to data released Wednesday by the US Department of Agriculture. That makes chicken meat the third-largest agricultural commodity, trailing milk at $1.4 billion and eggs at $816 million.
Total organic farm sales were up 23% to $7.6 billion. More than a third of the value comes from just one state: California. Acres dedicated to the organic food increased by 15%, the report showed.
Chickens were one of the fastest-growing organic commodities last year. While the segment remains a small fraction of the $26 billion total chicken market, some major meat companies have boosted offerings of the specialty birds. Sales of organic chickens were 100 times greater than organic hogs, the data show.
Even though chicken is growing, crops still rule the organic market. Vegetable sales totalled $1.6 billion last year, and berries brought in $406 million. Some of the top-sellers in the produce aisle include apples, lettuce, strawberries, grapes and tomatoes.
Organic milk held on to its spot as the number 1 single organic farm product, with sales up 18% in 2016. Just a few years after grocery stores were reporting dairy shortages, the industry has expanded so much that producers are now grappling with a surplus. “Some industry officials project oversupply may be a problem through 2018,” the USDA said in a 8 September report.
US organic corn production climbed 38% last year to 18.5 million bushels and organic soy jumped 45% to 4.6 million. That’s less than 1% of total domestic production of the crops. To meet feed needs, organic dairy and livestock producers have grown reliant on foreign supplies in recent years.
In an audit posted this week, the USDA’s inspector general highlighted concerns with imports of the specialty crops - including a lax verification system at ports to ensure the cargoes are actually from certified farms.
Separately, the USDA was sued earlier this month by the Washington-based Organic Trade Association over the delayed effective date for new organic livestock standards.