Finance Friday – January 20, 2017

4.1 million acres.

That’s the total organic farmland in the US now, up 11 percent over the past 2 years. One of the most striking increases has been in Montana, up 30%, bringing this state to #2 in total acreage behind California.

Grains are still by far the biggest land use for cultivated crops, yet despite this meaningful growth, organic grains in the US are still tiny proportions of the total, mostly under 1% (oats is the star at a comparatively huge 3.6% organic rate).

But wait, what about the giant organic bread section in the supermarket? That’s way more than 1 percent! Well, yeah, but people don’t actually eat most grains that are produced. Consider corn as an example: 40% of US corn goes to ethanol and 36% goes to animals… so in the glass-half-full version, a much larger proportion of direct people-feeding crops are organic. Of course, in the glass-half-empty version, our corn system is, well, let’s just say it’s not what you’d design if you were starting from scratch.

Here is a great Scientific American article from a couple years back that looks specifically at the US corn system.  And the latest cropland numbers are explained in more detail in this article from Civil Eats, with the original report came from Mercaris (paywall).



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