By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau: The organic food market experienced strong growth last year and the same is expected in 2014.

Sales of organic products exceeded $35 billion last year, up 11.5% from 2012. The year-over-year change represents the fastest growth rate in five years, according to the latest survey on the organic industry from the Organic Trade Association (O.T.A.). Organic food sales accounted for $32.3 billion in sales, or about 92% of total organic sales in 2013.

The survey, which was conducted by the Nutrition Business Journal and included responses from more than 200 companies between January 27 and April 4, projected growth rates over the next two years will at least keep pace with the 2013 clip and even slightly exceed it.

Such growth in organic foods makes sense when you consider what the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently reported on regarding growth in certified operations. According to new USDA figures, the organic industry continues to grow domestically and globally, with more than 25,000 certified organic operations in more than 120 different countries around the world. Through the Agricultural Marketing Service’s National Organic Program, USDA has helped an additional 763 producers become certified organic in just 2013, an increase of 4.2 percent from the previous year. The industry today encompasses a record breaking 18,513 certified organic farms and businesses in the United States alone, representing a 245 percent increase since 2002.

Arizona agriculture is a significant player in this market. Arizona has 137 certified organic farms and businesses, an increase from previous reports. Of those certified organic farms (minus other organic food processing businesses), in 2011 (most recent available figures, according to the USDA) they generated $77.1 million in sales. But that only tells a part of the story.

While we’ll get new figures from the 2012 Census of Agriculture by this May, the last agriculture census by the USDA reported that the average organic operation in Arizona has 350 acres of land, larger than the 285 acres for an average organic farm nationwide.

What do Arizona’s organic farms grow? As you might expect, vegetables and melons are two widely grown commodities. Nearly one-third of all organic farms produced vegetables, melons or potatoes. Apples were also grown organically in Arizona with 10 growers reporting sales of nearly $4.2 million in the last agriculture census. Other fruit crops produced included grapes, peaches, pears and citrus. Other types of crops were also produced including barley, dry beans, corn, cotton, hay, sorghum, sunflower seed and durum wheat. Organic milk and beef cows, hogs, sheep, goats, and chickens were also produced.

“The U.S. organic market is experiencing strong expansion, with organic food and farming continuing to gain in popularity,” said Laura Batcha, executive director and chief executive officer of the O.T.A.

Organic food sales account for more than 4% of the $760 billion annual food sales in the United States, according to the O.T.A., and the growth rate of organic food sales has averaged almost 10% every year since 2010.

Arizona agriculture is making a significant contribution to this food market. And many of our Arizona organic farmers will tell you they are committed to ongoing production in this arena. With Arizona organic farms on average being larger than the typical organic farm nationwide, our contribution will continue to be significant in the future.

Editor’s Note: For more census results, visit www.

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