Virginia’s organic production climbing

Published 10:22 am Thursday, February 16, 2023

Virginia’s organic production has increased almost 70% since 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

USDA questioned all organic operations in the U.S. to collect data and help determine the economic impact of certified organic production at national and state levels. It found that in 2021 the total value of certified organic agricultural products sold in Virginia was more than $106.8 million. That’s an increase of about 70% from the 2019 survey, which found certified organic producers sold products valued at more than $62 million.

In Lunenburg County, organic soybean and produce farmer Richard Hite wasn’t surprised about the survey numbers.

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“I’ve seen the demand,” said Hite, who also serves as Lunenburg County Farm Bureau president. “I’ve doubled my production in three years and diversified the different crops I’m growing.

“It used to be a niche,” he added. “The organic market seems to be becoming more mainstream … in grocery stores you’re seeing the amount of organic produce on the shelf increase.”

Of the $106.8 million sold in 2021, crop sales accounted for $36.3 million, and $70.5 million included sales of livestock and poultry products. Broiler chickens led the state’s organic sales, totaling $60.4 million, or about 57% of all sales. Tobacco followed with $10.8 million, then milk and eggs with $4.8 million and $4.2 million, respectively. Soybeans rounded out the top five certified-organic sales with $2.9 million.

Additionally, there were 166 USDA-certified organic farms in 2021, comprising 22,291 acres of land. Eighty-four percent, or 18,778 acres, is cropland, and 3,513 is in pasture or rangeland.

While raising certified organic requires more paperwork, inspections and expenses than conventional farming, it’s proven to be a worthwhile tradeoff for farmers like Hite.