Wisconsin is a national leader in organic agriculture, not only in the number of certified organic farms and processors within the state, but also with respect to the diversity of organic products raised and sold. According to data from the USDA National Organic Program (NOP), Wisconsin had 1,516 certified organic operations, up from 1,334 in 2015.
The organic market continues to expand, both within the U.S. and globally. Organic food sales in the U.S. hit $50.1 billion in 2019, up 4.6 percent from the previous year, outpacing the general market growth of 2.3 percent. In 2020, within the immediate onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, organic produce sales rose more than 50 percent as consumers stocked up on groceries, peaking at a 20 percent increase in sales in the spring of 2020. Demand for organic milk and eggs also increased, as well as double-digit growth in the sales of frozen organic foods.
Wisconsin remains a top state in the nation in total number of organic farms, second only to California. Wisconsin ranks fourth behind California, Montana, and New York in the amount of certified organic land with 250,000 acres. Wisconsin ranked fifth in dollar value of organic sales in 2019, totaling over $269 million.
Wisconsin ranked as the second state for the number of organic dairy farms, with 530 organic dairies, up from 429 in 2014. Wisconsin also ranks among the top states in the number of organic field crop farms (#1), organic livestock and poultry farms (#1), organic hog and pig farms (#1), organic layer chicken farms (#1), organic vegetable and melon farms (#2), and organic cranberry farms (#3). The state ranks seventh in the nation for the number of farms raising organic berries and other fruits (not including apples or grapes), as well as seventh with respect to organic floriculture crops and bedding plants.
Wisconsin ranks second in the nation for the number of non-organic and organic/exempt farms with transitioning organic acres, which is a key indicator of the potential for growth in a state’s organic sector. The vast majority of organic farms within the state (80%) plan to maintain or increase their organic production.
A critical element to the continued strength of organic agriculture—not only in Wisconsin, but across the nation—is its ability to be resilient. Resilience is a characteristic inherent to many aspects of organic agriculture, with its emphasis on integrating diverse production and market approaches, building soil health, and adopting systems-based approaches to management. While organic farmers and the organic industry have recently faced several challenges testing that resilience—including regulatory enforcement, lack of farm and processing infrastructure, adaptation to extreme weather, and the COVID-19 pandemic—Wisconsin organic agriculture continues to demonstrate its strength.
Wisconsin’s organic agriculture industry remains a vibrant and resilient feature of the state’s agricultural landscape and economy. Wisconsin hosts a number of rural “organic hotspots”, clusters of counties with high numbers of organic operations enabling farmers to provide mutual assistance and support. Analyses have indicated that a county’s poverty rate drops by 1.3 percentage points, unemployment rates at the county level are lowered by 0.22 percentage points, per capita income is increased by $899, and the median household income is increased $2,094 when the county is part of an organic hotspot. Poised for continued growth in both acres and markets, the organic industry can continue to serve as an important economic driver for the state, supporting the vitality of our rural communities.
The 2021 Organic Report includes sections on COVID-19 response, particularly in the state’s meat industry, integrity in labeling, and building resilience in the face of climate change. It includes a statement from the Wisconsin Organic Advisory Council Harriet Behar and list of council members, a comprehensive list of active organic research on the UW-Madison campus, and a foreword from the Interim Secretary of Agriculture Randy Romanski and Dean Kate Vandenbosch of the UW-Madison College of Agriculture.