Organic food sales in the US have grown 20% or more annually throughout the last decade and remain strong. Organic products are now available in 73% of supermarkets nationwide, particularly in urban and suburban regions. While organic sales currently account for less than 2% of total food sales in the U.S., organic sales are stronger in European markets. Sales growth for organic products has caught the eye of business giants such as Dole, General Mills, Dean Foods, Unilever, and other market-savvy processors. Some states, such as Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan, are following these trends by investing in organic marketing, research, and extension to support entrepreneurial growth in this value added industry.
Wisconsin farmers are leaders in organic food production, particularly in dairy. Wisconsin boasts the third-most organic farms in the country, behind California and Washington. Wisconsin dairy producers raise 22% of the nation’s organic milk cows, and they enjoy a price premium ranging from 80-115% over conventionally produced milk. Employing 240 people at their rural southwest Wisconsin headquarters, Organic Valley cooperative is the nation’s second-largest organic milk marketer, and the company has consistently ensured an above-average return to its member-producers.
Clearly, organic production is adding value to the state’s economy and has the potential to grow as Wisconsin urbanizes, nearby metro areas thrive, and demand from more distant markets grows.
This report discusses organic crop production, food processing, and marketing in Wisconsin and nationwide; federal, state, nonprofit and university support for organic agriculture; challenges faced by Wisconsin’s organic industry; and ideas about how Wisconsin can capture a greater share of the organic market.