Growing Organic Grain – Demand Outpacing Supply
By Diana Roberts, WSU Extension Regional Agronomist, and Louise Lorent, Crop and Soil Sciences Research Associate
For the last 10 years, WSU Extension has maintained an email listserv for organic grain growers which serves, in part, to connect buyers and sellers of organic grain. Recently, we added a searchable, electronic bulletin board for this purpose at smallgrains.wsu.edu/organic-grain-sales-bulletin-board/. If you wish to receive information about organic production and market opportunities, email Diana Roberts at email@example.com.
Markets for organic grain tend to fluctuate with the economy. At this time, it appears demand for organic grain is growing faster than the supply. Last year, we interviewed a dozen organic growers across the Inland Northwest regarding their production operations, which we will publish as an Extension case study bulletin. Apart from one canola grower who professed that marketing was not his strength, the farmers we interviewed reported being able to sell all their crops without meeting the demand.
Currently, our organic bulletin board has postings from buyers wanting large quantities of mustard, wheat, barley, corn, and pulse crops from as far afield as Oregon, South Carolina, Connecticut, and Ontario (Canada). While we cannot guarantee the stability or price premiums of these markets, there appears to be ample opportunity for growers interested in organic production.
What is the consumer demand for organic grains? A look at the USDA Amber Waves pages showed that sales for organic bread and grains more than doubled over the last 10 years.
While the organic market is still dominated by fruits and vegetables, the volume of sales of other types of products is considerable. Looking at package/prepared foods, breads and grains, snack foods and condiments (probably the most relevant markets to Inland Northwest grain growers), it’s interesting to note that although the share of each category in total organic food sales is not huge (we’re talking 10.6 percent for package foods, 9.1 percent for breads and grains, and 5 percent of total organic food sales for snacks and condiments), the dollar value for each of these categories is still growing steadily. Organic bread and grains sales amounted to $1.4 billion in 2005 and $3.2 billion in 2014. The same thing happened with condiments, since we’re talking about mustard; $341 million in 2005, $1.1 billion in 2014. It almost tripled in 10 years.
The Inland Northwest, however, lags behind other states in organic grain production. As of 2011, WA had about 6,500 acres of certified organic wheat …not even 0.02 percent of the total US certified organic wheat acreage. Idaho had over 10, 000 acres and Oregon less than 5, 000 (National Ag Statistics Service data). In contrast, Montana had 66,000 acres of organic grain.
A review of organic production trends in Washington State by Kirby and Granatstein, indicated that in 2012 Washington had 9,867 acres of certified grains and pulses. The category included oilseeds, but no oilseeds were grown.
Another USDA article reviews market trends in the organic industry. Growth of total US organic sales is estimated to be close to the double digits for 2014. Total certified crop acreage is growing also.
Washington State University offers information on organic grain sales, via this email listserv and electronic bulletin board, as a community development service. WSU assumes no responsibility for either party in negotiating sales or contracts. It is the responsibility of the buyer and seller to determine the price, quality, amount, delivery, and certified organic status of any crop bought or sold.