Statistical review of California's organic agriculture

The size and growth of organic farming has stimulated considerable discussion and speculation. Farmers, agribusinesses, policy-makers, public interest groups, educators, researchers and investors-all need reliable information on organic agriculture to make informed decisions about business strategies, teaching and research agendas, and institutional policies. Statistical analyses of organic farming contribute crucial information for these decisions.

Statistical analyses of California's organic agriculture are possible because of the California Organic Foods Act (COFA), which was signed into law in 1990. COFA's primary goal was to provide protection to producers, processors, handlers and consumers in that foods produced and marketed as organic would indeed be as claimed. Standards and procedures were therefore put into place to regulate the production, processing, handling and labeling of organic products.

As part of these regulations, COFA requires annual registration of all processors, growers and handlers of commodities labeled as organic. Processors register with the Organic Program of the Food and Drug Branch of the state Department of Health Services (DHS). Growers and handlers register annually with the Organic Program administered by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). Data from the CDFA registration forms during the first three years of the program (1992-93. 1993-94, and 1994-95) are presented here. This is information as reported to CDFA by growers and handlers, and should be viewed as best estimates taking into account possible limitations of the data (see Chapter 3).

Data are reported separately for "registered" organic farms (and handlers) and for "certified" organic farms. Numbers in the registered category include certified farms, but state registration is separate from, and is not a substitute for. organic certification. Registration is regulated by state law and is mandatory. Certification is through private organizations and is currently voluntary. Virtually all large-scale organic farm operations in California are certified as well as registered; many small ones are not.

Certification requirements will change when standards to regulate organic agriculture on a national scale are developed under the federal Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA). Federal regulations have been "in process" since 1990 and have not yet been finalized (See executive summary section "Proposed Federal Regulations").

For both registered and certified categories in this report. California is divided into seven geographical regions based on those used by CDFA. Also, the principal commodity groups used by CDFA in reporting annual statistics are used here-with the exception of an added combined fruit, nut and vegetable crop group. This group was necessary because some growers reported their production in a manner that made it impossible to separate their acreage and sales totals into the principal commodity groups.