CHICAGO — Organic foods continue to be a trend driving the food industry. At the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual expo, Alex Heilman, director of sales, Mercaris, showed during his presentation “Using Data to Improve the Organic & Non-GMO Marketplace” how the organic agricultural market can point to future opportunities of growth.
Organic is certainly growing in share of the acreage in U.S. agriculture. Mr. Heilman showed that there has been a 15% increase in organic acreage. While most of the acreage of organic corn in the United States is in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and New York, this growth was mostly found in the Pacific Northwest.
Despite this increase in acreage, U.S. growers aren’t meeting the demand for organic crops. Mr. Heilman reported that about 75% of organic soybeans in the United States are imported and about 30% of organic corn is also imported.
“This shows that there is a lot of opportunity for domestic growers to meet this demand for organic soy and corn,” he said.
Much of this disparity can be attributed to barriers that farmers must overcome to get into organic, barriers that Mr. Heilman sees companies starting to help farmers overcome.
“We’re seeing more incentive programs to help farmers transition to organic crops,” he said.
Other ways the food industry is supporting organic farmers include vertical integration of agriculture and providing farmers with markets to sell organic rotational crops.
Another opportunity outside of organic is identity-preserved crops.
“Identity-preserved crops is all about creating a set of parameters around the crop that aren’t necessarily organic but still create added value for the crop,” Mr. Heilman explained.
This can include country-of-origin specification for coffee, grass-fed meat and dairy ingredients and healthy attributes such as high-oleic soybeans. The $20 billion industry continues to grow, Mr. Heilman said, making it an obvious place for food manufacturers looking to expand and differentiate their products.