Quantifying the international organic marketplace

Exports of U.S. organic foods as well as imports of organic products into the United States have risen significantly in the past few years. But, by how much? And, for which products?

OTA’s international department sought to answer those questions with a landmark study on the trade flow of organic food products across the borders of the United States. This watershed report compiles, for the first time ever, a comprehensive picture of the officially tracked organic food products sold by U.S. exporters and bought by U.S. importers. The work reveals that a robust global appetite for organic food has created new lucrative markets from Mexico City all the way to Hong Kong for U.S. organic producers—but also provides strong evidence that American farmers are losing out on some valuable opportunities by not growing more organic.

The study was conducted by Pennsylvania State University’s Dr. Edward Jaenicke, Associate Professor of Agricultural Economics. Powered by the latest data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Office of the U.S Trade Representative, the OTA-commissioned study analyzes international trade for organic products that have been assigned a harmonized tariff schedule code. Twenty-six codes in all were used for the report. Currently there are 38 export and 38 import codes with another submission for additional codes—mainly processed products—under review.

The data result in a ‘Help Wanted’ message for American farmers. They show substantial missed opportunities for the U.S. farmer by not growing organic—whether to meet the demand outside the country or keep up with robust domestic demand for organic.

Global appetite for U.S. organic

In 2014, American organic growers sold more than $550 million worth of products tracked by the U.S. government through organic export codes to buyers around the world, with the United States rightly claiming the position of global supplier for fresh organic produce.

Apples, lettuce, grapes, spinach and strawberries are the top five organic products exported by the United States. Exports of organic apples alone jumped 40 percent in 2014 from the previous year, compared to a small three percent growth rate for non-organic apple exports. In fact, the pace of growth for the exports of almost all of the 26 organic products tracked was markedly higher than that of their non-organic counterparts.

Exports of organic produce account for an increasingly greater proportion of total exports. Of all the cherry tomatoes exported by the U.S., for example, 42 percent are organic; 33 percent of the spinach exports are organic, along with 27 percent of the onions, and 23 percent of the carrots.

The thirst for organic products—and specifically for U.S. organic products—is resonating around the world.

Organic imports filling gaps

Imports of organic products outpaced exports, amounting to nearly $1.3 billion in 2014. The import picture tells two stories: one of an increasing appetite by Americans for organic foods not widely produced in this country (like coffee, bananas, mangoes, and olive oil), and the second of growing domestic market for organic feed grains but insufficient home-grown organic crops to meet that demand.

On the import side, the top five organic imported products are coffee, soybeans, olive oil, bananas and wine. While America’s coffee lovers gulped down more than $330 million worth of foreign-grown organic coffee, helping to boost the import total, imports of organic soybeans and organic corn—the main ingredients in organic feed for the expanding U.S. organic dairy, poultry and livestock sectors—showed sharp gains.

The second-largest organic product imported by the U.S. is soybeans. The U.S. is the world’s largest soybean grower, and normally exports more than one-third of its soybean crop. Domestic production of organic soybeans, however, has stagnated at very low levels since early 2000, despite the growing demand for the product by organic feed users and organic processors. Organic corn is the tenth most imported organic food product, even though the U.S. leads the world in corn output. Like soybeans, U.S. organic corn production has fallen far short of demand, with domestic output only marginally rising in the past decade.

Organic soybeans and organic corn command high price premiums in the U.S. Organic feed-grade soybeans now sell for around $25 per bushel versus the average price for conventional soybeans of around $9 per bushel. Organic yellow feed corn sells for around $14 per bushel versus the conventional price of around $4 per bushel.

Going organic is not easy, but this report identifies that there are opportunities for U.S. farmers in both the domestic and global organic markets. This study provides critical new data not only for farmers, but for the industry, lawmakers and other policymakers to design programs and supply chain partnerships to encourage more organic production and help farmers make the transition to organic. For more information or for a copy of the report, go to www.OTA.com.

Success by the Numbers

OTA-sponsored trade show activities lead to record-breaking sales projections for the first half of 2015!

Through Market Access Program funding, OTA is able to offer myriad trade show opportunities to organic exporters. So far in 2015, OTA has participated in three trade shows with 35 USDA certified organic businesses. The results are in, and as you can see, our grant money is being put to good use!


14 participants // $4 million USD projected sales // $200,000 on-site sales

Natural Products Expo West

16 participants  // $4.8 million USD projected sales

Seoul Hotel & Food

5 participants  // $2.1 million USD projected sales