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The Organic Yield Gap

An independent analysis
comparing the 2014 USDA Organic
Survey data with USDA-NASS
statistics for total crop production
Steven D. Savage
Savage & Associates Consulting
Applied Mythology Blog
www.drstevesavage.com

High Level Summary
The productivity of organic agriculture tends to be lower than that of
conventional. That is part of why there is a need for a price premium to
the grower. Some have argued that this yield gap can be closed, but the
data from the latest, detailed, 2014 USDA organic survey suggests that
real-world organic yields are substantially lower. This analysis is based on
371 crop/geography comparisons representing 80% of all US cropland. In
84% of the crop/geography comparisons, organic yields were lower –
mostly in the 20-50% range. The rare instances where organic yields were
higher than conventional (9% of total) were overwhelmingly for hay and
silage crops – not food crops. In order for the US crop production from 2014
to have been produced as organic would have required at least 109 million
more farmed acres – an area equivalent to the total parkland and wild
lands in the lower 48 states. Organic remains a very small fraction of the
US cropland base (~0.44%) and so it puts a limited strain on land-use.
That said, the concept of “only organic” is untenable from an
environmental perspective.

Background and
Methodology

Periodically, the USDA conducts a detailed survey of the US organic industry including data on the acreage, yield,
and price of organic crop production. Such surveys have been conducted in 2014, 2008. Organic data is
available at the state level for a large number of crops in a summary on the USDA website. Similar data is
collected each year by surveying a subset of all growers, and these numbers are available through the
Quickstats2.0 website, also from USDA-NASS. The USDA does not publish a comparison of these two categories,
so in 2009 and again this year I have undertaken to make such a comparison.

Not all crop/state combinations are available for the analysis. Sometimes the minor crops in a state are not even
tracked in the overall USDA data. For both the general and organic survey, if the number of farms reporting is too
small, the numbers are not disclosed so that information about specific entities are shielded. Some crops are only
tracked at the nationwide level (usually when one or a few states dominate the production). Even with these
limitations, it was possible to find 371 good comparisons (356 at the state level and 15 for small crops at the
national level e.g. cotton, tangerines…). These represented total cropland acres, 80% of the US total.

Many academic studies have been done comparing organic and conventional production methods, and several
meta-analyses have been published collecting these studies. While this is a valuable approach, it will not always
reflect the full range of innovation or limitation that are a part of real world commercial agriculture. This USDA
data is a window on the practical range of farming operation and the best available measure of how the different
production systems perform in a practical sense. There are potential artifacts in this data set. If there is a
difference in the proportion of irrigated land used for organic vs conventional it will skew the data as will other
intensity differences or geographic differences within a state. Some of the comparisons are unbalanced as in the
case of spinach and lettuce which are more heavily represented by “baby” types for organic in California. Even
so, the overall distribution of yield spread is sufficiently weighted to the conventional advantage to indicate the
reality of the differential.

My email is savage.sd@gmail.com

Comparison based on 370 state/crop
comparisons with at least 25 acres of
organic
>Organic
Yield

>Conv.
Yield

5% with fruits and vegetables 370 state/crop comparisons representing 268 million acres of US cropland in 2014 . 89% of the higher yielding examples were with hay or silage crops.In 55 of 370 comparisons. yields were higher in organic. 10% with row crops and <1.

US Level Data .

Row Crops .

Row Crops .

Tree. Nut and Vine Crops .

Tree. Nut and Vine Crops .

Vegetable Crops .

Vegetable Crops .

State Level Data For Row Crops .

1.9% of total.Barley (Organic data from 532 farms. 45.070 more acres for organic only production) There could be differences in the proportion of irrigated barley in some states .286.710 acres. 1. 33% yield gap.

19 million more acres would have been needed to produce all organic) .Barley (1.

35% yield gap. 168K acres.2% of total. 0. 45.Corn For Grain (organic data from 2735 farms.1 million more acres needed for organic only production ) .

Corn For Grain (45 million more acres would have been needed to produce all organic) .

36K acres.Corn Silage (organic data from 960 farms. 1. 0.6% of total. 20% yield gap.6 million more acres needed for organic only production) .

Corn Silage (1.61 million more acres would have been needed to produce all organic) .

0.472 acres. 13.9% of total.915 more acres needed for organic only production) . 415. 23% yield gap.Dry Edible Beans (organic data from 120 farms.

Dry Edible Beans .

Dry Edible Peas (organic data from 46 farms. 4857 acres.5% of total) . 0.

Dry Edible Peas (487K more acres would have been needed to produce all organic) .

Alfalfa/Hay Mixtures (States with highest organic yield. yield gap 2. 375K acres for all organic) . 1.4%.4% of total. total of 28 states with available data 1607 farms. 220K acres.

Alfalfa/Hay Mixtures (States with lowest organic yield. yield gap 2. total of 28 states with available data 1607 farms. 220K acres. 1.4% of total.4%. 375K acres for all organic) .

5% of total. 6. 179K acres. -21% yield gap. 0.6million less acres needed for only organic production) .Other Hay (States with >800K acres. total 1983 farms.

5% of total.6million less acres needed for only organic production) . 6. 0. -21% yield gap.Other Hay (States with <800K acres. 179K acres. total 1983 farms.

7. 282K more acres needed for organic only production) .Other Haylage and Greenchop (organic data from 962 farms. 101K acres.7% of total. 19% yield gap.

4.Oats (organic data from 969 farms. 18% yield gap. 42K acres. 187K more acres needed for organic only production) .7% of total.

2.8% of total.Proso Millet (organic data from 29 farms. 117K more acres needed for organic only production ) . 10K acres. 25% yield gap.

Proso Millet (117K more acres would have been needed to produce all organic) .

Rice (organic data from 85 farms. 0. 25K acres.83 million more acres needed for organic only production ) . 39% yield gap. 1.9% of total.

Rice (1.83 million more acres would have been needed to produce all organic) .

5616 acres.Sorghum (organic data from 47 farms. 1. 0.71 million more acres needed for organic only production) . 21% yield gap.1% of total.

71 million more acres would have been needed to produce all organic) .Sorghum (1.

5 % of total. 17% yield gap.153 acres. 4.Sorghum Silage (organic data from 181 farms. 60.14.489 more acres needed for organic only production) .

Sorghum Silage Yield Gap
(60,489 more acres to produce all organic)

Soybeans
(organic data from 1432 farms, 99K acres, 0.1% of total, 31% yield gap, 37.7
million more acres needed for organic only production)

Soybeans
(37.7 million more acres would have been needed to produce all organic)

Sunflower Seed
(organic data from 61 farms, 6682 acres, 0.4% of total, 26% yield gap,
528K more acres needed for organic only production)

Sunflower Seed (528K more acres would have been needed to produce all organic) .

10.8K acres. 20% yield gap.Durum Wheat (organic data from 43 farms. 0.8% of total. 528K more acres needed for organic only production) .

Durum Wheat (324K more acres would have been needed to produce all organic) .

Spring Wheat (organic data from 295 farms.44 million more acres needed for organic only production) .6% of total. 0. 34% yield gap. 80K acres. 6.

4 million more acres would have been needed to produce all organic) .Spring Wheat (6.

Winter Wheat (States over 500K acres. total organic data from 826 farms. 13.5% of total. 0. 173K acres. 29% yield gap.2 million more acres needed for organic only production ) .

29% yield gap.Winter Wheat (States under 500K acres.5% of total. 13. total organic data from 826 farms. 0. 173K acres.2 million more acres needed for organic only production ) .

Winter Wheat (states over 500K acres) (13.2 million more acres would have been needed to produce all organic) .

2 more acres would have been needed to produce all organic) .Winter Wheat (states under 500K acres) (13.

8 million more acres would have been needed to produce all organic) .Other Row Crops (8.

6 37% 757.879 Safflower US 10 2.6 35% 139.659.950 269 8.394 0.204 5.2 45% 7.Other Row Crops Crop Farm s Acres % Total acres Cotton US 38 15.0 43% 219.084 Rye US Yield Gap More Acres for all Organic .587 Flaxseed US 62 15.465 0.756 0.500 3.5 6% 12.051 Peanuts US 21 8.3 -6% -14.140 Lentils US 15 1.547 1.

State Level Data For Tree Nut and Vine Crops .

6. 15K acres.971 more acres for organic only production ) . 67.8% of total.Apples (organic data from 669 farms. 25% yield gap.

Apples (60K more acres would have been needed to produce all organic) .

075 more acres needed for organic only production) . 6. 3. 8.Avocados (organic data from 371 farms.2% of total. 12% yield gap.652 acres.

Avocado (8.075 more acres would have been needed to produce all organic) .

6% yield gap.634 more acres to produce all organic) .293 acres.4% of total. 5. 3.Fresh Blueberries (organic data from 316 farms. 3.

4 2. Fresh State Farms Acres % Total Arkansas 8 6 2.634 Above States More Acres 320 1.255 13.0 789 Georgia 26 263 1.6 California 63 941 19.528 648 3.688 New Jersey 10 131 1.Blueberries.3 4.6 Florida 39 299 7.4 3.293 5.4 3.790 Washington 56 1.999 Oregon 58 218 2.6 North Carolina 28 92 1.655 -43 .6 11.428 New York 28 88 12.8 -1.

Processed Blueberries (organic data from 51 farms.2% of total. 990 acres. 107% higher yield in organic segment ) . 1.

5.Cranberries (organic data from 30 farms. 0.883 more acres needed for all organic production) . 283 acres.7% of total. 67% yield gap.

32.0% of total. 1.062 more acres needed for all organic production) . 2.Grapefruit (organic data from 135 farms.411 acres. 32% yield gap.

Grapes (organic data from 681 farms. and thus the US number is skewed because the organic grapes tend to be grown in the premium wine producing areas which have much lower yields than those in the central valley for wine. 2.009 acres.625 more acres needed for all organic production) The California. 49% yield gap.6% of total. table and raisin grapes . 27. 982.

0. 2.675 acres.641 more acres needed for organic only production) . 21.Pears (organic data from 242 farms.5% of total. 32% yield gap.

Fresh (255 farms. 2.794 acres. 2.37.740 more acres needed for all organic production) .7% of total. 25% yield gap.Peaches.

393 acres.183 more acres needed for organic only production) . 15% yield gap. 5. 1.7% of total.Raspberries (organic data from 81 farms.

61% yield gap. 2.121 more acres needed for organic only production) .Strawberries (organic data from 618 farms. 5.5% of total.980 acres. 78.

2 58% 85.6 64% 1.7 43% 643.9 25% 2.127 Coffee US 43 224 2.432 Lemons CA 195 2.883 S.6 23% 13.188 Plums CA 128 2. Cherries US 160 1.518 Dates US 26 708 8.0036 15 187 0.338 S.900 Blackberries US 19 60 1.2 -6% -2.9 19% 7. Cherries CA 38 300 0.9 37% 9.488 T.6 38% 18. Cherries US 35 465 1.3% S.162 0.Other Tree and Vine Crops Crop Farm s Acres % Total Yield Gap Almonds US 99 6.0 42% 4.186 Walnuts US 205 5.1 -6.6 6% Tangerines US 134 747 1.118 4.343 Plums OR 31 86 6. Cherries WA 80 1.20 0 .409 4.320 12.7514 Figs US Hazelnuts US More Acres -114.781 2.5 48% 20.6 10% 861 119 1.235 17.888 2.0 15% 5.

State Level Data For Vegetable Crops .

-20K acres needed for organic only production) . 2. 1.3% of total.Snap Beans (organic data from 843 farms.525 acres. 44% yield advantage.

37. 38% yield gap. 2.Cabbage (green) (organic data from 671 farms. 1298 acres.1% of total.596 more acres needed if all organic) .

30% yield gap.Cauliflower (organic data from 316 farms.429 more acres needed if all organic) .6% of total.745 acres. 4. 15. 1.

9.9% of total.080 more acres need for all organic) All but California less than 12 acres organic total per state .174 acres.Cantaloupes and Muskmellons (organic data from 375 farms. 1. 1.

809 more acres needed for all organic) . 8972 acres. 12. 49% yield gap. 61.Carrots (organic data from 1062 farms.1% of total.

Garlic (organic data from 972 farms. 66% yield gap.1% of total. 726 acres. 44.891 more acres if all organic) . 3.

Onions.633 more acres for all organic) Only Wisconsin and California have more than 10 acres of organic onions . 21% yield gap. Dry (organic data from 417 farms.0% of total acres. 35. 1352 acres. 1.

2. 30.Bell Peppers (organic data from 881 farms.6% of total. 40% yield gap.698 acres to produce all organic) Georgia and Michigan had <10 acres of organic peppers .196 acres. 1.

MN all 10 or less organic acres . 1. FL. 12K acres. MD.Potatoes (organic data from 953 farms. 450. IL.1% of total. KS. yield gap 30%.109 more acres needed for only organic) MT. MI.

Potatoes (450K more acres would have been needed to produce all organic) .

17.7% of total.Squash (organic data from 1.542 more acres for only organic production) . 3.347 farms. 6. 10% US yield gap.826 acres.

1% of total. ) Only OR. 11. WA.380 acres if all organic. VT. -10. NY.Sweet Corn (organic data from 256 farms. WI >20 acres organic so only these states included in summary statistics above .13. PA. -16% yield gap. CA. NC.382 acres. Sorted by organic yield.

4.005 acres. -28.4% of total. 6. -29% yield gap.Sweet Potatoes (organic data from 302 farms.917 acres for organic only production) .

0% of total. 3.566 acres.672 more acres needed for organic only production) Summary statistics based on states with a least 25 acres of organic fresh tomatoes . yield gap 61%.Fresh Tomatoes (organic data from 821 farms. 2. 129.

Watermelons (organic data from 341 farms. MA. 76% yield gap. VA. AK. 0. 33. GA < 20 acres of organic watermelons .855 more acres needed for organic only production) IN.8% of total. 871 acres.

Other Vegetable Crop Yield Gaps (931 more acres would have been needed to produce all organic) .

3 72%* 590.196 59.880 Snap Beans.356 2.6 8% 10.678 31 421 1.1 -12% -19.571 6.7 32% 12.605 Green Peas US 385 9.Other Vegetables Crop Farms Acres % of Total Acres 28 102 Broccoli US 716 Broccoli CA Celery US Artichokes CA Hops US Yield Differential (%) More Acres If All Organic 1.505 Spinach US 411 18.9 71%* 47.086 Processing Tomatoes US 88 4.1 39% 24.164 *Probably related to proportion of “baby” lettuce products .624 5.122 12.705 190 2.5 35% 159.545 1.7 23% 46. Processing US 65 4.235 7.7 17% 25.000 47.4 -7% -492 8.579 Leaf Lettuce US Lettuce All US 1063 32.4 79%* 80.317 150 7.246 5.