Agriculture is Georgia’s top industry, and as organic product sales continue to grow, the state’s farmers stand to benefit in a big way.


That’s why Georgia Organics and the Georgia Department of Agriculture are launching a historic partnership to help more farmers take advantage of the rapidly growing organic market by providing funding and training for farmers who want to become USDA Certified Organic.


Organic food sales have risen by double-digit percentages since 2010, and demand for organic products is outpacing organic farmland and infrastructure. Nationwide sales of organic products jumped to $35.1 billion in 2013, up 11.5 percent from the previous year and the fastest growth rate in five years, according to the Organic Trade Association. According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, Georgia has over 42,000 farms, but only a fraction of a percent—approximately 70 farms—are Certified Organic.


“Georgia can become a major player in the organic sector, but we have to help farmers overcome barriers,” said Georgia Organics Executive Director Alice Rolls.  “This partnership with the Georgia Department of Agriculture is ultimately designed to put more Georgia Grown organic food on Georgia tables and help farmers thrive.”


The 100 Organic Farms Campaign removes the financial barrier to USDA Organic Certification by reimbursing the full cost of organic certification up to $1,000 for farmers pursuing it for the first time. The Georgia Department of Agriculture will fund 75 percent (up to $750) and Georgia Organics will provide the remaining 25 percent (up to $250).


“The immense demand for organic produce, food, and fiber is an economic opportunity for farmers across the state,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black. The southeast, with its wealth of farmland, is poised to fill an increasing need for organic materials as droughts in the west, traditionally home to so much organic production, strain growers there.


Whole Foods Market has nine stores in Georgia, and they’ve increased their purchases from Georgia’s organic growers and food suppliers from $35,000 in 2007 to $560,000 in 2014 through October. As Whole Foods Market continues to grow both in Georgia and across the South, they are increasingly seeking organic agricultural products from the South. Customer demand for high-quality organic, especially for perishable items, currently greatly outstrips available supply from Georgia.


As the campaign’s title suggests, the goal is for Georgia to have 100 USDA Certified Organic farms by 2016. The campaign was launched on Dec. 11 at Camp Southern Ground, a children’s camp founded by Grammy Award-winning musician Zac Brown, and its farm will be one of the first to enroll in the campaign.


In addition to financial reimbursement, farmers who participate in the 100 Organic Farms campaign will also receive marketing assistance and access to workshops and online resources covering topics like business training, working with distributors and institutional buyers, and guidance on the certification process.