The good news? Americans are hungry for organic produce.
The not-so-good news? Consumer demand is outpacing American farmers' ability to grow it, according to a new study conducted by the Organic Trade Association.
Imports of organic crops rose to $1.3 billion last year. But American organic farmers only produced $550 million worth of crops in the same year.
That means consumers gobbled up tons of foreign-produced organic foods. The top five included coffee, soybeans, olive oil, bananas and wine, with organic coffee imports alone topping out at $300 million.
Case in point: The United States is the world's largest soybean grower, but still relies on imports to fill its demand for organic soybeans. According to the Non-GMO Project, 94 percent of American soybeans are genetically modified, which automatically means they can't be organic.
Researchers suggested this reliance on organic soybeans can be traced back to the growing demand for organic eggs, dairy, poultry and livestock, as corn and soybeans are the main ingredients in organic feed.
Just as organic produce can't be genetically modified or doused with synthetic pesticides, livestock raised for organic meat, dairy or eggs can't graze on GMO feed. Each crop must meet certain criteria to be certified organic, including being free of antibiotics and hormones.
Though this study shows American farmers may be missing on lucrative export business, the trade association's CEO Laura Batcha said it's a positive sign for the organic industry as a whole.
“This important study is a ‘Help Wanted’ message for American farmers,” Batcha said in a statement. “...It shows substantial missed opportunities for the U.S. farmer by not growing organic—whether to meet the demand outside the U.S. or to keep up with the robust domestic demand for organic.”
To do your part to support organic farming—and make the demand for sustainable agriculture even more clear—shop for food and products with the USDA-certified organic label.