A report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture says Iowa had nearly $61-million in sales from organic farms in 2011. Iowa Ag Secretary Bill Northey says organic farms add to the diversification of the farm economy.

“We have about 467 organic farms in Iowa, that 60-million dollars of sales not only helps those farms, but also helps anybody that is maybe buying those products. Maybe they are buying corn and also raising some cattle and processing the meet from organic production,” Northey says.

The state certifies one-third to one-half of the organic farms, with the rest being certified privately. “People generally have to pay a premium to buy organic products, and so to do that they want to know that animals are taken care of in a certain way, that they are fed organic crops, or if they are buying organic grain, the they are produced without fertilizer or without herbicides,” Northey says.

“So they want to make sure that the folks are getting a premium for their products really are raising them the way the buyers want to have them raised.” Northey says organic farms increased steadily the last 10 years, but have leveled off recently due in part to the economy, as people had less income to spend on the products.

“But the other piece is that the producers used to be producing organics in a very low-price commodity market. so, we maybe had two-dollar corn and then and extra two or three dollars for organics on top of that,” Northey explains. “So now we have seven-dollar corn and maybe an extra four or five or more dollars on top of that. So it’s still worth a premium, but the commodity market values are enough better that some of those folks who were looking for a premium have decided to stay in the commodity markets.”

Organics are a small part of the 25 to $30-billion of agriculture production in Iowa, but he says it has a place. “There’s lot of reasons why folks buy organics. Some people believe that there is a difference, and some studies have said that there isn’t,” Northey says.

“Some believe that they like the way things are produced. And some just believe that they are more boutique products and they are premium products, and therefore because they are priced higher that they must be better. I think we operate in a great economic system that offers choices by consumers and that means they can pay extra for organics if they believe that it is worth the extra value.”

Sales of organic crops in Iowa accounted for $29.6-million, livestock and poultry sales accounted for $6.3-million, and livestock and poultry products accounted for $24.8-million. Sales of organic vegetables were just over one million dollars, organic fruit sales were $23,849, and sales of organic berries were $30,777.

Here are   full results of the 2011 Certified Organic Production Survey .