By Chris Adams

In the United States, the percentage of row cropland set aside for organic production is growing steadily but is still tiny, amounting to less than 1 percent.

And it’s not as though there’s no demand. But the demand is increasingly being met by foreign growers. From 2012 to 2016, U.S. imports of organic soybeans, corn and wheat quintupled.

Eric Jackson, chief executive of Pipeline Foods, explained for National Press Foundation fellows how the organics market is structured, how the federal government regulates it and how farmers can break into it.

It’s not an easy process, he said, but it can be lucrative.

“Year in and year out, an organic farm will make more money than a conventional farm,” he said.

However, that requires the three-year transition from conventional to organic practices. Those years can be tough; once they’re past, prices for organic crops have been substantially higher than those of conventional, and most farmers find that they at least double their returns per acre, according to Pipeline.

Jackson explained how the certification process works, and who the certifiers are. He also explained how the U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates the industry.

Among the challenges the industry faces: It’s fragmented, and there is poor transparency throughout the supply chain. There are also uneven product standards – a lack of rigor by the current actors, meaning that rules are being bent and broken, Jackson said.

Pipeline’s role is to help farmers move their crops. It buys organic crops from farmers and sells them into various markets around the country. It focuses exclusively on organic, non-GMO and regenerative food and feed.