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The United States is the largest producer and exporter of corn in the world. In spite of that, the U.S. imported nearly half its organic corn supply in 2016. The domestic shortfall for organic soybeans was even greater, with approximately 80% of the U.S. organic soybean supply being imported in that same year.

Concerns have been raised about the integrity of organic certification of products from other countries.  This is an important issue – consumer confidence in organic certification is critical for this rapidly growing market.  Questions also exist about why the U.S., a country that committed 180 million acres (or more than 55% of total harvested acres) to corn and soybeans in 2016, needed to import more corn and soybeans.

Organic grain production offers an effective way to address many of the environmental problems caused by conventional farming practices in the U.S.  Yet, in spite of rising consumer demand for organic food, failing economics for conventional grain production, and mounting environmental problems linked to farming throughout rural America, organic grain farming remains only a small, slowly growing, fraction of overall production.

This report analyzes prospects and challenges for significantly expanding organic grain production in the Upper Midwest. [1]  An argument is made that, from a societal point of view, the question of organic expansion is not necessarily one of “which crop is more profitable?”  Instead, it is one of “what do we want from vast expanses of rural landscapes?”

[1] The term, “Upper Midwest” refers to the 12-state USDA-defined North Central Region — Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.  The term “organic grain” as used here refers to corn, soybeans, and “small grains” such as wheat, barley, and oats produced in accordance with USDA National Organic Program standards and certified through this or a recognized comparable program from another country.

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