WASHINGTON — Anything a farmer grows can be certified as organic, if it meets the criteria. And in Virginia, tobacco is the largest organically-certified commodity in the state.
In 2016, Virginia’s USDA-certified organic farms produced $18.5 million in certified-organic tobacco, according to the The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. That accounts for 33 percent of the state’s organically produced commodities.
Organically-certified poultry and milk came in second and third, at $17.5 million and $6.3 million in sales.
Vegetables and other crops round out the top five, with sales of organically certified crops, averaging $343,000 per farm.
“The number of certified-organic farms increased 19 percent, with 26 more farms than in 2015,” said Herman Ellison, Virginia state statistician.
“Virginia now ranks 22nd in the U.S. in total value of sales of certified-organically produce commodities, moving up from 24th in 2015.
Certified-organic is defined as commodities produced with environmentally-friendly practices, including cycling of natural resources and growing crops without harsh pesticides of chemical fertilizers or animals raised without antibiotics or hormones.
There were 165 certified-organic farms in Virginia in 2016, covering almost 25,000 acres of land. About 79 percent of that, or 19,500 acres, is cropland, and 5,300 acres is pasture or range land.
California leads the nation in the number of organic farms, followed by Wisconsin, New York, Washington State, Pennsylvania and Iowa.
In 2014, the USDA estimated the nation’s organically-certified farms produced $5.5. billion in organically certified commodities.