STOCKTON — One indication of the growing popularity of organic food can be seen at the Port of Stockton, which took in 31,569 metric tons of organic corn from Turkey in 2015.
Much of that corn was headed to poultry farms in California and elsewhere to feed an increasing number of organic chickens and turkeys in production. In order for livestock to be certified organic, it needs to be fed organic food, but there’s a limited supply in the United States.
“Because a very large percentage of domestic corn and soy are bio-generated, increasing domestic demand for these products are supplied by countries such as Turkey, Romania, the Netherlands, Argentina and India, where crops are largely free from bio-engineering,” explained the Port of Stockton’s marketing director, Pete Grossgart.
Driven largely by demand from Millennials for organic food, sales of organic products nationwide increased to $35.1 billion in 2013, an increase of 11.5 percent from 2012, according to the Organic Trade Association
Organic poultry production is a growing area in agriculture. Over the past couple years, big producers including Perdue Farms, Tyson Foods and Merced County-based Foster Farms have committed to reducing antibiotic use and to increasing their offerings of organic chicken and turkey products.
Foster Farms has been producing organic poultry since 2002 and expanded its line of organic products last year.
“In order to be certified organic, our chickens are raised on organic, vegetarian feed and on organic, pesticide-free land with access to the outdoors,” said the company’s director of communications, Ira Brill. “Foster Farms organic products are certified by the USDA and a recognized, third-party certifying agency, Quality Assurance International.”
Flocks are raised on feed composed primarily of corn and soy meal with vitamins and minerals added.
“Because we own and operate our feed mills, our feed is always customized to address the specific needs of our birds at various stages of their growth to ensure optimum health and quality,” he said.
Foster Farms expects the organic segment of its business this year to increase by 28 percent over 2015, Brill said.
Imports of organic corn to the United States more than tripled in 2015 to 303,645 metric tons, mostly from Romania and Turkey, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
That demand for organic feed has opened a new revenue stream for the Port of Stockton where bulk food shipments arrive. The port has been actively courting that business by developing relationships with three companies that import corn and soybeans from Turkey and the Netherlands. So far that has represented 83,000 metric tons of cargo.
“(We are) actively seeking to diversify our cargo mix to better insulate us from economic downturns in the future,” Grossgart said.
By BOB BALGEMANN
Business Journal writer