The U.S. Department of Agriculture wants to increase organic farms and facilities by 20% in three years.

Government officials say this is not because they favor organic practices, as one might charge a left-leaning Obama administration.

Organic demand is rising faster than conventional, they say, and they want to help U.S. producers profit from this rather than imports.

This is a good goal and reasoning.

A spokesman for the National Organic Program said it plans to help increase consumer confidence through strict organic standards associated with its seal; train and certify more organic certifiers, producers and processors; and provide more market information.

It’s this last one that really needs work.

For instance, when we sought data for our reporting, the USDA came up woefully short.

A number of NOP publications use statistics from the Organic Trade Association, which routinely gives numbers inflating organic food’s importance.

The last organic production survey is from 2008, and the sector has changed drastically in four years.

While fruits and vegetables are the largest group in organic trade, no USDA studies break them out.

Fortunately things may change.

The latest version of the farm bill being debated in Congress authorizes $15 million a year for fiscal 2013-17 for the NOP, and next year it seeks $5 million to modernize database and technology systems.

This isn’t to pick on a respectable USDA effort, but it’s hard to know where you need to go if you don’t know where you are now.

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