Cow milk was the most valuable organic product in Minnesota in 2016, racking up more than $43 million in sales.

That makes the state a major player nationally, according to a new survey of certified organic farms done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The state was also among the leaders in organic corn and soybeans.

But Wisconsin takes the neighborly competition, ranking second for all organic farms in the country behind California.

Minnesota reported 545 certified organic farms — 108 of them dairy — and more than 130,000 acres of organic farmland last year, making it ninth largest in the nation.

Minnesota produced 15 percent of the nation's organic oats, 14 percent of its corn and 11 percent of its soybeans. It also sold about $1.5 million in organic turkeys, ranking second in the nation behind Pennsylvania.

Wisconsin had 1,276 organic farms and about 220,000 acres of organic farmland. Also in the top 10 was Iowa, with 732 farms and 103,000 certified acres.

Federal officials have begun tracking organics more closely in recent years as their popularity and sales have grown at double-digit rates.

Not included in the survey are producers that may follow organic rules, but are not certified.

The survey data are important for several reasons, said Dan Lofthus, Minnesota state statistician for USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

"These are important measures that help industry organizations demonstrate the impact of the industry and encourage support and funding of organic production programs," he said. The growth rates are also useful for government, extension and university scientists to determine research needs.

The data also help companies to plan production and marketing of new organic products, Lofthus said, and federal agencies to provide better insurance coverage for certified organic crops.

Nationally, U.S. farms and ranches produced and sold $7.6 billion in certified organic commodities in 2016, up 23 percent from the previous year. The number of organic farms in the country increased by 11 percent to 14,217 and the number of certified acres increased 15 percent to 5 million.

Organic crops are produced without genetically engineered seeds, synthetic pesticides and certain fertilizers, and certified organic farmers in the U.S. must follow a long list of practices that are checked regularly through independent inspections and audits.

Organic livestock operations must meet animal health and welfare standards and animals must consume 100 percent organic feed.

Animals cannot be fed antibiotics or growth hormones, and must be provided access to the outdoors.

Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388