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Douglas Fruit Company, one of the largest stone fruit growers and packers in Washington State, is aiming to convert most of its production of peaches, nectarines, apricots, and Pluots to organic by 2009.

The company packs fruit from several outside growers, as well as from its own orchards, and all but one are transitioning to organic, said Manager Jill Douglas.

Douglas said the switch was prompted by the growing demand from retailers for natural and organic products. It also is an attempt to differentiate Washington stone fruits from the huge volumes produced in California. "We thought it would give us a competitive edge, as well, and a little bit more of a niche in the market," she said. "We talked about it for a couple of years, and decided, let’s do it."

The company expects organic production methods to be a little more costly to the producer, but hopes that premiums will at least offset the additional costs.

In the meantime, fruit from orchards in transition to organic will be sold as transitional, rather than conventional, under the Artisan Naturals label. Stemilt Growers, based in Wenatchee, markets the fruit.

Douglas said most growers have been enthusiastic about the change and are on board. She thinks the industry as a whole will continue shifting towards organic production as buyers and consumers become more conscious about sustainability and the safety of the food supply.

"I think what the retailer and customers are wanting is a safe, natural product," she said. "It just keeps going; it’s not slowing down."