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Many tree fruit growers in Washington State are planning to either enter into or expand organic production in response to a continued strong market.

Nationally, organic food sales increased 11 percent in 2014 over the previous year, reaching nearly 5 percent of all food sales in the country.

Sales growth for organic fruits and vegetables have remained steady—despite a one-year dip in growth in 2009 during the recession—confirming these products as core purchases for the organic consumer.

Given that continued growth in demand, the Washington State Tree Fruit Association will host a special session on organics at the 2015 annual meeting December 7-9 in Yakima, Washington.

An excellent lineup of speakers has been recruited to help people better understand the opportunities with organic tree fruit.

“Organic Tree Fruit—Gone Global” will touch on local and global issues, with an emphasis on the market.

Topics will include:

—organic trends.
—perspectives from retail (Costco representative), a fresh fruit packer, and processors.
—policy issues.
—updates on fire blight and little cherry virus.
—cost of production studies.

There also will be a grower panel on transitioning to organic, with a wide range of experiences represented. That’s key, because the demand for information about organics is keeping pace with the industry growth.

Organic apple shipments from Washington State hit a new record at 9.5 million boxes in 2014. Increased demand absorbed the more than 20 percent increase in production. Gala and Fuji again dominated acres and shipped volume, with Honeycrisp now the third largest organic acreage with shipped volume growing annually. Price premiums remained strong all season, with prices for organic double that of conventional for Gala, Fuji, and Red and Golden Delicious.

Washington organic pear shipped volume rose 18 percent in 2014 to a record 1 million boxes, and average prices also increased over the previous year. Bartlett and d’Anjou continue to account for two-thirds of the acreage.

Organic cherry acreage increased slightly in 2013 and 2014, but is still below the 2009 peak of 2,437 acres. Average prices were slightly lower than the previous year, but were $20 a box higher than conventional.

The recently-released U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service 2014 organic producers survey confirms that Washington State remains the leading producer of organic apples, pears, and cherries.

Results for certified area, production, and sales land are presented in (see Table 1) to compare Washington to national numbers.

Washington certified organic tree fruit production compared with total U.S. production, 2014. Harvested acres only. Source: USDA-NASS 2014 Organic Producer Survey. <b>(Jared Johnson/Good Fruit Grower illustration)</b>

Washington certified organic tree fruit production compared with total U.S. production, 2014. Harvested acres only. Source: USDA-NASS 2014 Organic Producer Survey. (Jared Johnson/Good Fruit Grower illustration)

(The NASS Washington numbers differ from the acreage data we gather directly from certifiers for our annual organic tree fruit update, as NASS only reports harvested acres and not all producers respond to the NASS surveys.)

Certified organic apple production in the U.S. and Washington State, 2014. Source: USDA-NASS 2014 Organic Producer Survey. <b>(Jared Johnson/Good Fruit Grower illustration)</b>

Certified organic apple production in the U.S. and Washington State, 2014. Source: USDA-NASS 2014 Organic Producer Survey. (Jared Johnson/Good Fruit Grower illustration)

For a complete breakdown of the NASS report, visit www.agcensus.usda.gov.

In all cases, the state has a greater share of production and sales than that of farms or acres. For apples, 90 percent of the certified apples reported nationally were sold fresh, and Washington State accounted for 93 percent of these (see Table 2).

The latest data on organic tree fruit area and production for Washington State can be found online at csanr.wsu.edu •

– by David Granatstein and Elizabeth Kirby, Washington State University Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Wenatchee, Washington.