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How times have changed….

Ten years ago, many, if not the vast majority of the tree fruit growers I know, thought of organic tree fruit as inherently inferior to conventionally raised fruit. The market was small, the horticultural obstacles significant, and any rewards for attempting organic tree fruit production were more personal than profitable. Yet there were some individuals, companies, and research centers who elected to put their time and resources into finding better ways to produce organic tree fruit that would at least equal conventional fruit in appearance and taste. The results of their efforts are nothing short of astounding.

Demand

In this issue, David Granatstein, of Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, presents some striking statistics that show how significantly public attitudes—and grower attitudes as well—have changed. A once-tiny portion of the American consumer base that attracted little attention from marketers has increased in size to become nearly a quarter of the American buying public. Organic foods are in demand not just at health-food stores, but at neighborhood groceries, at supermarket chains like Safeway, and, perhaps most notably, at mega-giant Wal-Mart. "Hippie fruit" has hit mainstream.

But the higher prices growers have enjoyed for the more-expensive-to-produce organic tree fruits may not be long-lived, despite their increased popularity. Added production expected in the next couple of years may double the volume of organically grown cherries, and organic apple supplies are expected to rise by 50 percent (and that projection may be conservative). Unless the public’s demand for organics has a parallel increase, this kind of production increase will again surpass demand as happened in the 1990s. The growers’ need for information on organic tree fruit production and marketing trends has never been greater.

Quality

Matt Miles, an organic marketing specialist for L&M Companies in Yakima, Washington, has a particularly important message to give growers who may be contemplating the transition to organic. In "Organic on the rise," Miles emphasizes that adequate production prices will only be maintained if the quality and variety choices made by growers are kept to a high level. Harold Ostenson ("Market is ready for more organics"), the organic program manager at Stemilt Growers, Inc., Wenatchee, Washington, agrees. If you haven’t time to read this issue cover to cover, make sure you find time to read these pieces.

Organically grown foods may have once been the choice of only a tiny percentage of our country’s citizens, but today, choosing "organic" has become as American as apple pie—organically grown, of course.