Organic tree fruit acreage in Washington State is on the decline overall, although plantings of organic Honeycrisp have increased significantly over the past few years, David Granatstein, Washington State University’s sustainable agriculture specialist, reported this winter.
Washington’s organic apple plantings have dropped from 15,735 acres to 14,296 acres since 2009. Fuji is the top apple variety grown organically, with more than 3,500 acres in the ground, closely followed by Gala. But, Honeycrisp is the variety showing the greatest growth, with certified organic acreage increasing from just 157 acres in 2003 to 1,099 acres in 2010. In terms of acreage, Honeycrisp is now Washington’s fifth most important organic apple variety after Fuji (3,366 acres), Gala (3,201 acres), Red Delicious (1,461 acres), and Granny Smith (1,470 acres).
Although organic apple acreage is declining, sales have continued to increase, Granatstein said. That’s because 15 to 20 percent of the organic apple crop has historically been sold as conventional.
“We still have a bit of a buffer in the system,” he said during the Washington State Horticultural Association’s annual meeting. “When the market changes, we can put more into the organic supply even though acreage goes down. To me, that’s a positive thing. That’s going to maintain a relationship with the buyers.”
About 800,000 boxes of organic apples are exported annually, out of total Washington apple exports of between 6 and 7 million boxes. Canada is a good growth market for organic apples, but shipments to the United Kingdom have plummeted since 2008. Demand in Mexico is growing steadily.
“That’s definitely good news,” Granatstein said.
Gala is the number-one exported apple, followed by Red Delicious, Fuji, Granny Smith, and Golden Delicious.
Organic acreage of pears, cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums, and prunes has also declined over the past couple of years.
There are 1,917 acres of organic pears, a drop from the last two years. For the past five years, Washington pear growers have produced more organic Bartletts than organic d’Anjou pears.
Cherry acreage showed the biggest decline, dropping by 25 percent between 2009 and 2011, with very few acres in transition. There are now 1,826 certified acres and few in transition. Granatstein said the new pest spotted wing drosophila has raised the risk level for organic cherry growers and made them nervous.