WSDA would reimburse organic growers

The Washington State Department of Agriculture is offering reimbursement for some of the costs of organic certification.

Reimbursements, available to qualified producers, handlers, and food processors, are limited to 75 percent of licensing costs, up to a maximum of $750. Funds are available for both the 2008 and 2009 certification years, according to a news release from WSDA.

WSDA is authorized to spend $950,000 of U.S. Department of Agriculture funds that were part of the 2008 Farm Bill to support the organic industry with certification costs. An estimated 1,200 certified organic producers, processors, and handlers in Washington State are eligible for the cost-share funds.

Organic businesses are certified by WSDA and must renew their licenses each year. Under state law, the organic certification program is required to recover the full cost of the program through fees collected.

Miles McEvoy, manager of WSDA’s organic food program, said the department sees the assistance as an additional way of supporting the continued development of the organic industry in the state. From 2006 to 2007, the overall value of Washington’s organic products increased 30 percent, from $503 million to $654 million. He expects organic sales to reach $800 million for the
2008 crop.

Applications for the cost-share program can be obtained by contacting WSDA at (360) 902-1805. The application can be downloaded from their Web site at

COOL on hold

Country-of-origin labeling rules for perishable commodities, meats, fish, and some nuts slated to go into effect on March 16 were put on hold by President Barack Obama’s administration, along with all other new or pending regulations of the Bush administration. In the last week of January, federal agencies were ordered to put a freeze on all new or pending regulations until the new administration could review and approve them. No proposed or final regulations were to be sent to the Federal Register for publication until the new agency heads of the Obama administration approve the regulations. Federal agencies were directed to consider extending the effective date of regulations that had been published but had not yet taken effect for 60 days.

New Zealand’s pipfruit crop

In announcing New Zealand’s pipfruit export crop estimate of 17.2 million cases or 309,000 metric tons, Peter Beaven of Pipfruit New Zealand, Inc., described the apple and pear crop for the 2009 season as the best in many years.

All growing regions reported strong flowering followed by a warm spring and low disease pressure, which resulted in good-sized fruit with high eating quality, he stated in a news release.

The total export crop represents an increase of nearly 17 percent over the 2008 crop. Pears represent 2 percent of the crop or about 318,000 cases. New Zealand claims the highest productivity of any apple-growing country, averaging 54 tons per hectare, equivalent to about 54 bins per acre.

Royal Gala and Braeburn are still the mainstay export varieties, but they are gradually being replaced by newer premium varieties, such as Jazz, Pink Lady, and Tentation. Exports of Gala and Braeburn will drop to 64 percent of the volume in 2009, down from 76 percent in 2006.

Growing pipfruit under sustainable practices, with low inputs, continues to be a major emphasis. Growers representing about half of the volume of the 2009 crop are participating in Apple Futures, a program that targets zero residue in the fruit. A recent survey of apples selected randomly from United Kingdom stores found no residues in the New Zealand fruit.

For the first time, production of New Zealand organic apples should exceed one million cases in 2009.

The United States and the European community are the largest customers of New Zealand pipfruit, although recent growth has been posted in the secondary markets of China, India, and Russia.

Art prize money is up for grabs

The Washington Apple Education Foundation invites students in grades kindergarten through 12 to participate in the annual Year of the Apple art contest sponsored by Dow AgroSciences.

Cash prizes totaling $4,750 will be awarded to student artists winning the top pick in the Stone Fruit, Pear, Holiday Card, or Apple category. Students may compete in one or all categories. Savings bonds of $250 are awarded to 15 students; the grand prize winner is awarded a $1,000 savings bond and the opportunity to see his or her artwork on a poster-sized calendar. Schools (or nonprofit organizations) that are home to the winning students also receive $100 for the purchase of art supplies.

Complete rules and entry forms can be found at or by calling (509) 663-7713. The contest deadline is August 1, 2009.

Riesling is number-one variety

Washington wine grape growers produced another record-setting crop in 2008, up 14 percent from the previous year. Wine grape production totaled 145,000 tons in 2008, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics. Grower prices were also up, with a preliminary record-high average for all varieties at $1,030 per ton, an increase of $76 from 2007 cash prices.

The number-one variety last year in terms of volume produced was white Riesling, which accounted for 28,500 tons, just ahead of Chardonnay at 28,000 tons. Popularity of Riesling wines, because of their versatility, has soared in recent years and Washington’s wine industry has responded to the strong demand. Cabernet Sauvignon was the third-place variety with 26,100 tons. Of the total wine grapes produced last year, 52 percent were white varieties, and 48 percent were red.