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As demand swells, organic fruit industry grows and grows

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Photo provideĀ  David Granatstein, sustainable agriculture specialist

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WENATCHEE — Not yet buying organic fruit? You likely will be soon.

Organics are everywhere, and demand is rising,” said David Granatstein, a specialist in sustainable agriculture at the Washington State University Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee. “Production and sales show no signs of slowing down.”

Granatstein’s overview of the organic fruit and vegetable industries here on Tuesday launched WSU Extension’s annual two-day Fruit School, which drew scores of fruit growers, packers and farm employees from around Central Washington. Workshops focused on pest and disease management in organic orchards — including apples, pears and cherries — and were streamed via Internet to school sites in Omak and Prosser.

Hoping to meet consumer demand for organics, U.S. fruit companies are increasing acreage in Washington State while simultaneously increasing yields through modern orchard practices that include trellis systems, the planting of new varieties and better bio-controls of pests and diseases.

By 2018’s harvest, Washington is expected to have another 8,500 acres of organic apples, said Granatstein. The U.S. had a total of 122,175 acres in transition to organic in 2014.

Despite that growth, said Granatstein, research has shown that only 4.5 percent of all U.S. households regularly buy organic apples. “That doesn’t seem like a lot,” he said, “but the good news is that there are a whole lot more households to participate” in organic purchases.

Organic produce sales since 2011 have risen dramatically in the U.S, said the professor, with fruit jumping 123 percent in a 4-year period and vegetable sales rising by 94 percent.

In addition, sales of organic apples in 2015 showed a 14 percent increase over the previous year and 21 percent average growth per year over the previous four years, he said. Sales of organic Cripps Pink variety (including Pink Lady-brand) apples alone grew by 96 percent in 2015.

Washington and California dominate the organic fruit industry with 93 percent of fresh market organic apples coming from the Evergreen State, Granatstein said. For 2016, Washington produced around 12.1 million boxes of organic apples per year, while growers in Europe — Italy, Germany, France, Belgium, Austria, Netherlands — produced a total of 8.7 million boxes. Production from Poland, the country with most organic apple acres in the world, is not known, Granatstein said. 

While Europe has more acres in organic fruit production — an estimated 160,000 — the U.S. has more productive orchards delivering higher yields per acre. Washington had around 21,000 acres in organic tree fruit production in 2016 with another 22,000 acres planted in organic veggies.

That same year, acreage for organic apples in the state were led by Gala, Fuji and Honeycrisp varieties, with acreage for all varieties totaling around 16,000 acres. Acreage for organic pears totaled just over 2,100 acres, with organic cherries at 2,000 acres.

WSU research posted online also showed Grant County topping the state in organic production in 2015 with 90 organic farms and 24,700 acres in production. Yakima County was second in the state with 88 organic farms with 5,110 acres in production. Chelan County had 44 farms and 1,700 acres, while Douglas County had 29 farms with 2,000 acres.

Grant County also led the state in sales of organic crop and animal products with just over $166 million, according to WSU’s online statistics. Chelan and Douglas counties combined totaled $62 million. Okanogan County sold $50 million.

Supply of organic fruit is catching up with demand in-state and across the country, said Granatstein. For apples in Western states, an 80 percent increase in supply has been estimated for between now and the harvest of 2018-19. Demand is expected to continue growing as production also increases, he added.

Anyway you look at it, more organic fruit is on the way,” said Granatstein. “Consumer demand is driving it.”

Mike Irwin: 665-1179



Reach Mike Irwin at 509-665-1179 or . Read his blog Everyday Business. follow him on Twitter at @MikeIrwinWW.